You become concretely aware of what you don’t have: plastic bags for medical waste, sharps containers (we had 2, which filled up the first day and we ended up using empty water bottles), dressing supplies. We had to tote all of our medical waste back with us in our backpacks.
The cultural differences are both charming and amusing. I cringe when I say amusing, because I know I was probably the source of a lot of Indian laughter as I bumbled along. I imagine the look on my face was pretty funny the first time I was presented with a huge plate of hot rice and curry and realized that I was expected to eat it with my hands. Or when the Indian ladies poured buckets of water over my feet after the encounter with the roosters in the open air loo. And Indians have this head wagging thing that they do, which means “yes”, “I approve”, “hello” or all of the above.
The deepest feelings I have about my mission experience actually involve the Indian head wag. As the villages lined up for testing, I made a point of holding each hand, looking into their eyes and smiling. When I got the smile and head wag in return I found my heart filling up and realized that I was once again experiencing the essence of why I became a nurse. It’s so easy to lose this connection with our patients in our rushed and impersonal culture. How wonderful to find it again in a place where communication transcends the boundaries of language and culture to come straight from the heart.
-Liza Leukhardt, RN
Nurses for the Nations, Andra Pradesh, India, May 14-24, 2012
Liza Leukhardt decided to become a nurse 20 years ago after caring for her three year old daughter during two years of chemotherapy for childhood leukemia. Having already worked as a newspaper reporter, elementary school teacher and theater costumer, Liza views nursing more as a ministry than a career. For the past twenty years she has been a hospice nurse. Her ability to work with the dying is a gift she discovered during her daughter’s illness. Today her daughter is a robust and healthy 29 year old woman with an exceptional empathy for others in need. Liza currently works as a weekend Baylor nurse for a local home care agency while pursuing a master’s in nursing at the University of Hartford. She is a contributing writer to nursetogether.com and her story may be found in the anthology “Nurses on the Run” edited by Karen Buley.