We love sharing the fantastic experiences of our international volunteers. This month, we have a report from a Danish nurse who volunteered with DocTours in Fiji and survived the devastating impact of Cyclone Winston!
We also have a report from a young medic who was able to cover a lot of ground in Nepal. Finally, we are pleased to announce a partnership with Airborne Aid to help distribute medical supplies in developing countries.
Happy reading and warm regards, Karin and Derek.
P.S. We are on Facebook too!
Nursing in Fiji – during a Cyclone!
I had three awesome weeks at Colonial War Memorial Hospital in Suva, the capital of Fiji. I was placed at the Acute Surgical Ward where I worked alongside the regular staff. Every day I worked with a nurse and together we took care of our 4 – 6 patients. I was gradually taking on more and more tasks and by the end I was more or less working independently.
There are many differences in nursing between countries like Denmark and Fiji. It’s mainly due to resources, where Fiji has plenty of very skilled nurses but few other resources. The health care system is basic and can only offer basic treatments on a regional level. Therefore, many patients presented with much more advanced symptoms than I am used to seeing. Even at the major hospital, only certain treatments are available so in many cases there are only few opportunities to offer the patients. Equipment is also very basic and rare. It is not uncommon to run out of linen or soap, and then you just have to wait for new supplies. One of the other main differences is that the family are the main caretaker for the patient. They are responsible for washing, feeding and making sure the patient is comfortable in the bed. In general, a lot of the procedures took me back to my student days in the early 1980’s where single use items were rare and we washed and reused items.
The last week I worked with a medical team from Baltimore at a remote clinic outside SavuSavu. It was far out in the country side in the most beautiful place. People came from all over the country to be examined by the visiting Ear-Nose-Throat team as Fiji does not have that specialty available. Many people were examined and a few were operated on. The clinic has a fantastic dedicated staff and I had an amazing and busy week there.
Experiencing a Category 5 Cyclone
There had been talk of a cyclone for the past two weeks, so I didn’t really take it serious when they started talking about a cyclone called Winston. During my last breakfast at the clinic, we suddenly got a call telling us that now it was serious and it would hit us directly. The staff stopped the bus to the nearest major city of SavuSavu. The bus waited for me until I had packed my things (it is unthinkable in a country like Denmark that a bus will wait for you for more than 30 seconds). I managed to get a room in a big concrete hotel in the middle of town. However, before I got to my room I was told to go shop for emergency supplies (which mostly was coke and cake for my part). I started out sitting on my bed looking at the rain coming in through the big windows. However, when I heard glass shattering I moved all the pillows and blankets into the bathtub.
So, I ended up sitting in my tub surrounded by my provisions, reading a crime novel while the whole hotel was shivering. Luckily, I couldn’t see how much damage was done outside. I was sitting rather comfortably, cozily and only mildly concerned while in the bathtub for the afternoon. The most upsetting thing was that there was no way to tell how bad it would be and how long it would take. At 6 pm, the wind was slowing down and I could hear people talking outside. All the guests were assembled in the lobby area where we could see that the terrace area was badly damaged. There was no water, electricity or phone service and amazingly enough staff were still at the hotel. Instead of checking their families, they made the most delicious dinner for all of us and helped where necessary. They made sure that guests had a place to sleep if their room was covered in broken glass. The next morning, we woke up to a quiet clear sunny day. We were safe but couldn’t get word out to our families. The next days we were stocked and the only thing to do was to check out the surrounding damages and gossip about the latest news, such as when water, electricity, airport and the harbor were expected to be in working condition again.
Besides being very beautiful, Fiji is a very friendly place to stay. I had the most wonderful time with the fantastic nurses and medical staff I worked with. I hope to come back one day!
A Young Medic Volunteering in Nepal
I returned to Sydney yesterday morning and feel a little nostalgic being back at work. Really miss it in Nepal.
My time in Nepal was such an eye opener and it verified my passion for gynaecology and obstetrics. Just being able to learn from the obstetricians in the Hospital and listen to the problems that women face in a third world has inspired me even more.
Despite gender inequality still being quite a profound issue in such third world countries, it is great to see that there is so much influence coming from groups such as the Rotary community in improving women’s health.
As you would know, I was involved in a range of different tasks such as assisting the health assistants in the women’s health clinic with vaccinations/injections and general check-ups, teaching the Physiotherapists splinting techniques, being involved in creating a compensatory care program for patients with COPD and assisting the gynaecologists/obstetricians during medical consultations such as palpating and measuring the fundus of the uterus, taking foetal heart beat and general assistance to the doctors. I really think that the Doctours program really made a huge impact on my drive and my passion for medicine.
Thank you again for such a wonderful experience, Elaine!