“Adut went to Wau and died,” Albino informed me.
"Adut?" I asked.
"The woman who needed the transfusion," he explained.
Albino is our compound manager and was the one who arranged for their transport.
He continued, “They were bringing her body back for the funeral, and their truck broke down. They want to use our ambulance again.”
“She died?” I asked incredulously.
“Yes. She died in Wau. They are stuck on the way back...”
“Did she get the transfusion?” I asked suspiciously. “Because had she gotten it... it’s unlikely she would have died.”
“I don’t know. I didn’t ask them,” he explained quietly.
“And what is going to become of the baby? Is there a wet-nurse in the family?” I persisted.
“I don’t know... I didn’t ask,” he repeated.
“Please ask them. I have to know...” I said, thinking to myself that I’d take the baby before they let her starve.
Mothers who die in or shortly after childbirth are trouble for the family. I’ve heard of more than one child left to die. I told this to Albino who nodded knowingly and told me he’d find out for sure.
That was two days ago.
Today Albino knocked on my door inviting me to go speak to the family. He remembered my offer to help if the family couldn’t (or wouldn’t) do it and wanted me to join him for a visit.
Eager to get the details of her care in Wau, I went with him. Sam, a Kenyan pastor on staff, joined us.
When we entered their bamboo gate, three men sat somberly beside a tukel and several sets of female eyes peered out at us from inside. Everyone was hiding from the mid-morning sun which was hotter than normal for the season.
The men didn’t rise to greet us, nor did they smile; the pall of mourning was heavy. They did shake our hands, however, and gesture to three empty plastic chairs. We sat down.
A long, respectful minute ticked by before Albino spoke. He told them we were sorry for her death and asked for details of their time in Wau. What had happened?
After a long discussion in Dinka, he turned to me to explain:
“She never got the blood,” he started, “They try to buy but there was no blood to buy. So, many got the test to see if they can give. They not have right blood.”
He paused to ask a few more questions, nodded as the husband explained, then continued:
“She had O+ blood. One man, he had same blood. But this man, he refuse to give. So she die.”
As he explained, my brain raced with this new information. I have O+ blood. I could have donated. Had I known, I would have given it happily. Why would that ‘man’ not give his blood? Why would he withhold what could so easily cure?
Albino then kindly asked them about the baby. I needed to know the child was well. In response, they brought her out of the tukel.
She was sleeping the deep sleep of baby-bliss. She knew nothing of the burial mound just 15 feet away --a mound topped with all of Adut’s worldly possessions. A worn out mattress. A green plastic basin. A cooking pot. Several dresses. A shovel.
As I looked from the child to the mound, I wondered what I’d leave behind if I were to die today. But I was quickly pulled from my reverie when Albino said my name.
“Stephanie,” he started, “they are giving the baby milk from market.”
“What kind of milk?” I asked. “Could I see it?”
They brought me a canister of baby formula and I asked them how they were giving it. What kind of water were they using? Were they giving it with a bottle or a cup? How many scoops were they using for the fluid?
Their answers were spot on; everything was being given correctly, and I was told that Adut’s mother (the grandmother) was now sole caregiver of the child.
As I looked at her thin, strong arms and grave but determined expression, I was comforted to see she was still young; she could be no more than 40 years old. There wasn’t a gray hair on her head, and only the slightest of crows-feet nestled in the corner of her eyes. The child would be well cared for and loved.
Albino suggested we pray before going, but I wasn’t ready. I wanted to teach them on how to prevent this from happening again. They agreed to hear me out and the newly formed crowd followed us to a shade tree outside their yard.
We sat in a circle and I prayed silently to myself before I began; I didn’t want to mess this up. I don’t remember all that I said, but it was a lot.
I explained the role of good antenatal care in preventing such sicknesses and the importance of delivering at clinics. They listened with rapt attention, eyes never leaving my face. I had a captive audience and was grateful for it. Perhaps this information will prevent any more women from dying in their family.
The women sat a bit further back but were equally attentive. They didn’t fidget or cough. They hung on every word.
--Lord, may all these women live!
After some time, I finished and Albino asked Sam to share the gospel. Sam spoke on the a verse in Isaiah that calls men grass (Is 40:6), reminding us all how fleeting and short life is. He encouraged them to place their faith in Jesus. Then Albino shared again.
I don’t know what he said but the crowd listened carefully.
Then the patriarch spoke. I never asked his name, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget his face. His dark blue jalibia stood out sharply against is cole-black skin. His piercing ebony eyes gazed fixedly on mine as he spoke. In them I saw pain and grief but no condescension.
His questions were honest --his pain real.
He spoke about the difficulty of being a patriarch, but he didn’t complain. Instead he explained how in the village when his daughter got sick, he had to take her to the witch-doctor first.
He lamented the social pressure he was under that forbid him from going to the hospital first. He added that in the village, when someone gets sick they must first find out if it’s a curse. So he took her to the witch-doctor.
Only when she didn’t improve did the witch-doctor allow them to bring her to the hospital. That’s when they came. But when they learned she needed new blood he finally understood. But by then it was too late. They weren’t able to get the blood.
“... had I known she just needed blood, I would have brought her earlier,” he explained, “But I was told she was cursed.”
My heart ached more and more with each sentence he spoke. Albino translated his words but the grief on his face needed no translation.
“Why is God letting all my children die?” he asked us. “It must be because He is far and does not know our troubles. He must not care...”
I listened carefully, thankful for his candor. Here was a man who really did want to understand. When he finished I asked for permission to answer his questions. Even though I spoke directly to him, everyone in the circle listened attentively.
Then I shared the gospel. I spoke about how his daughter was cursed, but not in the sense the witch-doctor suggested. She was cursed by sin. We all are. I explained that death was the consequence of sin, but that God had provided a way for forgiveness.
He listened carefully. Respectfully. They all did.
I gave them the clearest gospel message I could and we invited them to church. Afterward they thanked us for sharing this information with them. They had never heard these things before.
We prayed for them and left, shaking each one’s hand in respect.
As sad as her death is, I pray that it will be the start of new life for the rest of her family. Please pray with me that the seeds shared would find good soil and bring much fruit. Thanks.
Also pray for us to find a way to do blood transfusions. This is now the 3rd maternal mortality I know about that could have been cured with a simple transfusion.