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Students Say It Best

My holiday gift to you is to share a remarkable essay from a remarkable RCC Nursing student. As I always say, "Students say it best," and Holly Friedberg is no exception. In addition to being very active in the Nursing Student Association, Holly, a veteran, is also actively involved in our Veterans Student Association. United Hospice of Rockland has a relationship with Choice Trust, an NGO which provides palliative care to hundreds of persons who are sick with AIDS and other life-threatening illnesses in the Limpopo region, a rural and impoverished area of South Africa. My wife, Wylene, chaired a committee for United Hospice to raise funds for Choice Trust and to provide support to the caregivers who work for that organization. Wylene reached out to our Student Nurses Association who helped her in several fundraising projects. As a result, two RCC students, Holly Friedberg and Yolanda Isom, were able to travel with a group to South Africa. The following is what Holly wrote about her experience, and she is generously allowing me to share her reflections with you.

It's easy to tell someone what your experience was, but a very different task to really explain to someone what you LEARNED. As a learner, a student nurse, I'm rather comfortable with my predictable college experience. The expectations are fairly benign. What I need to learn is clearly outlined in a syllabus, and each of my clinical experiences are neatly documented in papers that are handed in to be scrutinized and graded.

Going to visit Choice Trust was challenging if only because there was no way to know what to expect.  You think the worst and hope for the best. You wonder how you'll deal with your experience, if you'll be able to help, what you'll be able to do, what you can bring with to help them. And the answers wound up being painfully simple in the end.

I look back on what I learned and recognize that I went through a series of stages;

I denied that this situation could be this painful, this sad, that human beings lay on a cold floor dying while I use countless absorbent pads and bedding, washcloths soaked in clean warm water and gently scented soaps and balms for their bedsores... my patients in America have an endless supply of every
medication known to mankind to ease their suffering while half a world away I see people who can't get a Tylenol.

I was angry when I thought that more could or should be done. The clinic doesn't have a blood pressure cuff?!? How is this possible?? A patient with intractable pain isn't able to get appropriate medications?? This is ridiculous! What do you mean nobody does a complete history and physical? How does anything get done?!?!? ARGH!

I frantically tried thinking of ways that could improve this situation. What if we miraculously did THIS! Or maybe even THAT! We could change this and educate that... and then... um... yeah, er...

I was sad when I realized that the environment was not something that could be changed in the blink of an eye. That advancement would be slow. That people would continue, long after I'd gone, to go without those everyday comforts of western medicine we take for granted. The people that we had met, took our hands and thanked us for coming to visit because it meant to them that they may find a cure or at least relief, or because it gave them a renewed sense of hope.

The answer was so easy...Each person who I met had hope, trust and someone who genuinely cared for them in Choice Trust. The very things that so many of the patients lacked -the most important things- the caregivers and nurses gave back to them without abandon. The dignity they received was valued more than having to lay on the floor.  A visit every day from someone who cared when others had long disregarded them gave them back their humanity. Self worth was restored just by listening.

What I learned was simple, but my complicated, educated, rational student-brain didn't recognize that what they really did was what really counted: they cared when nobody else did, and continued to do it when everyone else gave up.


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