The “flashback” in the title refers to me feeling like I’m back in fourth grade or something as these fieldtrips have become weekly, if not biweekly, but hey… I’m certainly not complaining! It has been an excellent way to reinforce what we are learning in class, especially my Health and Community Development class… the favorite of my classes!
This week’s fieldtrip was to St. Luke’s Hospice, a hospice that generally sees HIV/AIDS and cancer patients. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, as my notion of a hospice at home usually generates uncomforting feelings and sadness… and like I said, after last week’s fieldtrip to see the different sectors of the public healthcare system, I was ready for anything. In America, as I’m sure you are aware, a hospice generally offers care for those who are terminally ill and to prevent the suffering of patients as they’re likely stationed at the hospice for the remainder of their lives. As I said before, after seeing the clinics and hospitals last week and their conditions, I only had a mental image of how unwelcoming a place such as this could be… I guess mentally prepare for the worst right, as the trip had potential to be quite overwhelming and emotionally draining.
When we arrived though, my mental image was far from reality… which was certainly a good thing! The first important difference to note is that their definition of a hospice differs completely from that of America. Although a hospice is still for the terminally ill, most of which consist of those affected with HIV/AIDS and cancer patients, it is not a long-term stay as patients have a capped at two weeks for a stay. Rather, the hospice is a place that sparks a hope in patients as they are given the attention and the utmost care during their stay. Pre-1994, patients were allowed to stay in long-term care if they were affected with HIV/AIDS and in an unstable condition. When this was in place, it was not uncommon for patients to live under the care of the government for 30+ years. With the new, elected government in 1994 came a shift in many of the ways here in South Africa (this is also when apartheid ended) along with a new system that was implemented, delegating the responsibilities of those who are sick with HIV/AIDS to family members. Most reasons behind the transition from public responsibility to personal responsibility were economic based. Because HIV/AIDS is such a prevailing problem here in South Africa, the government could no longer afford to provide care for all of the patients. This makes complete sense as it costs the hospice R600 (just under $100) per patient per day. This was using a good chunk of their budget and the government made the decision to allocate the money to other needs. Of course there are pros and cons to this but in 1994, the days of patients living in the hospitals and such for just a few or up to 30+ years came to an end. They said the transition was difficult for a lot of people as family members weren’t used to taking care of the patients and the patients who had been living long-term in a hospital or hospice-like setting had to completely readjust to a new way of life.
The two-week stay is a mini-vacation for both the patient and the family members, who again are held completely responsible for the care of their loved ones who are terminally ill. During the two weeks, patients arrive at the hospice and get to participate in activities, meet new friends, get quality care, learn all about their illness, and different ways in which to live a life less dictated and affected by the illness. The new friends portion is a huge plus to the hospice system as there is a mutual trust that tends to exist between the patients are able to relate to one another as they are going through similar experiences in their lives. Education is also provided by the hospice to the family members. Despite awareness campaigns, ignorance regarding HIV/AIDS is surprisingly still quite common here in South Africa so the hospice educates the family on the illness and ways in which to better care for the patient. Although it is expensive to provide care for the patients at the hospice, the service is free for those who are ill and rather the hospice relies on donations and fundraising to offer such programs. It was also neat to see how dedicated the staff were and evident that they did their job because they loved it, not because of the paycheck as their income does not reflect their work and dedication what so ever. Rather, they strive off of the results after a two-week period which most times consist of the patient not wanting to leave but leaving with an uplifted mindset and rejuvenated hope.
In essence, the hospice was a place of hope, sparking life back into the lives of the patients. This rejuvenated spirit along with the love and support that they receive almost always leads to the patient feeling better than when they arrived. Although the hospice only has the means to help twenty patients at a time, they are greatly affecting the patient in positive ways and shedding light and providing new hope for one’s life.
In a blog post to come, I will go more in-depth about illness and their effects on the people here in South Africa… it is quite mind-blowing and really unlike any problem we have back home. Like I said last time, be grateful for all that we have and the conditions in which we live as we are certainly privileged and lucky.
Other life updates: I’m definitely keeping a healthy balance between school work and fun (trying not to get too stressed out over school yet!). Riots have been the talk on the street the past few days as one of the workers’ union involved with the government has demanded an 18% increase in wages rather than the 6.8% that they receive—seems like a lot to me. Anyways, this was nationwide and although most of the action took place in Johannesburg, Cape Town still had its fair share of strikers. They lined the streets, most of which took place in the city center, and even went so far as to burning rubbish and even small amounts of violence—let’s just say I stayed clear of the city centre for a few days! However, traffic over in my part of Cape Town was also disrupted as rioters blocked traffic… craziness not really experienced in Lincoln or Omaha, Nebraska! We have also had visitors in our house… namely blattodea. Now this was quite convenient for me as I have to learn all of the insect orders for my biology class and I surely won’t forget this one now! The common name of blattodea… cockroach… yep, in the house… awesome! I personally haven’t seen any of these guys but they have been sighted by other members of the house… TIA (This is Africa) I guess?!?
Anyways, I know that school is starting up back home (by the way only two weeks until my spring break!!), so I wish everyone the best on moving in and getting settled in for another semester. A special shout out to David, my brother, who just moved into his dorm and is getting ready to start college at UNL… I’m wishing you the best four years of your life!