Friday, March 13, 2009

First Day of Volunteering (Trina)

Well, today was our first day of volunteering...and what a day it was.

We started by getting up in time to have breakfast at the place that opened at 6:30...we were there at exactly 6:30 and when they hadn't started cooking at 6:50 we had to leave...we bought a Snickers bar on the street as we ran to the Motherhouse for the morning prayer. We sang a song together, ate a banana and piece of bread and then scrambled to find someone going to Kalighat that we could follow. Out of the crowd of 50 people, we only found one! Turns out it is pretty far south, so most don't start at the breakfast, they go straight there (as we will do from now on).

We followed this guy from Japan who walked really fast (and that's saying something) and got on a moving bus. There were seats for women and for men separately. It was kind of like a cross between a giant wagon and a motorcycle. It was total chaos. And, no matter how many efforts I make to fit in (via respectful clothing, etc.)...I am apparently just a total spectacle. I have considered making clown faces and see if that dents it...but have been afraid of provoking more response.

Anyway, we arrived and the guy (who spoke very little English) ran in and started washing dishes, so we followed him. After that chore was done, I saw a lady near a bucket of medical supplies and went and asked her if she needed help. She is a nurse from Japan and in fact today was her last day. I spent the day training with her on how to clean and change the dressings on the wounds of her patients.

She/I had 5 patients when we started and 8 when we finished. It seems to be kind of an ever-expanding thing. I have never seen anything like some of these wounds. The first one was maybe more what I expected...about the size of a fun size candy bar, not too deep and healing well. The second lady was in so much pain! She had 7 large wounds (mostly bedsores) and suffers from an disease that is "causing her bones to fuse together in a painful way." She cried out often during the cleaning/changing process. Tomorrow I can ask for some pain medicine to give her before I do it. These wounds were the size of the diameter of a baseball, and deep, and (not to be gross...absolutely covered in and oozing pus). It was so startling and overwhelming. I guess she has stopped eating and just wants to die. I can really understand why. In addition, she is absolutely skeletal. I don't know a better word, but when I picked her up to rotate her it was like picking up a skeleton. Her arm is simply the size of her arm bone. It was like nothing I've ever seen. The lady training me said to be sure to touch her and not to be afraid to rub her. As long as I don't try to move her joints, the touch feels good, not bad. But, since she often moans and cries out, most volunteers are afraid they will hurt her if they touch her.

It went on like this. The room was filled with probably 40 beds. Most every lady in there was skeletal and in some sort of pain. But, most were really happy for attention. Often the lady in the bed next to the lady we were treating was especially friendly and eager to show us...well, anything. Usually I will have a novice assist me (she can speak the language and distract the patients if I have to do something especially painful) that will be nice to know what they are saying. It was hard to not be able to communicate.

Anyway, I am supposed to finish in 2.5 hours, but it took us 3.5 today. So, tomorrow will be the real well can I remember all she taught me, and how well can I do it?

It surprised me how little expertise was used. Most of the available ointments/bandages are donated, from people in many different countries. So, most volunteers can't read it...label is in Korean, Italian, etc. One lady had what was clearly a fungal infection (based on location, appearance and my deductions from looking at my own athlete's foot)...and we had a tube that was in Spanish, but clearly an "azole" topical (all the azoles are anti-fungal). I asked if we ought to use it for this lady and she said..."hmm, no. They like us to just use saline to wash the wound and (a basic antibiotic-neosporin-type-ointment) and a bandage on most everything." On the walk home later with a nurse from England, she was lamenting this problem she's encountered in many places she has volunteered. The person in charge of medical decisions often has very little official medical training and yet total authority. Her decisions are based on what she has seen in the past, and often quite good for the many...but maybe not for the specific.

It was such an experience. I am a little afraid about doing it on my own tomorrow. Specifically, about the lady in the second bed (no names for privacy sake), and how I will have to hurt her to help her. But, I am most certainly convinced of the need. Still, hard to do it.

I am feeling better. I wear a mask all day and gloves (which I wash between patients...not enough gloves to change between each one! I am having a hard time with that one.) We fell asleep early last night, so even though we got up at 6am, we had 9 hours of sleep. Same plan for tonight and the next few nights until we get the hang of it.

We work every day except Thursdays from 8am until noon. It seems like a little bit of time, but it is quite a lot of energy and experience. On the way home we found out how to use the Metro instead of the bus. It was cleaner and more beautiful than many of the subway systems in Central Europe! I couldn't believe it. The stop on both ends is much closer than going to the Motherhouse in the morning and where the bus dropped us off. We will keep learning.

All in all, a good, but tiring and just big day. I took an hour long nap when we came home and then we'll go to bed soon.


Matthew and Lisa said...


Melinda said...

Trina, what an experience! This is something that you will not soon forget. Just reading through your blog my heart breaks for you both and the people there. I wish I could be there to help too. Love you both!