Looking for Maria

Remember the pregnant lady I met at the Oral Rehydration Point? A week and a half later, I went to look for her and find out what had become of her and the baby.

Remember the pregnant lady I met at the Oral Rehydration Point? A week and a half later, I went to look for her and find out what had become of her and the baby.

“Hey Heidi!” It is always great meeting up with Heidi, our MSF nurse who works at the MSF cholera camps in Harare. Blond hair, big blue eyes, she looks like an angel and has a personality to match. She is never too tired, too stressed, or too busy to dedicate time to patients and their care.

I haven’t seen Heidi for a couple of days and am anxious to find out what happened to Maria, a nine-month old pregnant cholera patient I had met about a week and a half ago.

I had first come across Maria when I accompanied the cholera patient transfer bus on its rounds. She was quite ill when we came to her, lying in a cholera bed in one of the MSF Oral Rehydration Points we have established around in the far-flung townships of Harare. We quickly transferred her to Budiriro Clinic where MSF has set up a Cholera Treatment Center (CTC). Heidi had made sure she got two IV lines right away.

I had asked Maria then if she had the money to pay to register for Anti-Natal Care at any Clinic near her home. She had simply stared at me as if I was delusional – where would she get $50 for the maternity fees charged nowadays by Zimbabwean clinics and hospitals?

When I now asked Heidi what happened with Maria, she just shook her head sadly. “I was praying for her to get into labor while in Budiriro, but it was not happening. And then I begged the [Zim] doctor for two days more after she got over cholera to let her stay. But after then he discharged her. There was nothing I could do against that,” she says and sighs and we both look at each taking a deep breath.

Once patients in cholera camps are cured from cholera they are discharged, even if they have something else. Unfortunately, in almost all instances these patients then have nowhere else to go and no money to afford any other option.

“I’m going to go find Maria,” I decide right there and then and Heidi’s eyes light up. We both agree it would be wonderful to find out what has happened to her. But Heidi cautions me not to be too optimistic.

I arrange for transport and take with me Liliosa, one of our MSF Zimbabwean nurses. She is herself quite pregnant, but extremely active nevertheless and when I explain to her our mission she becomes as enthusiastic as I am to find Maria.

We drive through the neighborhood of Kwadzana. Here, like almost all other townships of Harare, what never ceases to amaze me is its contrast between nice small houses with their carefully tended gardens and fences and the open sewer running freely through the streets. It’s sunny and there are many people walking around, unsurprising with such high unemployment in the country. There are a lot of home-based barber shops, a chair and a mirror with signs like “New Beginnings Hair Saloon” or “Golden Hair Barber”.

We’re looking for just a number. That’s how this works, no street names, just all the houses numbered, sometimes logically, sometimes not. We get directions from a lady that says we have to turn where the telephone booths used to be – Liliosa’s laughs; another of the many features of a deteriorating Zimbabwe.