November 2, 2017 // Sitting on the other side of the desk.
She fumbled to write my name as Kossi spelled Whitney in French. She flipped back and forth between the pages as a woman used the most archaic blood pressure cuff I had ever seen to take my blood pressure. The band had leather buckling straps instead of the common velcro. I laughed inside my mind as I watched the nurse writing my name scrounged through her drawers for a red pen to write my client number in. We were always losing our red pens at our clinic too.
The room was more the size of a closet. With the scale, height measuring box, patient chair, desk and nurse chair, there was barely room for another soul in there. Kossi shuffled around trying to find a place to stand. He placed my big pink helmet on the floor which every nurse tripped over that came in and out of the office.
I wanted to intervene and say “I’m G-1P-0. I have no history of medical issues.” I also wanted to remind them to write my blood pressure down, as the nurse who took it left the room. They also didn’t take my pulse. It was clear that the nurse who was doing my initial intake was far less experienced in filling out the white carne (a pregnancy book that is given to each pregnant mom in Togo) than I was. I have probably filled out hundreds of those in the past two years.
They had me do a urine sample. The nurse led me to the bathroom and handed me a huge bed pan. A huge smile broke across my face as I thought it so funny to pee in this huge thing. Maybe thats one thing that our clinic got right; peeing in cups rather than big rusty bed pans. As I hovered over the toilet seat holding this heavy bed pan, I began to sympathize with all the other moms who have come back with empty cups; unable to pee. Peeing on demand in a foreign bathroom isn’t as easy as it sounds! I forced myself to relax and pee.
Once we were done I sat and waited for the midwife to call me in to her office. It was air conditioned. And lovely. We had seen her a few weeks before to have an ultrasound done to see if my subchorionic hematoma was gone. She happily greeted and welcomed us. She reviewed my misspelled name and wrote it more clearly. She asked me what number of pregnancy it was. I wanted to jump ahead of her and tell her I hadn’t had any surgeries or infertility treatments. I held my tongue though and let her do the asking. I had to remind myself; I am the patient, not the midwife.
Once the paperwork was done, she opened up a standing curtain that separated her prenatal bed. I stood there and wanted to ask her “Degodé?” Which means take off your underwear in their local language; something I told each women as they were standing next to the bed. She laid me down and peeked under my lower eyelid to see if I was anemic. She told the nurse her findings. Before the appointment, I had been a little terrified of a cervical exam. I have only had one done once in my life. What terrified me more than my privacy being invaded was whether her speculum would be like the old metal speculum used in our clinic that was rubbed down with alcohol before each use. I prayed to God it wasn’t. I was so preoccupied wondering what she was doing behind my big blue skirt that went to my knees that I couldn’t see or pay attention to whether the speculum was new and sterilized. I just prayed to God it was. Thankfully, after the exam, I heard her throw it in the trash. Fewf. They are disposable.
We chatted about how I was doing and feeling and carried on to the ultrasound room. As the doctor rolled her jelled ultrasound wand across my belly, she quickly paused, smiled a bright smile, turned the screen to us and said, “They look great!”. The look on her face said it all. Her joy in my health and the babies health touched my heart. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to be seen by a doctor in Togo. As we left the clinic that day, I began to think; maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to deliver these babies with this wonderful doctor I had just happened to come across. Then I remembered I wanted them at home, not in a hospital.
As strange as it was to be on the opposite side of the desk, the opposite side of the bed and the opposite side of the gloves, I felt safe and comfortable in the care of this doctor.