Marriage and Fistula; a husband’s tale

For many women suffering with obstetric fistula, the story is the same. They are often shunned by their husbands, friends, relatives and communities while they battle with one of the most tragic injuries that can occur during childbirth.

Obstetric fistula is a hole between the birth canal and the bladder or rectum caused by prolonged, obstructed labor without treatment. Women with this condition often leak urine and faeces, cannot fend for themselves and often, their stench is unbearable that no one can withstand their presence.

Sufferers often endure depression, social isolation and deepening poverty. But 45 year old Hassan Sentongo has a different story to tell. Resident of Buligobe village, Namawojjolo Sub County in Mukono district stood in solidarity with his wife, Umuhiire Shadia in a battle with fistula that involved 7 unsuccessful operations over a 5 year period.

In October 2009, Umuhiire was expecting her second child. When her time was due, she went to Lugazi hospital to deliver. At that time the husband had gone to work at a neighbour’s farm.

However, she did not get immediate attention from the doctors at the hospital. By the time the doctors arrived, the baby was already dead and the doctors performed a Caesarian section to remove the stillborn.

When Hassan was called to the hospital, his wife was unconscious. He says that after three hours, his wife woke up only to realize that she was leaking urine uncontrollably and the whole mattress was wet.

Umuhiire was kept in the hospital for a few days to recover, at which point she noticed that in addition to leaking urine she was not able to walk due to pain and numbness in her left leg.

Her doctor informed her that she had developed an obstetric fistula as a result of difficult labour and she would need an operation to close the hole between her bladder and birth canal. She was then referred to Mulago hospital for further treatment where she has so far been operated on seven times.

Hassan says that he had no idea how big his wife’s illness would be, until he started cleaning her, washing her clothes and bathing her because she was too weak to help herself.

Umuhiire’s health deteriorated each day that passed and since all her relatives are in Rwanda, it is only Hassan who remained to take care of her. “Pus, faeces and urine would all leak at the same time, i started using herbal medicines to treat her and in the process of bathing her, sometimes big stinking blood clots would come out of her stomach.” Hassan recounts.

 

The neighbours, he says, stopped their children from visiting or playing near their home. Whenever he would wash his wife’s clothes including her underwears, the neighbours mocked him throwing words that insinuated that his wife had bewitched him.

 

In the process of taking care of his wife, Hassan sold off some household items to buy food and provide transport for his wife to Mulago hospital. He had stopped working to take care of his wife.

Their financial problems increased as did Umuhiire’s illness. Hassan says that his family members advised him to take back the wife to his parents in Rwanda and start a new life with someone else. He admits that one time he felt it was too much for him to handle but had no alternative and just prayed that his wife heals.

Every time she would go to Mulago on an appointment for an operation, Umuhiire expected to come back completely healed. She wanted to surprise her husband with the news of her healing every time she visited Mulago but this never came to pass. She has undergone seven operations in vain.

She would insert a polyethylene material into her underwear to prevent the urine from leaking. With time, the material started burning her private parts and she abandoned it. Since 2009, she would only leave her home to go to hospital. She avoided public appearances because of the stigma that the public had about her condition.

After her recent operation, her condition was discovered as one of those that may never be cured. She is now provided with tubes that she uses to pass urine. Hassan says although the leaking still continues, there is a small percentage of control.

Through saving, they have managed to rare two pigs which they expect to sell in October in order to raise some money for their introduction ceremony slated for December.

Hassan is now working at a construction site while Umuhiire takes care of the home and tills the land.He advises men to stick to their wives even in conditions such as his wife’s.

He says, it is such commitments that marriage can last even in the toughest times. Hassan says he is happy about the decision he made because he has proven to his wife that he can love, and stay with her through thick and thin.