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Catherine Hewison

03 Aug 1997

Catherine Hewison is a GP and worked in Afghanistan

Before going on my first mission with Médecins Sans Frontières I wouldn’t let myself imagine what it might be like, and, as I looked around me on this particular night, I smiled at the thought. How could I have imagined the woman giving birth surrounded by her noisy mother, sisters and aunties with the donkeys braying, the chickens clucking and the goats baaing in the background? We were staying in a two-room mud hut in north-western Afghanistan. Each morning I would wake to the sound of the donkey park and look across the grass to the clinic where upwards of 100 women in burqas would be waiting to be seen by myself and the Afghan doctor. We mostly saw women and children. I would pass along medical information and treatment techniques to the clinic nurses and the doctor and, in turn, they would lead me through this foreign world of Afghan culture and life.

One night, with a lamp in one hand, medical box in the other, translator by my side and faithful sheep following behind (a gift from the local community which I think I was supposed to eat), I went off to help with a difficult delivery. As I was assisting my patient, someone came in and wiped coal on her face. Another woman followed and placed a sheepskin (freshly removed from its owner) around her shoulders. Not part of my usual treatment plan, but, at this point, I was happy to have any help on offer. Eventually, a healthy baby girl was delivered and I found myself under many layers of cloth between my patient’s legs delivering the placenta. I walked back under a crystal-clear star-filled sky. A good end to a hard day. You can’t imagine it. You can’t prepare for it. The job is not for everyone, but it is incredible, challenging, intense, frustrating, frightening, fulfilling ... and I love it.