I remember my reaction to the male ward, during the initial hospital tour, like it was yesterday. The patient beds so close together, the overwhelming pungent smell that overtook my nostrils, and the countless male patients, just skin and bone, that were laboured with every breath. I remember looking around at my fellow classmates and feeling reassured when their faces reflected my exact emotions. Later we spoke excitedly about starting work on every floor but unanimously the male ward was dreaded and secretly I prayed I would be placed anywhere but there. The minute the assignment sheet was posted and the words 'Nicole.M. - Male Ward' came into focus, my heart sank.
I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason so I decided I would remain silent about my disappointment and head into the experience with an open mind.
I can proudly state that this past week Stephanie Simpson and I bravely tackled the ward. Miraculously, I can honestly say that I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and learned a lot about nursing in Africa and truthfully, about myself. Sometimes the best experiences can come from being pushed out of your comfort zone and this was definitely one of those times.
So there I was on my very first day on Male Ward looking around, just as overwhelmed as ever. Trying to get myself pumped up and positive I walked over to the Zambian nursing students and asked with as much enthusiasm as I could muster "So guys where do we start?". They all looked at me strangely and one replied, "Well Sister, first we sing, then we pray, then we dust". Sing? Pray? Dust? That's when I really recognized just how different nursing in Africa really is. After hearing that response I came to the realization that I may be completely out of my comfort zone but that I still have so much to offer. I have the power to be a role model to these nurses and to demonstrate what I feel is most important - providing patient centered care.
Zambians are very proud people and it is not always the easiest to tell if the nurses here are learning anything from us but deep down I know they notice the way we interact with the patients and take note.
One case in particular that stuck out this week was when Steph and I arrived on the ward to find a patient that was a local prisoner laying on a mattress on the floor covered from head to toe in his own feces. We have no idea how long he had been in that horrid condition. Of course Steph and I were apalled and I am sure the looks on our faces gave away our distaste. We hurriedly gathered a basin with water and gauze to clean the patient up.That was a profound moment as patients on the male ward are often left laying in their own filth, waiting for their family members to clean them; that is if they are lucky enough to find clean linen and supplies. Us demonstrating that we will provide compassionate care and treat any patient with dignity regardless of their status, prisoner or not, was enough. The nurse noticed what we were doing and quickly joined to help us. The cherry on top of that experience was when the patient that was barely conscious prior to the cleaning, looked up at me and gave me the hugest grin.
I now understand the impact our actions can have here but before we can take over with our Canadian nursing ways, we must learn to sing, pray, and dust.
- Nicole McComb