#WorstNightmare: The needlestick

Once every 39 seconds, a nurse in this country sustains a needlestick injury. While most needlestick injuries result in nothing more than a good scare, far too many of them result in serious, life-altering (and in some cases, life-ending) diseases.

Most midwifes accept accidental needlesticks as part and parcel of the job. Others are optimistic that it won’t ever happen to them.

I used to be the latter- optimistic that it will never happen to me. Because I am a doula, I am not in contact with needles at all. Should not be for that matter. Until last Sunday.

We had a walk in (as we refer to moms that would be in labour, walking into the clinic with no health record). All the way from the DRC and she did not speak English. Which already makes it hard. No way of really finding out on when did her contractions start, how far along is she. Nothing. All you can see is pure fear of a girl in labour. The absolute horror on her face during every contraction- and the look on the midwifes face when she realised that the mom is fully dilated and needs to go to the delivery room immediately.

So, as the doula it was my job to get her to delivery as quickly as possible (which is a long way to walk if your baby is crowning) and to get her unto the bed. I was standing there next to this crying girl, comforting her and trying to get her to calm down.

Then the paperwork started. Who are you? Where are you from? Do you understand us? Shhhhh, it is ok. Don’t cry. She uttered in broken English “Please stay” and I reassured her that I am going nowhere.

The midwife insisted on a HIV test. So off she went to get the test, and as per usual no lancets. So out came the needle. I have seen it so many times- a small prick. Blood drawn up through a glass tube and unto the test. Reactor dropped on it and then the minute wait. But that day it was different.

The test was done. Negative. Needle lying on the bed. And as the midwife picked it up I was right there. To this moment I can’t say how it happened. I did not feel a thing. The midwife went ahead and discarded the needle. And I looked at my glove- and I could see that I am bleeding. Fuck.

I literally felt the world come to a standstill. Blood rushed to my head. Both of us was there staring at the HIV test…


A rush to Hillbrow casualties. Sympathetic looks on the faces of the doctors. The “don’t stress” stories. The “it happens all the time”. The “you will be fine, I swear” talk. The filling in of incident forms. The issuing of ARV’s. Antibiotics. The drill.

As I drove away it had me thinking if this is all worth it. The trauma you get to see. The risks. But then it is also the joy, the mere fact that you can be there to make a difference. You see the world shape and change before your eyes. And for me that makes it worth it.

Will I be back. Yes. Tomorrow I will be there again. Am I scared? Yes, because I just saw how it can affect me. But so we change the world- one birth at a time…











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