I arrived at the
Within the first 5 minutes, I knew this was not going to be a good idea. Thembi's first task of the day was to change the dressings of a patient who has SEVERE wounds from a bacterial infection all throughout her bottom and lower half. Saving the gruesome details, I can tell you I knew I could not do this on my third day. Once I removed myself from the situation, I was met with a lot of resistance and confusion from Maryann. Let me preface this by saying...She is an amazing person who has dedicated her entire life to saving lives and fighting HIV/AIDS. I have honestly never met someone like her. She gives 150% of herself to fight on behalf of the sick, helpless, hopeless and dejected. I do not know how she finds the strength and compassion she shows day in and day out. That being said, it was hard for her to see how I could be a bit overwhelmed and nervous. She LIVES and BREATHES the HIV/AIDS epidemic and I'm just the new kid on the block.
Luckily, the day got better and I didn't burst into tears after the "confrontation." I said hello to one of the female patients and she responded in English. We began to talk and ended up sitting at a table to do a puzzle. Her name is Lindi and she is 38 years old. She is HIV+ and she is being treated for TB. She and I spent a good hour together talking about our families, our backgrounds, teaching each other about traditional recipes and laughing about my non-existent Zulu. She told me that she's very worried about her two girls, ages 12 and 15, who are home alone because they have no one to take care of them. I could not take away any of her fears but at least I was company for a little while.
The day moved along quickly from there. I went with a volunteer driver to drop two patients off at clinics for various reasons. When I returned, Maryann told me I was going to spend the afternoon with her on a home visit. After piling in a small car, we were off to a far away valley. The directions here seem to always be vague..."turn right at the 5th dirt road near a large mango tree" or, in this case,"turn into the road that is marked with white and red rocks." Helpful huh? After asking all the members of the valley (almost) where this patient may be...we saw the rocks. We approached a small, sad-looking home with two toddlers eating porridge outside. We were told that the woman we came to see was inside. We walked in and I immediately was pained looking at her. She was totally emaciated and gasping for each breath in a hot room with no air. Maryann asked all the necessary questions and tried to investigate why this woman had defaulted on her ARV (Anti-Retroviral Medications).
Sadly, this woman, Zama, had been previously started on the regimented ARV treatment plan. She gained strength and weight while on the ARV's but then stopped taking them correctly. You see, for the treatment to work, it must be taken at the correct dosage, at the correct time, without fail. Many things get in the way of this here in South Africa...money, distance, stigma, transportation, shame, etc. In Zama's case, it was Traditional Medicine. Many Zulu's believe in traditional healers who prescribe traditional medicines which interfere with the efficacy of the ARV regimen. Once you're off ARV's, it is difficult, to find treatment that will work because the resistance is built up. Maryann told her family that they just needed to make sure she was comfortable in her last few days at the house. She told them that moving her to the respite unit would probably be detrimental in the end. Walking out of that home, I felt about as helpless as I've ever felt in my entire life.
Today was a much more calm day at the respite unit. Well, I'm not sure it'll ever be calm, but it was less eventful for me at least. I spent much of the day with my new favorite patient...Zanele. He is an 18 month old little boy who is HIV+ and is there with his HIV+ Mother, Deborah. His Mom was sleeping and everyone else was busy, so I was asked to watch him. He looked absolutely terrified when he saw me. He grabbed a hold of my shirt and arm and held on for dear life. His lips were an awful indigo color because of this medicine they put on his lips to stop his sores from getting worse. He really looked funny. One of the nurses there told me that he was scared of everything and had never learned how to be a baby or child because he's been so sick his whole life.
Me, being the nanny extraordinaire new I could work on that! We started by sitting next to each other on the couch playing with an animal book. He just looked at me with a worried face not at the book at all. Finally, after hour one, I got him to look at the pictures. From there, I took his finger (begrudgingly) and he touched the pages. He then loved the book for another hour or so. I think he may have even smiled! Ok, next I thought we could try to color! I improvised with some dull highlighters and a piece of scrap paper. He actually screamed when I tried to hand him the highlighter. He also covered his face. Poor Baby! I let him hold it for a while and eventually, the paper contained his very own masterpiece.
He was pretty tired after all these new things! I had to attend a meeting with other volunteers and Maryann said he could stay with me. He doesn't move too much. About 10 minutes into the meeting, Zanele was asleep in my lap. It was a great feeling to have him comfortable and maybe even, feeling like a kid for the first time!
Today I followed a few of the careworkers around giving bed baths to a few of the patients that are not mobile. It's been a very interesting week or so because I came into this year thinking that I may want to pursue nursing, but I'm very hesistant right now at least. The palliative care I'm a part of at the respite is for sure different than what I'd be exposed to right away at nursing school, but it's been a learning experience already. Who knows what this world holds for me right now? The patients are so delicate. They are fighting so hard to get better. It's truly amazing and inspirational to be around them. Daunting as well!
A new male patient had arrived the evening before and he immediately called me over when he saw me. We exchanged greetings and I found out that his name was Eric...he is 53 years old. Before I knew it, we were best buddies. He speaks perfect English and wanted to know EVERYTHING about me and America. By the end of our conversation, he told me that he needs my phone number, US address and other contact information so he can come visit me when he's better in America. I hope one day he is better and can fufill some of his dreams...a visit to Vermont, I don't know...we'll see!
Hanneke and I then had to leave and do a bunch of errands in town. We had to go to a clinic and pick up two of the patients who had been there since 7am that morning. The queues or waiting lines at these clinics are something to be seen. Hundreds of people waiting to be seen. Sometimes they get lucky and see the Doctor or get their tests done and sometimes they are told that they waited in vain..."come back tomorrow." Being here just for a short time makes you realize how difficult life is for so many people. I know I have complained if a doctor takes me in 15 minutes later than my appointment or doesn't have an opening for a week or so. Wow! We finally located the two women and were told by the doctor (Maryann's husband) that they got lost in the shuffle because there was no one to advocate for them and they are too sick. They just sat in their wheelchairs being passed by and now it was too late. They'd have to come back again.
We dropped the patients back at the respite and left again to visit GoGo Gloria (the elderly woman who had been bitten by a snake-earlier blog). It was (and had been) pouring rain so that steep incline to reach her house was treacherous. I put shopping bags around my shoes to "save them" and we hiked our way down. Gross! We got there and helped her clean, organize and dropped off her new medicines and dressings. Back at the respite, I dried off and then played with Baby Zanele for the rest of the day.
I arrived at 7:15 am today and was told by Maryann that I was "in charge." Whatever that means??!!! Of course, the careworkers were there and so were other staff members but I was the go to person in case of visitors or outside workers showing up. The day started off well. Eric, that man that wants to visit me in the US called me over again. He pulled out a piece of paper on which he had written up a business plan. He then spent a half hour explaining that he would like us to open a construction business in South Africa when I return home. He said I'd be the CEO and he'd be a supervisor. He said he has it all figured out and I don't really have to worry. I said I wasn't sure what I'd be doing, but again, we'll see.
The day was quiet minus the visits from the electrician and the man to fix the dryer. I got to visit with patients and practice my Zulu with the very inquisitive careworkers. At one point, I told them about snow and they looked at me like I was lying. They thought the idea of a snow day was hysterical too. One of the women, Noma, decided I needed a Zulu name. She gave me the name Thobile which is translated to "humble woman." I love it. Now I walk in and all the patients and careworkers refer to me as Thobile or "Tobes" for short. It is fun to get to know them and learn about each others hopes, dreams, families, cultures and values.
The week was not easy. I did not sign up for easy I guess. There were certainly times (a lot of them) that I said to myself, "What am I doing here? Seriously?!" I have no answer for that, but if I can bring joy to Lindi, Baby Zanele, Eric and the careworkers...maybe that's all the answer I need right now!