After working with Médecins Sans Frontières in Liberia at the tail end of the Ebola epidemic, Australian Emma Parker spent almost six months as Head Nurse in Khamir, Yemen. Emma shares stories of patients she cared for at Al-Salam Hospital.
“I made an effort to always be in touch with patients and many of them still stick in my mind. We had a lady in her late 60s who was at the hospital for two months after being badly burnt on her face and hands by an explosion. Even in the most modern hospitals it would be difficult to survive those injuries at that age. She had to endure regular, painful dressing changes but remained an upbeat (you might even say feisty!) woman. She would come to find me every day if I hadn’t said hello. She was making good progress but I’m sorry to say, she succumbed to a chest infection and passed away. It was terribly sad.
"He told me that his wife had died and he hadn’t been able to bring her to the hospital because there was no one to care for his other five children."
Fortunately, I can also share stories with happier endings. Another patient I think of is an 11-year-old girl who suffered a rare complication, a fistula, from a surgery. An opening had been created to her bowel and she ended up having four or five surgeries. She was so spirited though! She spoke like an adult. She’d lecture the doctors every time they came in about what she needed and what she’d been eating, she was so funny. Before her last surgery she even told them she wanted a local anaesthetic instead of a general! She was in the hospital for a long time, about six weeks, before the fistula was repaired. All the nurses were in tears when she was discharged.
Her family was from the outskirts of the city and they were very poor. We treated a lot of patients from outside Khamir, including many from an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp. A lot of people are without work and are surviving day-to-day. I spoke to a father about why his young daughter was very obviously malnourished. He told me that his wife had died and he hadn’t been able to bring her to the hospital because there was no one to care for his other five children. Every patient at the hospital requires a female caretaker but a male signature for consent and discharge. You can’t mix the genders. It can make things difficult but that’s the way it is. Sometimes we had to refer patients to Yemen’s largest city Sana’a for further treatment but because of the worsening conflict there are basically no working hospitals there, only private facilities.