With a plate full of food and two cups of tea I join the breakfast table. “Here Rachel, for you.” I say to my English roommate from bed number 21. “How`s your Brexit hangover? Calmed down a bit?” I ask her. “Ah, it`s ok. Any news from your own country?” She asks in return. “Well, my favourite theme park is being sued because, apparently, they have `racist` rides. Besides that, there is some unrest in regards to the healthcare system.”
“Oh, ok, what do you mean?” Rachel asks curiously. “Basically, the government cut funding in healthcare which now means hospitals etc. don’t have the money anymore to keep on a high level of nurses, doctors and so on. This results in long waiting for a doctor or nurse to come, lots of different nurses taking care of the same patient which means a patient has to undress him- or herself in front of a lot of different people every time she/he is being examined or showered. In the past people were only showered by one nurse, maximum two or three." At this moment a young, tall Brazilian girl sits down at the table. She has clearly overheard the conversation. “Sorry to ask, but what kind of `cuts` did they make?” She asks. “Well, I don`t know all the details about the situation, but apparently the nurses are expected to do the same amount of work with only 30% of their former collegeas.” She looked a bit surprised. “Do those people ever see the state of elderly homes here in Brazil? I don’t think so. Or a hospital? If there even is a hospital.” She`s obviously a bit upset. “Weren`t you here to visit a doctor?” Asks the guy that works at reception.” Yes, that`s right.” Says the Brazilian girl. “The village that I live in, there are no endocrinologists, a doctor who`s specialized in hormones. Due to an issue in my womb I have to see my specialist every month. I am very fortunate that I come from a wealthy family, so they can afford the 2.5 hour flight that I need to take each month. It`s sad though, for a lot of people this trip isn’t affordable, let alone the cost to see a specialist. No money, no care. Or, you have to attend a very uncaring government funded hospital.”
I get a spontaneous flashback. Due to some unfortunate stomach issues Grant and I both had visited several government funded hospitals in Central- and South America. Also when Grant was sick in Panama. That hospital was definitely not a place you would rush back too. The flashback takes me back to Panamacity where my new Aussie boyfriend had caught a bit of Central American jungle fever. I remember Grant, sick as a dog, in the back of a taxi on the way to the hospital. After arriving at the hospital and seeing the doctor he was pointed to the first aid section where they would give him the necessary care. I vividly remember walking into a fully loaded waiting room of patients, as big as a classroom, around 30 people sitting on uncomfortable plastic chairs, freezing their butts off as the air conditioning is set at 15 degrees. All family and friends were not permitted, no visitors allowed. I could understand, there was simply not enough space. I tried to convince the nurses that I had to stay with him. First of all because I didn’t want to leave him alone in this misery and second of all, because in his state of deliria, he wouldn’t be able to speak Spanish. After a little arguing, the nurse gives in and I was able to wait with him. The older nurse came over to give him the IV. She was obviously stressed by the overwhelming number of patients that she had to take care off. She grabbed Grants arm and without a second thought she pricked the needle into the vein. It went as quick as a fruit picker with ADHD. Afterwards, she shuffled over to the other patients and provided them with the necessary care. I record a daughter bringing in her elderly mother. The women obviously had some mental disease like Alzheimer’s. Blissfully unaware of what was going on around her, she gazed around the room with an empty look in her eyes. As soon as the fragile mother sat down, the daughter was told to leave as there was no more space. Just as the daughter started to walk away, the old lady was whipped into a blind panic and the daughter desperately tried to convince the nurses that she had to stay. This was to no prevail. The patient that was next to her, an old man around the same age as the disorientated women, tried to put his sorrow aside and comforted her.
A younger nurse took over the shift. The older nurse quickly pointed to every patient and provided the young and enthusiastic nurse directions on who needs what type of care. How on earth she recorded all that information, I have no idea. But the young girl took it all in. I remember her providing a nod of understanding. She calmly helped out every patient, giving them a warm hand or smile. When she arrived at Grant, she friendly asked if everything was ok and replaced the IV bag which was running on empty. Grant was in seventh heaven and didn’t had a clue what was going on. He had previously asked if he could have something to drink so I ask her if that is ok. She replied in a friendly manner “I am sorry but normally I am not able to provide drinks to patients as they get their liquids through the IV, however if he really needs it, there is a vending machine close.” She ended her sentence with a wry smile and wink. Grateful for her friendliness I stood up and place my hand on her shoulder. “Thank you so much. I don’t know how you keep up with all this work… you must be under so much stress?!” She gave me a soft, calm smile and she shows me the small, wooden cross around her neck. “I am able to cope, because it is my duty.”
I remember walking to the vending machine thinking what pressure these nurses were under. I also wondered if the ill that are in this hospital, are showered on the times they want. Or how many different nurses they have taking care of them. I didn’t want to know the answer. The feelings I had all those months ago stir inside me once more. It definitely put things in perspective.
After a burn-out it was time for a change. I quit my job, sold my stuff and bought a one-way ticket to the Dominican Republic. What was supposed to be a 4 month adventure turned into 2,5 years and counting......
Photo by: Vanessa Marques Barreto