This month, a dear friend of ours from Uganda, East Africa, Enock, underwent surgery to address some serious pain he’d been experiencing for about three years. He was in the hospital for three days and two nights following the procedure. It is a blessing to receive necessary medical procedures, especially in the third world, where affordable care is uncommon.
However, because there is so much need, and so little trained help, health workers can quickly become disheartened. Seeing so much need, day after day, and not having enough supplies or personnel to help, is more difficult than we could imagine. We ourselves, as an organization, are not well-funded or sufficiently staffed for the needs that exist around us in these environments. Yet we choose to do the best that we can do, for those who we have relationship with. In this scenario, Enock was in need of bedside care and advocacy during a difficult surgery. Because of extreme poverty, his parents were not able to miss work to be at his side, nor would they have necessarily known how to intervene in this complicated medical scenario.
Kendice Hartnell, a student at G.O.D. International equipped in health and patient care, was quick to step in to support Enock and his family through this difficult time. She was joined by Josephine, a G.O.D. Int’l cooperative from Uganda. Josephine is a long-time friend of Enock. She is employed as a schoolteacher, but has a growing knowledge of (and passion for) healthcare because of the work of our organization. The following is a reflection from Kendice, and an interview with Josephine, on the necessity for the pre and postoperative bedside care that everyone needs, yet so few receive.
What began as an opportunity to provide moral support and bedside care turned into the necessity to be informed, to protect, and to speak for Enock. The facility where he had his surgery was largely understaffed, the nurses were too under-educated and overwhelmed to care well for anybody, or to follow the necessary procedures. But I asked them many questions and made them slow down. Without my presence, Enock wouldn’t have known not to eat prior to surgery, what to expect from having an operation, or what medications they were giving him, and the nurses wouldn’t have known his allergies, his past medical history, or his blood type. No one would have discussed the surgery with us. I was there to take his vitals, assess and record his condition, and change his wound dressings, to give him water, walk him to the bathroom, and make sure he wasn’t getting too much or too little medication. I was there to ensure that, despite the neglect of the staff, he was protected and cared for, and to pray with him, reminding him that God was near.
In Uganda, if a patient doesn’t have someone to bring them soap, food, even water, then they remain without it as long as they’re in the hospital. Most hospitals don’t provide food or water for their patients, or even a bath. They lack human and physical resources on every level. Thankfully, Josephine and I were able to provide these things, seemingly simple, but very important to Enock’s healing.
I was quickly called “Enock’s Active Attendant” by the hospital staff. But it shouldn't have been so surprising to everyone. What the doctors and nurses deemed ‘excess care’ was really the necessary care Enock needed to prevent furthering his health issues. Every patient deserves to receive the same attendance and attention--somebody who makes the time to care.
After Enock was back home and resting, Kendice sat down with Josephine to ask her some questions about her experience.
Kendice:What’s the importance of having bedside care and advocacy for patients?
Josephine: Bedside care can be done by anyone (this is what I did), ideally by someone the patient is comfortable with and trusts. This person is needed to help calm the patient, talk with them, find out what they need and want, walk with them, be someone to lean on. They need to help patients feel better. Bedside advocacy needs to be done by someone who’s informed themselves (this is what Kendice did). Without someone there who’s asking the right questions, people can (and do) die. The lack of communication between doctors and nurses, nurses and nurses, and nurses and patients in these hospitals often produces fatal results. Being a bedside advocate makes them the permanent nurse. They have to know what’s going on at all times. They have to give voice to the voiceless, patients that are ill-informed, who are putting their lives in their hands.
Kendice:How did your involvement affect Enock’s outcome?
Josephine: On one level, he needed me. I have a relationship with Enock. He trusts me. He was comforted because I was there. On another level, he just needed someone. And the nurses weren’t there, I was. His moments of hysteria following surgery would have been insurmountably worse had I not been present. He may have fallen off the bed, or thrown himself onto the floor, increasing his pain. But I held him, and I was there to comfort and protect him.
Kendice:What part of this experience with Enock surprised you most?
Josephine: I was surprised by how much fear and anxiety Enock had after the surgery. I wasn’t prepared for his emotions. There was so little communication from the medical personnel to help him process the procedure before he went into surgery. When he came out, it was up to us. Perhaps he wouldn’t have been so fearful had he (and we) been better informed as to the level of seriousness and potential side effects of the operation.
Kendice:Do you think doctors and nurses in Uganda are able to give patients adequate care?
Josephine: Yes and no. Though they’re able, they generalize patients rather than seeing them as individuals, not handling them personally. While nurses spend the most time around the patients, they’re often the least friendly, caring, or comforting. They don’t stop to ask themselves, “What if this was my child? How would I treat them?” Though perhaps they’re qualified to do the medical work, they’re unqualified, or at least inexperienced, in doing the relational work. It’s too often ‘just a job.’
Even now that Enock’s at home, he’s still in need of help and care. Thankfully, he’s surrounded by people who love him, who want to see him healed and restored to normal life. His parents and brothers and sisters are there, along with Kendice and Josephine, encouraging him as he regains his health. Please pray for this dear boy, who’s just a teenager, during his recovery and reintegration back into school, family life, and his community. Pray that the pain he’s experienced for years is permanently gone and his body functions properly.