Sometimes you need questions. Sometimes all you need to do to get a story is stand back and watch.
Sister Sarah is the midwife-in-charge at Kasangati Health Centre. She is one of three qualified midwives at a centre that on an average day delivers six babies, holds an antenatal clinic for around 40 women and a postnatal clinic for 40 more.
The numbers hint at the workloads but on Tuesday we stood back and watched Sarah’s day unfold. It started late. Usually the waiting areas would be full by 9am but torrential rain was making it hard for the women to reach the clinic. Around 10.30 the rain cleared and the women started to arrive.
By 11.30 Sister Sarah had called the Doctor to examine a suspected obstructed labour. Within a few minutes he had taken the decision to conduct an emergency Caesarian section. Sarah was scrubbing up to support him in surgery.
Through the window of the theatre we watched the baby being lifted from its mother. That was 1.15. It was a long long minute or two before we heard its angry cry. We later found out that his mother, Violet, had been in labour for so long that the baby had become distressed and Sarah had needed to resuscitate him.
Three hours later she is back in her whites and on the ward. In the space of half an hour or so we watch as she scans two women, one in the advanced stages of labour and one who is at risk of miscarrying, all the while delivering instructions to the nursing assistant who is checking Violet’s drip on the other side of the curtain. She also kindly but firmly admonishes a woman who tries to convince her that she needs a Caesarian to stop the pain, and she checks on her colleague running the antenatal clinic.
Sarah’s has invited us on to the ward but conscious of not getting in the way, Ben is darting around taking pictures as discreetly as possible while I stand in the corner scribbling my observations. Then, in the middle of everything, Sarah looks up at me and with a definite glint in her eye says, “well come on then, ask me your questions, I can answer and scan at the same time.”