Feast or famine (6/11/11)

It’s interesting working in a place staffed by volunteers.  In the last few months, we have been blessed to have some short term pediatricians helping us – Raymond helping on the ward and in nursery for a few weeks, and Wayne helping in ICU for 4 months.  Jennifer and I have had breathing space to do some admin, to upskill in anaesthesia, to go home a little early if we have been up all night on call.  It has been a feast of assistance, and we have been so grateful.

Volunteer short termers are gold.  But inevitably, they come when they are available – which may not necessarily be when we need them most.  Immaculate has teaching duties elsewhere in Kenya periodically; Jennifer and I both want to have a bit of R&R time every so often – over Christmas, to be able to attend a continuing medical education conference when there is occasionally one nearby, to be able to spend time with children during the school holidays.  And finding people to come and help us for just the week or two that we really need them can be tricky.

This week has been more of a famine week with Raymond gone.  We should have been back to normal staffing except that Immaculate also had to leave for most of this week to educate on a course.  That left the Clark Kent/Superman combo of me and Jennifer (she’s Superman) to cover what ended up being a really busy service – pediatrics, nursery, outpatients.  The days went from being manageable, with time to really think about the best plan for each patient, to chaotic.  Friday I was doing rounds from 8am-1pm, then frenetically seeing neurosurgical consultations and admitting patients from casualty or outpatients until 6pm, after which I was on call.  Jennifer has borne more of the brunt of it though as she is on call this weekend – by Saturday morning there were 40 inpatients to see, and inevitably more children being admitted.

I think the hard thing isn’t being busy – Jennifer and I are wired in similar ways and able to shoulder a lot of stress.  What is hardest is knowing that there must be things we are missing – not having time to sit down and delve into more details with a parent, to take the time to examine a baby more thoroughly and find the subtleties, not having the space to sit down with a textbook and read more on the things about which we only have a surface knowledge.  To feel like we are doing our job adequately, but maybe not well.  Having to rely on each other’s set of fresh eyes to see the things that, in our busyness and blinkeredness, we have missed.

People sometimes ask – what is the value of a short term mission trip, or a short term medical trip?  From my perspective, sometimes they can be a waste of time – like taking some paracetamol and a single round of immunisations to a village that you will never visit again – but sometimes, they can be lifesaving.  People who come to us  twice a year for two weeks at a time, with experience in third world medicine, are a breath of fresh air and a lifeline.  They give us space to be refreshed and encouraged, to teach us and relieve us.

So thank you to those of you who come and help us.  For those of you who may be thinking – I only have a week or two a year, I don’t think I can really help – you can.  Just find somewhere that has infrastructure and people there already, who need encouragement, who need a break, who need help.  And then, if you can, do it again.  And again.

It doesn’t even have to be a long way from home.  Nurses – find a family with a child with disabilities who needs a holiday, get to know them, and give them the gift of rest by doing respite care in your home.  Doctors – find a remote clinic in the outback that needs someone to come up sporadically to a place that is dirty, that is dry and will never get your name in lights.

The trick is – ask.  What do you need and when do you need it?  You may be surprised by what you find.

- M.

Author: steeres

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