Medical Volunteering in Cambodia

jan15.1Derek and I travelled through Cambodia (yes, again!) in late December to review our placements for volunteering in Cambodia.  We now have hospitals and clinics in four different cities and they are all asking for DocTours volunteers to lend a hand and share their knowledge.  All general medical professions are highly valued and most specialised areas are sought including radiologists, anaesthetists, ophthalmologists, emergency and physiotherapists.  Sadly, the post-traumatic impact of the Pol Pot era continues and is affecting the next generation of Cambodians.  Stress and depression is manifesting itself with physical conditions and alcohol abuse.  The important work of the our volunteers saves lives, avoids poverty due to lost wages or health care expenses and eases ill health among people who are under-served and vulnerable.  We felt like Father Christmas as we delivered medical supplies and equipment to various hospitals however we would like to do much more.  These kind and gentle people really need our help! 

Hannah is a young RN from Western Australia who recently spent 6 weeks as a nurse volunteering in Cambodia in one of the hospitals.

The Rollercoaster Ride that is the “Nursing Life”

Volunteering in Cambodia:

The second week of my time at the Hospital has come to an end and what a week it was! One of the things I love most about my job is there is never a same day, every day is different and no patient is ever the same. So because of this you can have some absolutely amazing days where you would remember for the rest of your career and the days where you wish you could forget.

I started off my week on the new medical ward, which promised new challenges and experiences. I spent the first two days just observing and watching the nurses and doctors, careful not to step on any toes or disrespect any of the staff. The thing with the Khmer people is you have to be careful and tactful on how to try and educate the nursing staff. The way I found my way around gaining their trust and friendship was by learning their language, well trying to anyway. Not that my Khmer is perfect but the nurses can see that I am trying to make an effort to learn their language so they became a lot more receptive in letting me teach them and ask them questions about their practical skills.

I finally had my break through with the nurses when I taught them about the Mean Arterial Pressure (MAP) on someone’s Blood Pressure (BP). At first they thought the number was just when the BP cliff pumps up, when I informed them that this was not the case they appeared excited and intrigued to what this number actually meant. I sat the three nurses down and went through the process of perfusion of blood to the vital organs and tried to simplify it as much as I could! I introduced them to the math equation for working out the MAP and they all got their patients observation chart and gave it a go. Watching them become excited and start to show and help each other was such an emotional feeling. I love nursing, it’s my passion and there is no better feeling than sharing and teaching your passion to others.

The next day I witnessed the nurses teaching the other nurses about MAP and making them understand, then other nurses from different wards came around and wanted to learn about this. The best part was that they were teaching each other! The senior nurse/coordinator of the medical ward wanted me to teach her about this. She’s been nursing for as long as I’ve been alive and it was a great feeling that she still wanted to learn and be taught things about her job! I don’t want people to think that these nurses are somehow uneducated or don’t know enough to look after their patients. Sure in some areas they need improving, but for the most part they haven’t had machines tell them about their patient like we do, they touch, listen, feel and see their patients.

Towards the end of the week I was giving them education on ECG’s and the cardiac system, I was wanting to go more into the emergency care for a cardiac arrest, I spoke to soon. I got the call when I was off the ward that an elderly female patient had become critical unwell, with no other information the senior nurse and I headed over. Before I walked into the room the patient’s eldest daughter grabbed me with teary bloodshot eyes said “Save my mother”. I walked in to a semi-chaotic but somewhat a normal medical emergency; just by looking at the patient I knew her chances weren’t good. The team performed like any other emergency team would and I know they tried everything they could. However we were unable to save the patient.

Now I know for some this might be hard but for a nurse, it’s just part of our job and of life. The hardest thing I had to deal with that afternoon was the family and the way the Khmer people cope with their loss. The process for the nurses for preparing the patient was confronting, the inability to comfort the family was strange and heart wrenching for me. All I wanted to do was say to the family I was sorry for their loss of their mother but for the nurses in Cambodia that is not something they do. Maybe at home being able to do that for the families is some kind of closure for me, so not being able to do this for this family was extremely difficult. This is what I mean about the low times of being a nurse, but somehow you just get back to it and go to work the next day.

I know what to expect now and I have a deeper appreciation for the strong family bond and connections these people have for each other. Next time this happens, and it will, I know I will be able to cope with it a lot better from being put through this experience. It will also make me a stronger nurse. When I go back to work on Monday I know the day is going to bring something new and different and that is how I can go back every day to the job I love doing.

Hannah, RN, 21 December 2014

For more information about volunteering in Cambodia