Sunday, 22 July 2012

Life Lessons at St. Joseph's

During my time here in South Africa Christina and I were assigned to St. Joseph’s Home for Chronically Ill Children. St Joseph’s home provides free medical and rehabilitative care for children who suffer from chronic and debilitating illnesses They form part of the Community Based Care Program of the Department of Health and as such provide Intermediate Care, acting as a bridge between hospital and home. Their facilities have four medical wards and one HIV ward, a nursing school, special needs school and also provides physiotherapy, occupational therapy and even have their own social workers. The age of patients range from infant to 18 years old, leaving the home with their hands full. Though the residents and the home are sick it is actually a very happy place. I didn’t believe it at first but after visiting the beautiful campus and having a tour of all the wards she couldn’t have been more right. My favorites are the sunflower, daisy, and sweet basil ward because they have the smaller children and everyone loves the kids. The teenage wards, Protea and Freesia, had a slightly gloomier mood. The home’s director, Thia, explained it is because the older ones have more of knowledge of their disease which made sense but still was a big contrast between the smaller wards with kids running around or splashing around in the rehabilitation pool. The home gets a bunch of volunteers who assist in the wards which was pretty desirable to me but our job was far more formal. Our job was to conduct a time motion study on the nurses. We were to observe and report all the actions of the nurses and put together a report on the things they did and the amount of time spent on each task. They are a private home but are mostly state funded and hopefully, based on our data, they could make certain decisions about the skill level of the labor. It seemed to me a little cold in a place where I could seemingly do something so much more helpful. I was forced to look at things from a wider lens, resolving to the notion that my involvement will help keep the home open longer, though I may never see the fruits of my actions. Though the nurses had been told that what was going on and to go about their business normally, they were very apprehensive and created some very awkward situations. The lubricant to the strained situations was always the children. It only takes one to start talking to us and then they begin to swarm. The children always enjoyed the chance to write or draw with our pens, making karate sound effects or asking questions about China to Christina (She’s Asian), and apparently I am a fantastic jungle gym. They were always a treat, even though I once received a hardy bite on the finger as a parting gift from one of the children after a shift. Even though we were not as close with the nurses on our last day on duty something unexpected happened. It almost seemed like a perfect storm of situations, many of the other nurses we would have been observing had gone on lunch break, and the children were having their afternoon nap which made the ward calm and quiet. A child starts crying and one of the nurses, Elizabeth, goes to soothe it at brings it back with her and she begins to talk to us. I will admit that I was only coming in and out of her talk for the first few minutes. But as I heard more I had to move closer. She told us a story of a husband who she loved but who also was a drinker and who loved other women. Though they had problems her husband and her two boys was the family she came to love. One day about one block from their home, her husband had an automobile accident which put him into a coma for 7 months before he finally died. Without the strict male influence in their life, she continued, her sons began to go wayward. Both became drinkers and are both currently on drugs. The younger of the two boys has 5 children with two/three different women and was sent to jail because he would invite people over to her home to do drugs while she is at work. To add even more to her plate in her old age she suffers from diabetes, hypertension, and has had a stroke. She is also in and out of court because South African law states that the children must be supported, if not by the parent, then the family of the parent. Her story incorporated everything we had learned about South African issues from automobile accidents to drug issues, and even gender roles. She seemed hopeful for change with religion playing a strong role in her story. This woman was worn but she was the epitome of strength in my eyes. Our time at St. Joseph’s seemed very cut and dry at face value but proved to give us lasting experiences, and shining examples of happiness and strength through the most difficult circumstances.        

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