Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Nursing on a Mercy Ship

Today will be a day sans (without) pictures.  Because I want to tell you about my new job, but I'm not allowed to take pictures there for confidentiality reasons.  Maybe later, if I sign up for a photographer to take a picture of me with a patient...
So today, for the first time, it felt like a "normal" work day.  A little slower than normal, to be honest, but enough happening to make it feel pretty good.  Though I still have lists of questions at times, they're generally easy enough to answer, if you know the ward and it's routines.  But I'm gettting ahead of myself.
I work as a volunteer on a hospital ship.  In fact, I pay for the priviledge of working here.  We are currently docked in a port in Freetown, Sierra Leone, where we're doing free surgeries for those who desperately need them, generally the poorest of the poor.  We have 4 wards, each with a specialty.  In "A Ward" we have plastics patients: burn contractures are the vast majority.  In "B Ward" we have general surgery patients: mostly hernias and hydroceles, with a couple mastectomies.  In "C Ward"... well that's currently the overflow ward and has been housing "D Ward" patients while D Ward gets a good cleaning.  "D Ward" is for Max-Fax patients: cleft lip/palate and facial tumours mostly. 
For the moment, I've been trained to B ward.  One day and one evening shift of orientation (plus two half days of paperwork/routines/rules orientation), and you're on your own!  So I have already had two days on my own.  And thanks to a handover of surgeons, we've been low on patients and are just now ramping up again to fuller wards. 
My day starts about 6:15am (depending on if I listen to my alarm and get up right away or torture my roommates by hitting snooze and falling back to sleep for a couple of minutes).  I get up, get ready and change into hospital scrubs that are nicely laundered by volunteers here.  I walk up two flights of steep steps to the dining room where I have breakfast.  On a good day, there might be porridge or cinnamon buns or something of the sort.  Most days it's dry cereal (frosted flakes, bran flakes, rice krispies, or fiber flakes with dried fruit), plain yogurt, toast, and sometimes bananas or mangos.  Coffee, tea, water, milk and juice are also available (these ones are out round the clock.  Yes, milk around the clock.  It's from Europe and apparently they boil the milk and somehow make it safe to keep out of the fridge). 
Breakfast done, I head back down the two flights of stairs at about 7am to go to the hospital, on the same deck (floor) as my cabin (room).  Once on the ward, I collect the sheet that's been printed off with pertinent info on all my assigned patients, and wait for everyone to gather.  Before we get report, the group starting their shift and the group ending their shift pray together for each other, the patients, the hospital, the day, whatever needs prayer.  Then we get one-to-one handover on our specific patients, signing off on things in the charts as we get handover.  All the patient's paperwork is kept in their binder, so it's a bit of a change for me, used to having a binder for medications, a binder for kardex's, etc. 
Through the day, I give out medications, do dressing changes (my favorite part!  Yup, I'm weird, though the hydrocele dressings are a little out of my comfort zone... please don't ask what a hydrocele is, if you don't know you don't want to know), instruct patients on washing for surgery, teach using translators, and monitor vital signs.  It's really fairly normal as far as what I'm used to.  People here are pretty independent, so there's no need to help them wash or eat or toilet.  Today I was finally almost busy enough to feel like I was back to working a "normal" job.  Though I could easily handle a couple more patients, which I'm sure I'll get a chance to add once we're up to full capacity again. 
Sometime through the morning a group from "patient life" usually come by to sing with the patients.  It's always loud, and generally kind of fun, though I don't know any of the songs, and they're mostly in Krio, they are very repetative and the tunes are simple, so it won't be long before I'll be able to sing along.  We take a half hour break for lunch, and the next shift arrives by 2pm, finishing handover between 2:30 and 3.  Makes for an early end to the day that almost makes me feel like I get a half day off, especially after having worked 12hour shifts for so long. 
The language barrier is interesting.  I'm used to having a patient population I need a translator to work with, but here the majority speak "Krio", which is like English + French + Local languages + Accent.  In other words, most of the time it's decipherable.  For instance, "tenke" is thank-you... they sound similar.  Or they say "wet" for pee and "toilet" for poo.  So if I need to ask them about it, I say something like "You did toilet today?"  or "You done wet?" and they usually know what I mean.  "Halfbacks" are flipflops.  "Pikin" are children.  "Wasa you nam?"  is what's your name.  "Me nama" is "my name".  I'm picking this up far faster than I ever did Inuktitut.  Thank God for small blessings!
After work there are many options, but perhaps that's for another post.


Esther said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Esther said...

you realize that since you wouldn't tell us what a hydrocele is, i went and googled it, right?

glad to hear that you are doing well. miss you!

Kay said...

Enjoying reading about your adventures :-)