A ‘women’s problem’

2012-09-12 00:00

RECENTLY our family went through a very frightening medical emergency. My wife, Shelley, suffered sudden and massive bleeding from a prolapsed fibroid. We were walking back from the beach and by the time I got her to the Umhlanga Hospital emergency room, her haemoglobin level had dropped to 6,2, and her blood pressure to 75/38. If we were half an hour away from the hospital and not five minutes, she probably wouldn’t have made it.

So after a massively stressful week, many blood transfusions and a successful operation, I feel blessed that Shelley is now recovering. I am hugely grateful for the concern and support from friends and colleagues, the excellent medical care we received, and the prayers of my daughter Josie’s Grade 6 class.

And I have to say a special thank you to Josie’s class teacher, Mr Van Tonder. Not only did he care for Josie so well while her mom was in hospital, but amid all the stress, anxiety and blood, he left Shelley and I with a moment of such precious, gentle comedy that I have to document it.

Recounting her day while we were driving home from school, Josie told me that Mr Van Tonder had asked her how Shelley was doing, and what operation she had undergone. Josie told him that Shelley had had a “hydroid removed”, and that it had “broken away from her womb”. She was very perplexed by his response. She said that he was quite relaxed with her explanation until she said the word “womb”, at which point he “almost took a step back”, became quite tense, and quickly steered the conversation in another direction.

For me this was a tonic. I just wished Shelley had been with me to enjoy it. I tried to explain to Josie that in society, medical issues like her mom’s are often still referred to as “women’s problems” and are not discussed by men, and can make them feel uncomfortable. I added that by only “almost taking a step well back”, Mr Van Tonder had in fact done pretty well.

I told Josie about the first time I had heard the term. I was a bit younger than she is now and had asked a friend where his mother was. He told me that she was in hospital “with a women’s problem”, but not to worry because his dad had said she would be back home in a few days. I remembered how even though neither of us had a clue what the content of this meant, the message was clear: these things aren’t the concern of males so let’s move on — and that’s exactly what we did.

But Josie quickly picked up on the loophole. “But then how come you are so relaxed about talking about these things?” she asked. I explained that I wasn’t always and, unlike Mr Van Tonder, I had already helped bring three babies into the world, and that fatherhood makes guys a whole lot more relaxed about these matters.

“Women’s problems”, I thought to myself during the rest of the drive home. A quaint expression perhaps, but an umbrella term that has for so long effectively protected men from issues such as ovulation, fertility and menstruation — and sadly excluded so many of them from the miracle of birth.

Mr Van Tonder is getting married in a few weeks and when he and his wife decide to start a family, I know he is going to be a great and involved dad. But to do this he will have to enter the unpredictable and often unsettling world of the female reproductive system — not something for the faint-hearted.

What I do know for sure is that once he does, words such as uterus and ovaries will become as commonplace as bacon and eggs. And once he learns about how strange waters can break at any point, and has come to terms with things that dilate in the night, the word “womb” will probably sound prettyromantic.

• Patrick Makkink is a teacher at a Maritzburg school.

 

PATRICK MAKKINK

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