Hospital Waiting Rooms

Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” – Henry David Thoreau

Everyone should have to go into a hospital waiting room once a week and just sit – just sit and observe. I believe the results of such an experiment would be extraordinary.

Because it’s in the hospital waiting room where outward beauty is revealed for what it is and inward beauty shines.

It’s in the hospital waiting room where we are among those walking wounded. Those who bear their scars with nobility. It’s in hospital waiting rooms that you don’t try to hide tears; where you can’t hide anger or disappointment and where shock is just a part of the day’s story.

It’s in hospital waiting rooms where you realize that you share a lot more with fellow humans than you choose to admit. Where you realize that we’re all patients walking a hard path in a broken world.

Where tears fall with abandon but the cries of joy and thanksgiving mean more than we can imagine.

It all happens in a hospital waiting room.

And always there’s the waiting. The waiting for the doctor or therapist; waiting for your family member to pick you up; waiting to hear the results of the blood test. Always waiting and learning to wait more patiently, feeling your heart and stomach flutter with nervous dread.

So head over to a hospital waiting room and feel your heart change.

Blogger’s Note: Cleveland Clinic produced an extraordinary video called “Empathy: The Human Connection to Patient Care” Take a look at this short (4 1/2 minute) video and be encouraged. It felt like the perfect ending to this post.

The Children’s Ward – A Guest Post

Hospitals in the developing world are unforgettable – the overwhelming need, the overpowering smells, and the helplessness that one feels are etched in the memory. But they are also unforgettable because often in the midst of all that seems unholy – there are redemptive, holy moments.

Today’s post takes us to a busy, crowded hospital in Swaziland through a guest poster, Lesley Keyter – known by many as The Travel Lady. There will be more on Lesley at the end – for now read on!


Border between Swaziland and South Africa

As I walk into the hospital I instinctively stop breathing through my nose.

I can’t describe the smell – a mixture of urine, body odour, stale bandages, dust and floor polish. Probably fairly typical of a small under-financed hospital in a poor African country.

In 1986 at only 18 years old King Mswati III was crowned King of Swaziland. At that time he was the youngest king in the world and one of the last absolute monarchs. With a population of a million people this small landlocked Kingdom, sandwiched between South Africa and Mozambique, relied heavily on foreign aid and volunteer organisations.

A corrupt government plus a teenage king with a taste for luxury meant that the country’s most needy were left to fend for themselves.

The hospital corridors are crowded with patients, lying on the floor, sitting in the sun, eating mealies (corn cob). Most of them show signs of horrible wounds with dirty bandages and open sores. Most are laughing and joking – it’s an African thing that even in the middle of the worst situation there is always time for a laugh. The occasional patient lies there silently suffering and in one corner an old woman looks like she is not breathing at all. Her skin is a dusty gray and her wasted legs are covered by a tartan blanket. I have learnt that it is best to keep breathing through my mouth and keep my eyes ahead.

I reach the children’s ward and pass one small ward after another until I get Ward 8. Our small group of children are abandoned but the Swazi Government refuses to believe there is such a thing as an abandoned child. It is contrary to tribal custom. So the children end up here in the hospital, in Ward 8 as long term residents. Our volunteer efforts provide nannies, toys, food and even school fees and school uniforms.

“Aish Medem – I am glad you are here” – Julia greets me as I come in. “I need help with Mandla – he won’t eat his phutu(porridge) and I am busy with the baby”.

Mandla is a hefty 4-year-old with Down Syndrome. He’s quite strong and a handful at times. I get to work, distracting him with my car keys while I shovel the porridge into him while I have the chance. Julia is working with the new baby – just 3 months old already diagnosed with TB and (we are sure but nobody says the word) probably dying from AIDS.

No sooner am I finished with Mandla – a huge clean up involving his face, hands, chair, floor and toys – than Precious needs a diaper change. She is 3 years old and this is the only home she has known. She is still not talking properly. Julia is walking around with the baby (as yet unnamed) with a deep frown making the characteristic clicking noises of disapproval with her tongue.

“What is it Julia?” I ask from the depths of the diaper bucket.

“Hey Medem, I do not know what to do about thees baby. She is very very sick but the doctor he says he is too busy and this one is going to die anyway so he cannot spare the time”. Julia’s eyes fill with tears and I can see that the doctor is right. The baby is so thin – overwhelmed by the diaper. Her breathing is shallow.

“Well maybe we can speak to the Red Cross or Save the Children,” I suggest. Surely there must be someone who can get some help to this baby – give her a fighting chance.

“Well Medem – it is in God’s hands”

Indeed, I think to myself. I’ll see who I can phone when I get home.

I feel a sharp tug at my skirt and look down distractedly. There is Mandla – his characteristic Down Syndrome eyes gleaming with delight. In his hand he has my lipstick and has managed to paint it all over his face. He looks up at me with a big smile –  a glimmer of hope in the Children’s Ward.

About Lesley

As a Navy brat Lesley is no stranger to travel.  She was born in England and in her arrived_logo (3)teens emigrated to South Africa. From there it was just a short hop to the tiny African Kingdom of Swaziland where she lived for 17 years. She now calls Calgary Canada her home and has turned her love of travel to a thriving business known as The Travel Lady.

Series on Pakistan: Triage??

Note to readers:  This entry is Part 3 of a 5 part series.  If you have just begun to read please feel free to reference Part 1: Orientation.  Thank you for your interest!

This entry is authored by Carol Brown.  Carol is a Registered Nurse and worked in Pakistan for 2 years at the hospital mentioned.  She met her husband Dan while working there.  Carol currently works as a community health nurse and whenever she is given the opportunity boards a plane to encourage, work, and build relationships.

 tri·age –

  • the rationing of patient treatment efficiently when resources are insufficient
  • to treat all immediately; the process of sorting victims, as of a battle or disaster, to determine medical priority in order to increase the number of survivors

Following our morning clinic in a remote village where we had dispensed medicine in a rough lean-to, bumping our heads more often than I care to recount, we were headed to a nearby village for an unexpected, unplanned short clinic.   We were tired, hot and thirsty.  The set-up would be fast.  We would see as many as we could in forty minutes.  The decision had not been well met by some of us, anxious to call it a day, with the heat, dust and challenges having taken their toll.  Our team leaders had determined that for the sake of relationship, of high value here, we would need to do the clinic now and come back for a longer visit and survey of these families’ needs.   The short distance on the dusty, rough road was not long enough for the van’s AC to make a dent in the 105 degree heat.  We clambered out of the van – five of us, three foreigners and two Pakistanis – with our depleted nine-box portable dispensary.

“Carol, can you do triage?” asked Dr. Wendel.

My internal response:  “Yes, I can do triage.  I can prioritize well.”   Looking into the sea of Sindhi faces in the crowded courtyard, babies crying in their mothers arms, all of them sick and anxious for a hearing with the Doctor, I quickly realized my limitations.

“No,”  I answered, “Rahanna needs to do triage.”

I felt a sense of personal failure.  I’m an experienced nurse and I travelled ten thousand miles to help.   But our time is short, our resources are limited, we’ve given out most of the malaria drugs we have.   All of these people are sick.  I don’t want to miss the details of their stories, and mistakenly treat the baby with worms and a fever over the one with meningitis because I misunderstand a word or phrase.

Rehanna is a gifted, young Pakistani health worker.  She has served at Shikarpur Christian Hospital in numerous roles.   She has the discernment and skill to take in all the details and to prioritize appropriately.  Her patience and compassion are felt by the women.  I watched as she effortlessly took over and organized the crowd.

To realize our limitations is humbling.  This scenario played out repeatedly over the course of our two weeks.   We needed each other.  The experience of teamwork was a gift.   We could not function without the help of our Pakistani co-workers.  Neither could they accomplish the work without us.   It was exhilarating to participate.

Here’s the problem.

Those nine boxes were inventoried and packed on our last day, ready for use by the next team.  There hasn’t been a next team. The boxes remain in storage, the medications expiring and gathering dust.  The staff on the ground continue to work, but they don’t have the human resources to keep a hospital functioning and run mobile health clinics with the staff they have.

In early December I received an email.   Was there any way we could send more money to buy blankets for refugees facing the frigid, forty degree desert nights?   Funding had run dry.   From our small community in Western Massachusetts, we sent another 1000 dollars.  It will buy blankets, but then what?

Update- Pakistan has experienced yet another tragedy in the death of Salman Taseer – governor of the Punjab.  Taseer was a strong and outspoken leader,  recently working to change the blasphemy laws in Pakistan. See story here:  

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