The Hospital by the River: A Review

I had barely cracked the spine of this book and I knew I was in for an emotional and inspiring read. The prologue had captured my heart before the autobiographical story even began. Here's the synopsis that Kobo provides for its customers:

Gynaecologists Catherine and Reg Hamlin left Australia in 1959 on a short contract to establish a midwifery school in Ethiopia. Over 40 years later, Catherine is still there, running one of the most outstanding medical programmes in the world. The Hamlins dedicated their lives to women suffering the catastrophic effects of obstructed labour. The awful injuries that such labour produces are called fistulae, and until the Hamlins began their work in Ethiopia, fistula sufferers were neglected and forgotten - a vast group of women facing a lifetime of incapacity and degradation. Catherine and Reg, with their team of dedicated fistula surgeons, have successfully operated on over 25,000 women, and the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, the hospital they opened in 1974, has become a major teaching institution for gynaecologists from all over Ethiopia and the developing world. Since Reg’s death, Catherine and her team have continued the work.

What a synopsis can't tell you it what it felt like to read Dr. Hamlin's story. I couldn't escape the thought, "How can this be happening today?" The chance of a Canadian woman suffering an injury like a fistulae is small because labour and delivery are so well cared for by medical professionals. If there is an injury during labour or delivery, our medical system immediately intervenes. So, to know that there are women who are suffering from something that is so readily preventable and treatable in Canada absolutely broke my heart. Their pain is physical and emotional, most often being cast aside from their communities because of their medical condition.

But this book doesn't just present a problem, it documents the lives of two doctors who have made a tremendous difference to both treat and prevent child-birth related injuries. This couple was determined to create a lasting change against all odds, and they did it.

The other wonderful thing about this book is the depth of insight the reader is given into the history of Ethiopia in the past century. The Hamils lived through regime changes, civil unrest, peace and war. Catherine teaches the reader about Ethiopia's fascinating history as a consequence of it being interwoven with her story.

The work that the Hamils have done in Ethiopia is closely related to the prolapse uterus surgeries that MWAHFE sponsors. These women's health issues deserve to be talked about because there are real and tangible solutions for preventing and treating them. In light of Dr. Hamil's story, I am even more glad to know that we have Dr. Mark and his team at Soddo Christian Hospital doing life-transforming surgeries in Ethiopia!

Want to read this great book? I couldn't find it in the local libraries but here are some places that you can get a copy. (I got a "like new" copy from Amazon for less than $7 including shipping!)

Chapters Online

Have you read this book? Leave a comment below and tell us what you thought!

Reviewed by Tracy Dunham