The smell is what got to me. Despite the buffet of assaults to my sight and sensibility of norms and expectations, it is always the smell of antibiotics – thick as smoke –that permeates the hospital. In the past it has stopped me from venturing beyond the admin area, but today I had purpose that propelled me forward.

The Michigan midwives were doing an in-service before their departure, and so I ventured into the stench of penicillin and the eerie quite – broken only by the occasional wail of a child in a distant room the halls are dark. A lone energy efficient bulb glowed in each segment of hallway breaking up the shadows momentarily before the light is swallowed by cool shadows. The early morning was still cast in the gray clouds of the previous night’s brief rain. The breeze, cool against the skin, inspired knitted caps and extra layers on people milling in front of and inside the hospital.

The nurses and midwives assembled around 8:30am. The nurses’ station situated between a bare ICU room with three lapa-clad occupants. Lorpu, one of the Michigan nurses/midwives led me in. One infant nestled unattended on the scale while the other two were in what appeared to be shallow beds. Lorpu directed my attention to the one on the right, she is hydrocephalic – fluid in the skull causing the head to swell well beyond its normal size and increasing pressure against the brain. In the States we would shunt (drill a hole to relieve the pressure) but here…here she will die…I imagine slowly and alone. Lorpus cooed softly to the little girl, stoked her foot softly, and rearranged the lapa to cover her small body against the chill in the air.

We returned to the nurses’ station, the little girl’s mother was in the room on the other side of us. She had seized twice during labor and had finally awakened but still wasn’t speaking.

The final side of the station would look over the hall connecting the various patient rooms but a woman, breast exposed and IV in her arms, lay motionless with only a blue screen separating her from the bustling hallway and us glancing at her periodically through the nurses’ station six-foot long window.

A man passed between her and the blue partition, peering intently at us and seemingly oblivious to the prostrate woman he passed.

I was called away before the training ended but my morning was a lesson I’m still digesting.

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