Be the change you want to see in the world. ~ Ghandi

Friday, January 3, 2014

Hospice Nurse in Ethiopia

Emily Sorman just returned from Ethiopia where she worked as a hospice nurse.  Here is her story.

I was working with an organization that provides home visit for hospice patients with HIV and Cancer. In total, they serve 25 patients, but I was not able to see all of them while I was their.  I worked with three local nurses, as well as two missionary nurses who are spending a year there working with the program.

One of the things I enjoyed most was seeing patients who live in one room with no running water and who cook food over fire was really eye-opening for me. They were all so kind despite their difficult circumstances. Every patient I saw was HIV positive, and most of their children were too. Hearing their stories and being able to provide them care was extremely rewarding.

One of the hardest things to see was that pretty much all of the patients were hungry and did not have enough money to buy food. They are provided food once a month, but it is not enough to feed their families. Another volunteer and I bought food for as many patients as we could, but knowing that once we are gone they would go hungry again was heart breaking.

I was surprised to discover that these patients had very little medical records. The nurses communicated their history verbally, and documentation was incomplete. I was able to write sample care plans, and in collaboration with the missionary nurses, we taught the local nurses how to write their own care plans and use them to improve the health of the patients. I thought that I would be just doing hands-on care with the patients, but I was actually able to use my nursing knowledge to improve their health delivery system, which will hopefully improve the outcomes of all of their patients in the future.

I never considered myself a materialistic person, and always thought I could be happy with very little. Once I was faced with hardly ever having running water or the food I am used to having, I realized how fortunate I am to have these simple luxuries at home. Many of our patients have to walk long distances to fill up heavy jugs with water to bring it back to their homes. This is a way of life for them, and they never complain. I feel very humbled to have met such wonderful people.

Ethiopians are very warm and like to greet each other with hugs and kisses. People talk to strangers as if they are friends. Many people yelled "forengi" at me walking in the street, which means foreigner. It is not meant to be offensive, they are usually fascinated with seeing someone from an outside place.

One of our patients had a two month old baby who was malnourished. The mother's breast milk had dried up, and she had to use formula which they could not afford. Some of the volunteers were able to buy formula, but the baby's respiratory status was compromised. She seemed to us to be in respiratory distress. We finally got her to a doctor, who said she simply had small nasal passages and will grow out of it. In the United States, she would at least have some sort of diagnostic test performed to determine the cause, but the care provided there is not what we are used to.
Another memorable experience was a visit to an elderly woman who was not even our patient. She asked us for food as we were walking by, so we went and bought her food and hygiene supplies. She invited us in her home. We made her lunch and drank coffee together, which is an important tradition for Ethiopians. She was alone and had very little of her basic needs yet, but she was cheerful. She sang us songs and thanked God everything she has.

This mission has made me more culturally aware, more grateful, more patient, and all around a better nurse. If I see a system that is not working, I know I can use my skills and knowledge to help change it.

One Nurse at a Time has supported me in both my mission to Peru last year and, along with the funding from Barco's Nightingales Foundation, this year's trip to Ethiopia. Without One Nurse, I probably wouldn't have made the leap to do international volunteer nursing. They have not only helped me financially, but Sue was able help give me advice on how to help patients while I was there.Being able to talk to someone with so much experience in this field is invaluable. My goal is to do one trip every year. I believe I've been able to touch many lives already, and I am hopeful I can continue to do so in the future.