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ss triple helix - winter 2006,  The Hospital by the River (Book Review)

The Hospital by the River (Book Review)

The Hospital by the River, A story of Hope - Dr Catherine Hamlin with John Little - Monarch Books 2004 - £7.99 Pb 304pp - ISBN: 1 85424 673 9

Many of those who have worked in Africa and who have come face to face with the desperate, despairing young woman with a vesico-vaginal fistula caused by obstructed labour and have faced the daunting prospect of trying to repair it, will know the name Hamlin and know of the fistula hospital in Ethiopia. Not all will know their story but it makes enthralling reading. Catherine and her husband Reg set off for Ethiopia, on a short-term contract, in 1959. Some 45 years later,

Catherine is still there and still at work. Her husband sadly died in 1993. Their original calling had been to establish a midwifery training school. Overwhelmed by the needs of the women who had suffered the appalling consequences of prolonged obstructed labour, the 'fistula pilgrims' as Reg called them, because of the tremendous journeys that some of them had undertaken to reach help, they set about teaching themselves how to repair such fistulae.

Catherine has successfully operated on over 25,000 fistula patients and trained many doctors from all over the world to do likewise. The hospital they have set up has many ex patients amongst both its nursing and medical staff. This book tells not only the Hamlin's story but provides glimpses into the lives of many patients and the problems faced by those living in extreme poverty.

The Hamlins have lived through good times and bad, respected and supported by the Emperor and his family.

They saw many of their Ethiopian friends imprisoned and killed by the communist regime. Throughout the book, Catherine speaks honestly about the joys, dangers and sorrows of missionary life, of difficulties faced bringing up children in a country which is not your own, where missionary parents can so easily become too busy and miss out on the needs of their children. Never willing to turn a fistula patient away, they were often inundated by needy patients and at the end of a busy day they had the additional labour of raising funds for their fistula work.

In a story full of heartbreak and miracles, Catherine's love for God and for her patients shines through, showing itself in the way in which she so often goes the extra mile that her saviour taught her. Honoured by many prestigious institutions and governments around the world, the establishment of a purpose built fistula hospital, where the techniques they have so successfully pioneered continue to be taught to others, stands as an even more fitting testimony to their life long commitment to God's calling on their lives.

A challenging and readable book but it should carry a 'watch out God might speak to you through it' warning. Such needs still exist in many of the resource poor countries of the world even in the 21st century.

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