I chose to visit Zambia because I've always dreamed of visiting Africa.
When my mother and auntie were around primary school age my granddad was offered a promotion. But, there was a catch - the new role was based in Africa.. For five years my mother grew up in Kenya ...and Zambia! The moment I found out that Zambia was an option I knew it was the place for me. I was finally getting the opportunity to experience first hand the culture that my mother was thrown into at a young age.
I saw parents taking temperatures and even tube feeding their children.
Shockingly, my placement hospital was similar to what I expected. The hospitals have no visiting times. This means, apart from PICU, the halls, corridors and bedsides were full of people nervously waiting for updates on their child. When they were able to have space at a bedside the family had massive responsibilities. I saw parents taking temperatures and even tube feeding their children. Many of them with no knowledge of how to do this properly.
Blankets! In the 30-40 degree heat I saw hyperthermic and feverish patients who had multiple thick woollen blankets placed around them. With the temperature being taken wrong by the patients’ parents - often the probe not coming into contact with the child's underarm - the families were concerned about hypothermia. All I could do in this position was remove the blankets and continue to stress to parents that their child was hot, but I think culturally it was hard for them to understand how a blanket could do any more damage.
I think that the staff in Zambia are incredibly resourceful. I unknowingly adapted to this and only realised at the end of my first week when I was using tape to ensure oxygen tubes were secured to masks - this was all that I had available to help a child in desperate need of oxygen.
I can think of so many memorable cases because I cared for so many children with different conditions over the three weeks and every single one is so memorable and taught me so much. Diarrhoea and vomiting, pneumonia, severe acute malnutrition, diabetes, fungal sinus conditions, epilepsy, strokes, many different cancers in the oncology hospital and these are all on top of the many undiagnosed conditions I witnessed. I saw death and observed resuscitation, I saw babies desperately clinging onto life, and the parents’ heartbreaking life changing loss. I felt helpless when all I could do was offer a tissue to a mother watching her 6 week old baby being resuscitated countless times.
I met an 8-month-old boy, who I wrongly assumed was a newborn because of his size. His tired and devoted mother never left his side and only had a plastic garden chair to sleep on. His constant struggle for oxygen due to a respiratory virus, was agonizing to see, but his mother was always there applying blankets and tube feeding him, ready to step into action the second he needed her. Running on empty, sharing her bread and Nshima with other parents, she still had enough energy to laugh at my poor attempts at speaking in Nyanja.
I met an inspiring teenager with leukaemia who aspired to be a doctor herself. She travelled alone to the hospital every day. Imagining how lonely this treatment must be was harrowing. I spent an hour talking to her while closely monitoring her blood transfusion. At the time I didn't think this was important, but seeing her face light up when she saw me walk onto the ward the following day and her encouraging wave is something that I will remember forever.
I have so many stories similar to these that I will cherish forever, only wishing that I was able to keep in contact with the wards and see how the children are doing now.
After an emotionally busy week I think the weekends off were so important to balance us out and prepare us for what was to come.
Walking past wild zebra and giraffes on the way to the pickup point was an unexpected and breathtaking end to the day.
In Zambia, the main trip everyone talks about is the trip to Livingstone. With an 8 hour drive each way in a crowded and hot coach, what we experienced was more than worth it. Livingstone is the home of Victoria Falls. After spending an amazing day walking around the falls we were able to go to the top and get a boat to a tiny island at the edge of the waterfall. We sat and swam at the edge of the falls. One of the most beautiful breathtaking things I have ever seen. It was followed by cocktails and nibbles in the most picturesque place before having to return to the real world. Walking past wild zebra and giraffes on the way to the pickup point was an unexpected and breathtaking end to the day.
The next day was safari day. We travelled across the border to Botswana where we experienced a real African safari. We spent a morning on the Zambezi river before moving into the jeeps on land. Seeing elephants, hippos, crocodiles, monkeys and so much more.
In Lusaka, there were restaurants, bars, a club and amazing cocktails all within a half an hour walking distance. The perfect way to destress after an emotionally and physically demanding day at the hospital.
I would absolutely recommend an overseas placement to any student nurse. I was able to afford this life changing experience by fundraising and working and it was absolutely worth the effort.
I went to Zambia alone! It was my first solo trip and I hope people won't overlook this opportunity because they don't have anyone to go with. Flights can be daunting but on arrival that all disappears when you meet your new, fabulous family. I think I might have even shed a few tears when the time came to leave people behind.
The in-country team became my parents - teaching me how to hand wash clothes, cook and eat traditionally, and discuss traumatic moments I’d witnessed in the hospital or even have a laugh with. The other students were all fantastic - whether from England, Belgium, Hong Kong or Australia - they all have the same passion for health care as you do and that was so comforting and beneficial to always have someone to talk to.
I can't wait to book my next adventure, hopefully between uni and becoming fully qualified!