The dreaded phone call

In an Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) maternity hospital in Haiti, Brigitte gets a call she had hoped wouldn't come...

In my position I am on call 24 hours, 7 days a week. It’s rare that I actually get called, when I do it is usually to inform me of a certain special case, or that there is a rupture of a certain medication, an equipment malfunction. But there is one call in particular I really dread receiving. Last night I received that dreaded call.

Because of monetary donations, we are able to provide high-quality healthcare. Beneficiaries do not have to worry; we have well organized, major supply chains and have the capacity to get medications and supplies in some of the most remote places on earth. From providing clean water to providing a mother an emergency C-section, we have it covered. There is only 1 thing money cannot buy within MSF, blood. There is no synthetic blood on the market, we cannot receive donations in Canada and transfuse someone in Haiti. No matter how good our supply chain is, there is nothing that can replace human blood.

Our hospital is the Centre de Référence des Urgences en Obstétrique, also known as CRUO,  Every day, the team here perform transfusions for women and babies who need them. The blood usually comes from family members who want to save their relatives. With the progressive reduction of beds and patients, we have less and less available donors of blood. However, with our stricter admission criteria, our patients are often in critical situations.

Last night, I received the call that a woman was in dire need of blood, without it she would likely die. At CRUO, we did not have her blood type; neither did the Haitian Red Cross, responsible for the blood supply across the country. I was called to try to find some B- from other MSF hospitals. Over the next 45 minutes I made multiple phone calls, all yielding the same answer, no one had any compatible blood to give. One hospital was actually looking for blood themselves.

I needed a few moments to compose myself. It’s 2018 and we are in a large metropolitan of over a million people, but there is no compatible blood available.

I do not know if I have ever felt so helpless before in my life. I was not even a compatible blood type for this woman. Someone may die because we cannot find any blood. We are MSF, we should be able to provide all lifesaving measures possible, but we cannot provide the essence of life, blood. Working as a nurse in Canada, even in a northern remote village only accessible by plane, or in a remote village in Africa, I never had this much difficulty in finding blood.

I called back the nighttime responsible. I could hear the defeat in her voice, nothing I could say would change the chain of sorrow that was about to happen. She would tell the nurse and doctor treating the patient that we do not have any blood. She would have to tell the husband we did not find blood. She would have to see the woman who is fighting for her life and know we did not find any blood.

It was late, I was fighting back tears and knew that I would not successfully fall asleep. I stepped in the shower. At one point I hear the ring of a text message on my phone. When I read it, by some stroke of pure chance, the nighttime responsible was able to find blood. I had a flush of emotion and relief. The patient would live. She did live, we saw her this morning.

But when would I receive the next dreaded phone call? Next time will be so lucky? June 14th is the world blood donor day. I hope this June 14th you will give blood and give life.