Well I suppose since we have now finished in Mongu, it’s about time for my debut as an official blogger! I have definitely been putting it off… I have been having a hard time deciding what to say or how to say it, but here goes! I decided that I would like to share some of the things that I have learned during my short time here in Zambia, so:
1. Experience is what really makes you an expert! I have discovered this so many times since my very first day at Lewanika Hospital. I started off in OPD (the Emergency/walk-in clinic department) and sat with the clinical officers while they saw patients. A clinical officer has three years of formal training, after which they can assess, diagnose, refer, prescribe medications and perform procedures for all the patients they see – comparable to a doctor at a walk-in clinic at home. They are not considered doctors, however, and would have to complete seven more years of training in order to be one. I honestly couldn’t see any difference in what they do or know as compared to any doctor.
While in a remote village outside of Mongu, we also met the lone trained nurse (two years of school) and her three staff members, one of whom was a man who has no medical training of any kind, doing many of the same things that the clinical officers were doing in the hospital! While I certainly value the importance of learning and school and books, I found that some of these people, in particular the man in the village clinic, had developed an amazing sense of understanding people and their illnesses; he could pick Malaria cases out as if the diagnosis were written on their foreheads, and with great accuracy! Although we still have years of experience to gain, I’m grateful for our time here because it has given us a tiny bit of experience in ways and with people and conditions that we might never see or really understand at home.
2. Everyone deals with difficult situations differently. And along with that, different doesn’t mean wrong! At first I felt almost a bit angry at how indifferent or almost cold some of the health care workers could be at the hospital when dealing with hard cases, such as domestic or sexual abuse or dying babies. I started to realize that maybe they weren’t being cold or indifferent, but were dealing in their own ways with those difficult situations that they often see multiple times in one day.
Even in our own house in Mongu, I had brought the first season of the TV show Glee with me, wondering if that was maybe the most ridiculous thing I could possibly have included in my luggage… It turns out that it was a very useful tool for us to escape some of the stress of the day and get together as a big group to laugh and distract ourselves for 45 minutes! Some people need to be alone, some need to cry, some get angry, some get sick, some push their feelings aside for the moment to focus on the task at hand and some just need a big group hug! While I might not fully understand why some people react the way they do, we all have our own ways and I can respect that!
3. Be grateful – you have no idea how good you have it! Although this is not my first experience in a third-world country, I am always grateful for the renewed understanding of how lucky we are and how humble we should be for what we have. I could list about a gazillion things that we take for granted every single day that we should be grateful for, but I won’t! The difference for me being here in Africa is realizing how blessed we are to have the kind of access to health care, supplies, treatments and services that we do. Even if you have to wait a whole four hours in the walk-in clinic, just be grateful that you didn’t have to walk four hours to get to the walk-in clinic. At the rural clinic I attended, we talked to a young man maybe in his mid-twenties who was blind and had walked/been led hand in hand with his 10 or 11 year old little brother for probably an hour and a half just to have his eyes looked at to see if he would be a candidate for an eye surgery team coming in May (he most likely isn’t a candidate). They thanked us and then got up to walk hand in hand the same distance back to their rural village somewhere else, as if they had just come from around the corner. I love being reminded of how lucky I am and I wish that everyone could really experience these kinds of things to help us remember all those little luxuries that we don’t even think about.
It has been such an experience. Good, hard, sad, happy, all of the above! I have learned so many things, about myself and just human beings in general! Now that we have left Mongu, it seems like we blinked and it is over. I hope that I can always remember to be grateful and more understanding of all the different kinds of us that there are!
See you at home!