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Tales from the Field | Betsy Freeman, Nurse Midwife in Nigeria

Photo Credit Joe Carey
Nigerian children Photo credit Joe Carey

Founded by Christy Turlington Burns, Every Mother Counts is an advocacy and mobilization campaign to increase support for maternal and child health. They have created a new blog series called Tales From the Field stories from the front line where inspiring and dedicated people can share their experiences. The first installments feature Betsy Freeman, a nurse midwife who has spent the past 10 years working with underserved women, both in New York City and throughout Africa. They are heartrending:

I am two months into my six-month mission in northern Nigeria. My world here is small: base, hospital, base. I walk the path between them several times a day. At night our beat up Land Rover shuttles me back and forth bleary eyed. We work six days a week and I’m on call for two nights as well. Most calls I’m at the hospital for most of the night.

Our two main services here are emergency obstetrics and obstetric fistula repair. I spend my days and nights supervising the local midwives and managing the emergencies that come through the door. I have to step back from the experience from time to time.

It is, in a word, mind-blowing. Here’s a snapshot….

Last night I’m on call after working my usual day shift. I get called in around 11pm because there is an eclamptic patient who has blood pressures of 220/140, already being treated with magnesium sulfate. We give her hydralazine to bring the pressure down. She is fully dilated but comatose so we do a vacuum delivery with fundal pressure to get the baby out. As we are doing this delivery, I watch as the patient beside her, a postpartum eclamptic also starts seizing, also already on magnesium. We turn to her for five minutes push more mag, then the other one has a full on postpartum hemorrhage. We get both of them stabilized and I leave the hospital for about 30 minutes. Just as I’m turning off the light to go to bed, they call me back in.

This time I arrive to a woman sitting up in bed in respiratory distress. She is sweating, incredibly anxious, and has a hemoglobin of 1.7; she’s in pulmonary edema. Her oxygen saturation is 50% on oxygen. We give her lasix, blood, then more lasix. We roll her to our ICU, which is essentially a room very similar just down the hall. She lies next to the woman who is status post uterine rupture and hysterectomy and the postpartum para 16 (that’s 16 pregnancies!) who has malaria and typhoid and a suspicious chest infection. I’m home by 2am and have dreams all night about triage.

Read more about Betsy’s experiences or if you are someone you know would like to contribute to “Tales From the Field” you can submit your essay to Every Mother Counts seeks to engage new audiences to better understand the challenges and the solutions while encouraging them to take action to improve the lives of girls and women worldwide.

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