This summer I spent 5 weeks in Africa with an organization called Work the World as a volunteer nursing student. The first part of my time there was spent working in the Emergency Department in a government funded hospital in Arusha, Tanzania. Going there I thought I was going to help make a change and help educate people, the truth is what really changed was me; I was the benighted one in this new world with a lot to learn.
In this ED you can forget about clean beds, alcohol swabs or even blood pressure cuffs, you don’t have the luxury of tourniquets, thermometers or CT scans. You can forget almost everything you’ve learned in your previous schooling because with their limited resources and lack of access to evidence-based practices you’re in their world and what you know is useless. Working there taught me how to be innovative, and quick. Someone needs a splint? There’s a cardboard box in the corner, make one. Need to stop a bleed fast? Pull out your shoelace and use it as a makeshift tourniquet.
My eyes were opened to a whole new world, a less privileged world, but a new one nonetheless. One where nothing was taken for granted. This also held true for my one week stay with the Maasai Tribe in the village of Engaruka. In Engaruka I spent my time working at the “hospital” interspersed with trips consisting of 4 hour drives through the Great Rift Valley in the mobile clinic. The “hospital” consisted of two rooms; one room for consultation and one room for medication administration. Seeing as the village only had three medications (paracetamol, amoxicillin and doxycycline) the second room was rarely used. While the clinic helped many of the Maasai people, it was not equipped for emergencies, which meant if there were ever a serious injury the patient would have to travel eight hours to get to the nearest hospital. The mobile clinic was used for us to deliver and administer vaccinations to the women and children of the Maasai Tribe who lived hundreds of miles from the clinic. We administered these vaccinations under a tree in the middle of the desert in the Great Rift Valley.
Though my experience there was both physically and mentally trying, it was spectacular and rewarding and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.
ABOUT KATHERYN: Born and raised in Klamath Falls, Oregon Katheryn decided to attend the University of Nevada, Reno before she decided to go to school for nursing. She spent her sophomore year of college living in England and traveling around Europe before returning to Klamath Falls and deciding to study nursing at OHSU.