Friday, 14 July 2017

St. Joseph's

It was my first day at work. Soon after I walked into the “Daisy” ward—the ward that cares for the youngest baby patients—the head nurse pointed to a baby in his crib and told me to feed him.

For the last six weeks, I interned at St. Joseph’s Home for Chronically Ill Children in Montana, Cape Town, South Africa. St. Joseph’s is a pediatric intermediate primary care facility. This means that St. Joseph’s serves as an in-between for children who need to fully recuperate in a safe environment after being discharged from acute care in hospitals but before returning to the home living environment.

While I was more than happy to help, I was a bit taken aback by the nurse’s request. She trusted a stranger to feed a baby who was no more than 1 year old! I struggled from the first step of pulling down the side of the crib to hold baby Benzil. From there, though, I think it got worse. Spoon-feeding the baby was so much more difficult than it looked. Baby food got all over his mouth, on his hands, on my hands, in my hair, and on my shirt. I looked over at the nurse next to me, and the baby she was feeding was also wriggling like mine, except somehow he didn’t have food all over his mouth and clothes. I was stressed—was I really helping these nurses? I felt like a strange American who was trying to help but really exacerbating the situation, as if the locals thought it was pointless for me to try and help them. That first day, I seriously questioned my ability to go into a career of pediatrics.

Now it is my last day at St. Joseph’s, and I know that I do want to work with children in the future! I’ve learned small tricks for spoon-feeding the babies (I’ve even had to crawl on my knees to follow them around…), for understanding when they don’t want food anymore, and for playing with them. They each have their own personalities and understand a lot going on around them despite their young age. Today, on my last day, that same baby I fed on the first day stood up for the first time! I hope that after St. Joseph’s, they will be well taken care of and very loved too. Besides playing with the babies, my primary research project investigating the disease profile of the facility’s patients for the last 15 years has allowed me to learn a lot more about pediatric health in South Africa overall, which I really enjoyed because I don’t think I would have learned about those things on my own. I have had such a meaningful and heartwarming experience at St. Joseph’s, and I will be very sad to leave them and will miss them very much.

- Tiffany Le

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