Home > City Journal > A mother pours out her heart

A mother pours out her heart

Here is a story that I translated from last Saturday edition’s Addis Admas with a haunting tale of a mother who had to go through terrible ordeal at the hands of uncaring medical staff in different government hospitals while trying to give birth. What happened to this woman and to many others in Ethiopia is a terrible reality. Here it goes.


Chuchu looked young but had already two children of her own. She was expecting her third child. Even though the due date had passed, she wasn’t overly worried. Her return visit to hospital was on April 28, day after the Ethiopian Easter. Chuchu and her husband had a wonderful Easter celebration and they had dinner at a neighbor’s house. But around 8:15 after they got back home, Chuchu began to suffer stomach cramps, which got sharper with each passing minutes. She was rushed to Yekatit 12 hospital. When she reached there mucous flew out of her body, which the attendant took an unhealthy sign. He told her she might need Caesarean section but he said there wasn’t any doctor who would perform it. So he could only provide her referral to Gandhi hospital, where such an operation was possible.

Upon reaching Gandhi, they were welcomed coldly by a nurse who told them they had to wait for a doctor who was in a delivery room. The cramps worsened yet she was left unattended for hours. At around 10:30 the doctor appeared who examined her thoroughly. But he finally told her that they couldn’t keep her there as they didn’t have a bed; he would also refer her to Tikur Anessa Hospital.

The expectant mother got into a panic and started begging the doctor. She told him her apprehension that the child would come anytime soon and about her previous experience from years back when the fetus died suffocated in such complications. The doctor ignored her pleas and assured her that the baby wouldn’t come before the next five hours, anyway. She had no alternative but to comply. A stranger they have just met gave them a ride and speeded towards Tikur Anbessa.


At Tikur Anbessa , when her husband headed to the registration room, Chuchu and her mother-in-law crawled to the maternity ward. Then a nurse laid her down on a stretcher. When the doctor on duty appeared, he petulantly asked why she did come there. In spite of her attempt of explaining to him, he disparaged any request for help. After taking a blood test, he shrugged his shoulder and told her that it wasn’t even the time yet. Her husband and her mother-in-law joined in pleading using the utmost conceivale way but he didn’t relent. He went back. Soon, Chuchu found herself in the advanced stages of labor, and shouted for help. She fainted down and fell on the back of people who was holding her. It was more painful than she ever imagined. ”It was very painful. I was about to give birth. The baby was half-way out.”

A cleaning lady who was alarmed by the shout rushed to call the doctor. But she came back alone, saying that he was in the operation room. Her mother-in-law who has had some experience as midwife put her in a desk and Chuchu finally pushed the baby out.

A traffic police who came there carrying an injured person offered his own jacket when he saw that she was left stark naked in front of a people who were in the hospital corridor. She was relived that her son survived. Even though the doctor and the nurse knew that she had given birth in the corridor with the help of untrained midwife, there was no offer of comfort, support,or symapthy.

Categories: City Journal
  1. May 14, 2008 at 8:29 am

    Wow! I admire your patience, arefe. Your patience and dedication! Been trying to translate “Gimple the fool” to amharic for months and have still not got round to it.

    Thank you the article on the Queen of Shebba palace too. Had always had my doubts on that one! I guess I don’t have to anymore :-).

  2. Fofi
    May 14, 2008 at 11:24 am

    This is outrageous and scandalous. What the doctors have done is contrary to everything their profession. I would sound naïve if I say that the medical profession is sacred. But we expect health professionals to have some level of compassion, sense of responsibility and caring attitude.
    Hospitals might be overcrowded, lacking in facilities but all these can’t be good reason to justify such cruelties and nastiness.
    As a mother I have more than a nominal interest. I’d like to ask readers if there is anything that can be done. Can’t the people in question be names and sued? Don’t
    they have anybody whom they are accountable for ? Please some one out there let me know and I have some suggestions.

  3. Maldoror
    May 15, 2008 at 2:16 pm

    Not all nurses and doctors are like the one portrayed here.There are many compassionate, welcoming and helpful.To argue otherwise would be an exaggeration.And in the case, I don’t think there is enoght ground the people alegedly involved.What sort of possible evidence could the suer could produce in the court of law?

  4. acherwa
    May 16, 2008 at 7:49 pm

    Ethiopian healthcare system, or what’s left of it is at its rock-bottom
    I don’t think it would be fair to blame the providers alone for these kinds of cases. remeber for every pointing figer there are three pointing back at us. its a systematic dysfunction. understand I am not accepting the behaviors of the providers, but with the critcal shortage of healthcare providers Ethiopia and other countries face, quality of care and value of human life is compensated. so we should all ask ourselves why such cases occur in Ethiopia and how it can be improved

  5. Abenezer
    May 19, 2008 at 8:49 am

    The whole experience was shocking. But that is the reality in Ethiopia and in the whole of Africa. I don’t blame the doctors.Too many patients, not enough support staff. The care many women receive simply isn’t good enough. there aren’t enough midwives, staff are overworked. I blame the system and the Meless goverment that isn’t doing to keep health professionals in the country and to rwward them to their efforts.

  6. Hareg
    May 20, 2008 at 7:20 pm

    Unfortunately, this horrible experience is more than a normal incident, so it isn’t isolated. Let me tell you what had happened to me: I had malaria when I was pregnant. My husband use to work (still is) in Awash area (Gewane) and I was unable to come to Addis right away. So despite the accepted practice not to give Malaria medicine to pregnant women, Malaria medicine’s are fatal to the fetus’s health; since they couldn’t send me to Addis, they gave me Malaria medicine which in returns has a dire consequence to my baby. Finally after two weeks of struggle I was able to come to Addis. Ironically it was also Fasika (Ester) and went to small clinic because of the holiday. My family was frightened and they didn’t know what to do. By then I not only lost lots of weight but also my baby in my wombs didn’t move for several days, so it was virtually difficult and painful to do anything. So we waited in vain until Monday and went to Yekatit 12 hospital. I had a cousin who works there and she promised me to do what she can in case if any situation arises. My brother and my uncle literary carried me and we were in the hospital corridor bench waiting and waiting when finally a nurse called my name and I was in the Doctor’s office explaining my situation. Half listening and half shuffling his paper he told me I should go home and rest. He didn’t examine me, didn’t even bother to listen to my vital organs, imagine on top of my pain I was stricken by some sort of whooping cough and I was coughing my heart out. I wasn’t be able to finish my full name without constant coughing and struggling to breathe in and out.

    When I know that he isn’t convinced to have professional mercy on me, I asked my brother to take me out of that place before I throw my shoes at him, out of desperation. If you ask me have you seen the “Devil” my reply after that experience would be “yes”!
    I was drugged outside and towards the road to try another hospital. And just there it strikes me. This hospital and this doctor have a professional responsibility to treat me like a human being in need of medical attention. And I told my brother and my cousin I will not leave until I receive the proper treatment or I would rather die there and expose their cruelty. So I went to the grass field under the tree and slept there. My cousin pleaded with me to try Tikur Anbessa or Gandi, but I refused. After unsuccessful attempt I suggest to my cousin before her shift was over to get me another card (new card), and try to see another doctor. She reluctantly agreed and went on a mission. An hour later she came waiving the green card and urged us to go into the hospital and gave a name of the doctor whom she know personally. And as soon as we entered that horrible corridor he walked over and demand a wheelchair or stretcher (I don’t remember) and start examining me. He adamantly blamed her for not bringing me in time and growled at my brother for letting me slip away to my death. He refused to reason out with them the fact that I wasn’t in Addis. I was admitted to the hospital right away and had to stay there for seventeen days. I had to go through blood transfusion and other medical treatment and luckily my baby and I survived this ordeal. So the question is what if my cousin wasn’t working there? What if she could never found that doctor who agreed to see me? Is this ethical? Is this the way to treat patients? No. Because patient’s have the natural right to be treated their medical condition by health professionals to their fullest ability. I hated and despise that practice. But as one of the comment read not all professionals are like that. But I am pointing out there are good and bad people in the filed.

  7. 22
    May 26, 2008 at 4:42 pm

    Hareg, your story, is the tip of the iceberg.It occurs a lot more than we care to admit.It is time for us to sart acting on such bad parcitses.

  8. Amaha
    June 2, 2008 at 6:14 am

    The lesson of this story might appear to be that irresponsible and cruel people in such postions are often the causes of irreparable damages.The truth is a litle sadder than that.Such people are all over the world.In many places, they are restrained by the law, the press and democratic oppostion.
    Ethiopia’s tragedy is that there is nothing to hold the consequsnces of such carelesness and cruelty.

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