A case of Female Genital Mutilation

Warning! This post is very old and may contain information that is no longer valid.

On the day the tragic attacks on Sharm El-Sheikh, a different tragedy occurred and continues to occur but with a different magnitude. Although it affects the lives of more people than that of the bombings of Sinai, it however usually goes unreported. And mostly unseen.

Mona (name changed) a 10 year old girl was admitted with post-circumcision bleeding at around 2 a.m. that morning.

I was in the pre-labour room and a bed pushed opened the doors. To my astonishment I saw a young girl in the bed. The first thing that came to my mind was she was probably a 15 something and was pregnant. This in itself made me angry. But as I looked more closely, she was much younger than that and didn't look like someone who is going to give birth. I suddenly thought that this looks like a disaster. I rushed and squeezed in between the doctors and nurses circling the bed. I grabbed the admission sheet and it had the following words written:

10 years old
Virgin, Post-circumcision bleeding.

I was right, it was a disaster. Then my eye caught the girl's eye.

I have seen this look once before (will describe it in a blog post of its own). It is the look that fills me with fear every time I remember it. I lack the hang of English to describe it literally. But it sends a very powerful message, stops time and mutes the surrounding noises. The look tells you that this person have seen and felt horror and great anxiety. It is very different from the look of a person in the worst of pain, a child dying or even a mother seeing her dead child. It is worse.

I immediately thought that, this is it. I am going to stick around this girl tonight and do whatever in my power and limited authority to help. I also knew that it was going to be a long night, but it is going to be worth it.

The senior resident decided to call his superiors to examine the girl. And he decided that she shouldn't be left with other women in the pre-labour. The girl was left alone in the cold surgery theater waiting while they were questioning the woman who came with the girl. I felt that Mona shouldn't be left alone so I stayed with her for a few minutes. She was crying helplessly and kept on asking "What are they going to do?" and "please do not operate on me?". She was in more fear. I was not sure what to do or say, this is not the routine don't worry I keep on saying to people. At least I reacted with the routine don't worry, but I felt I am not helping her and what I am going to say will make no difference. so I held her hand and told her that to not be afraid as they will only examine her and see what was the problem.

The woman who came with Mona was not her mother, she claims to be the wife of Mona's grandfather. But I noticed that she got mixed up in the girl's name several times. When asked where is the girl's mother or father. She said that the father is a disabled man and the mother was sick at home. She also said that a midwife (daya) made this procedure at their home in Khanka.

The senior doctor came and examined the girl, they decided to stop the bleeding. It was not profuse. They initially couldn't identify the source of bleeding and decided to admit her to the surgery theater for full examination under general anesthesia and perform whatever necessary to stop the bleeding. The anesthesiologist complained that they don't have necessary tubes for such a young girl. He wanted an Endo-tracheal size 5 or 6 and some sort of connection tube that would connect the endo-tracheal to the ventilator of the anesthesia machine. They only have the adult size. While I was in the midst of all this, I suggested that I could get those stuff from the pediatrics surgery department in the children's hospital. The doctor who was going to examine the girl decided that equipments used to examine 20 something or older women are not suitable for a young girl. So he asked me to bring several nasal speculums from the ENT. Quite clever I thought.

Some residents suggested that she should be referred to pediatrics surgery. But seniors refused. And I think that referral would have wasted more time. And probably injuries at those locations would be managed better by a gynaecologist.

And so I went on my journey to bring the stuff. I managed to get endo-tracheal tubes from the paediatric ICU. As for the the anaesthesia connection tube, I had to visit every ICU and surgical theater in the Demerdash hospital. I had to bang on doors, wake up nurses and doctors and beg for it. Each had only one connection and it was for emergencies. Finally, a nurse at the ENT. Whom I consider to be the best nurse ever, after explaining to her the ordeal. Felt how serious the matter was and decided to provide all the stuff I needed. Without thinking she handed me the connection tube and several nasal speculums.

Finally, I was back to find out that the doctor managed to take a single stitch under local anaesthetic to stop the bleeding. The injury itself was superficial and was to one side of the labia minora and teared the hymen.

All of this ended at around 8 or 9 am in the morning and the resident doctors agreed on reporting the incident to the police. I went back home after that.

After I went home, I told the story to several people. Wrote part of this post. But I kept thinking:

Mona probably lives with a large number of brothers and sisters, in a tight and cramped apartment that is shared with another family. This limited space forces the kids to stay on the streets the whole day. While the disabled father and the sick mother send their kids to go work and collect a few pounds to help the family survive. The family itself lives in the worst of conditions, and kids no longer care about lollipops, school and friends but about making a living.

Now why this act patriarchal oppression and torture that forces their own into pain and hopelessness? Why sacrifice your own daughter's well being to a custom that brings terror and fear? And if you don't care about her well being, and if it is all about survival? Is this custom so important for her survival?

I don't want an answer to those questions, I only want this barbaric mutilation in the name of traditions and customs to stop.