The next day when I returned to the camp Parvati was there again wearing the same clothes (as Nepalis typically do for several days – hand washing all one’s clothes is really tiring!) but looking surprisingly fresh despite the humidity. I was confused to see her, knowing that she was ineligible for surgery at this point, but also pleased since I had come armed with a voice recorder and a few friends who were going to help me translate so I could collect stories of the women at the camp. Instead of prioritizing questions about the futility of her return visit, I decided to capitalize on the rapport we had established yesterday and ask her to be my first interview.
Parvati telling me her story with the help of Parmila and Honey
The interview began much as one might expect. I learned that Parvati has 4 children, 3 daughters and 1 son. Her prolapse happened 7 years before, at the age of 37, just 1 year after her youngest child, her son, was born. For 3 years she struggled with the pain in her back and stomach and started eating much less – if she eats too much the pressure of the food “makes it hurt more, and can even make it come outside; even now with the ring if I eat too much both come out.”***
Four years ago she found her way to a women’s health clinic established by a local NGO who explained about her condition and inserted a pessary ring for the first time. Even with the pessary ring, which mostly keeps her uterus from falling out, she has difficulty walking and isn’t able to carry heavy loads. It’s likely that her operation-precluding infection, a symptom of which is the “bad blood” she describes coming out periodically, results from lack of proper routine care of this ring.
Then I learned that aside from the infections and pain she struggles with she hopes to have the surgery because of the “big, big problems” she is facing. “This disease is my enemy because it keeps me from doing my work,” she explains. Instead of the heavy manual labor required of Nepali women living a subsistence life she can only do “sitting work” now, “small things that are not very difficult.” Not being able to contribute in the expected way, she is left feeling like a burden on her family, not able to fulfill her duty (in the highest sense) or earn her keep.
We began to discuss how her condition is affecting relations with her family, and this is when the interview took a surprising turn. The open and smiling face proudly crested by a bright red sindur (worn by married women to bring luck to their husbands) I had become acquainted with cracked away, revealing a grief-stricken core… Her husband has apparently not reacted well to her condition. “This disease has driven a fracture between us… He has refused me any money for my disease or ANY help.” She reports that he is even turning her children against her, giving money to run the house to her oldest daughter along with instructions to not give Parvati any money at all.
Compounding the situation her in-laws, who substitute for her own parents after marriage according to traditional Nepali custom, are very unhappy about her inability to work and are encouraging her husband to take a new wife. The peak of her difficulties occurred just a month before when, after being beaten, she was cast out of the house and told she could not return. She explains that she has been wandering around for the last month, staying with friends and relatives and trying to raise money from them as well as various women’s NGOs so she can pay for treatment.
After a few intense moments my friends helping me conduct the interview gradually change the subject, leading her away from this topic, and back into more generalized chatter of the group of women sitting around us. We ultimately moved on to interview other women, to hear more stories of struggle, and even some of hope by those scheduled to receive surgery the next morning. I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to Parvati when I let that afternoon – perhaps that is why her sunken eyes continue to haunt me.
I have come up with any number of ways to reconcile her invitation for me to visit her home with the story of her own inability to return… a possible shield from a status symbol to enable a return… an escapist fantasy for a woman enduring too much suffering…. or even a story woven to tug at the heart or purse strings of a wealthy foreigner… If only her story were unique I would definitely settle into the convenience of the last. But alas, it isn’t. So instead, I offer a silent prayer that she will find the funds or another free camp that will allow her to end at least one of her forms of suffering, and I reaffirm my resolve to continue to support organizations in Nepal that are working to ensure other Parvati’s out there don’t needlessly suffer the same fate.
*** Once a uterus has prolapsed to stage 3 and comes outside the body, it is often possible, though it can be painful, to push the cervix and/or uterus back inside. However, any abdominal strain, including coughing, can cause it to come out again. If the prolapse reaches the 4th and last stage of “procedentia” both the cervix and uterus are permanently stuck entirely outside of the body cavity, hanging between a woman’s legs.
If you are interested to see what a 3rd & 4th stage prolapse actually looks like, please visit: http://picsofprolapse.wikispaces.com/
please note: these pictures are extremely graphic
After sharing their stories….
Posted By Nicole Farkhouh ( Uterine Prolapse Alliance)
Posted Jul 20th, 2008