Friday, January 30, 2009

Update!

I know I know, I’m sorry. I haven’t written in FOREVER.

You had all probably given up on me by now, but it’s funny how cyclical my PC service has been. I really needed the blog at first. I used it as a way to share, vent, reflect, and process all the experiences I was having. Then towards the middle, I was sick, had fewer stories, went to America, came back and spent a few months working in Dakar. In Dakar I was busy busy busy, keeping Western hours and working like crazy on the tree nursery making instructional video and holding screenings of our women’s education/empowerment documentary.

In November I was busy with a girl’s leadership conference, then my parents came to visit, then I was working with a medical mission in Thies, Operation Smile, then I went to NYC for the holidays and a wedding. Now I’ve been back for several weeks, the cold season has been glorious, and is in fact beginning to end (about 100 in direct sunlight today…tragic) and I have less than 3 months left!

Let me say that again…I have less than 3 months left! That’s crazy! I came out here in March 2007! It seems like yesterday I was crying, packing, calming the butterflies and mentally preparing for the unknown. Turns out the PC slogan is right on the money. It has definitely been the toughest challenge I’ll ever love…and then some.

Now that the end is near and I’m preparing for “the next step,” I find myself drawn to writing again. I have a lot of stories I’ve been saving up that I hope to plug in sporadically. I hope that you will all forgive my extreme tardiness and helter skelter order.

So what is the next step for me? Nurse Midwifery School! I’m super excited about it. (Not necessarily the whole application, prerequisites, and 3 more years of school part), but the end result is what’s going to get me through. Coming into the Peace Corps I knew that nursing was a possibility. I even considered putting off the PC to become licensed, but ultimately I decided that nursing school would always be waiting. I was unattached, adventurous, and desperate to spend a prolonged period of time in Africa. And it was the perfect experience to give me some clarity. In fact, 6 women from the group of volunteers I came in with are going to apply to nursing school next year! 6 out of 35 people! We’re already joking about creating our own traveling RPCV Senegal medical mission.

Between all of the medical emergencies and births I’ve witnessed, and the horrifying conditions of the medical facilities and lack of training of local health workers out here, I am more confident than ever that the nurse midwifery path is the right one for me. I need tangible medical skills so that I can continue working in Africa/the developing world and have something more concrete to offer than just a development background.

I want to work to train local health care workers and speak to communities with authority on their medical problems. I’m constantly frustrated by my lack of medical knowledge and inability to diagnose problems. Probably 3x per day someone mentions not feeling well, or points out a child’s skin infection and asks me what to do about it, what it is, or if I have medicine. Of course my basic knowledge is semi-helpful and most things clear up on their own, or can be solved by going to the pharmacy, or the health post, but people are always discouraged when they know that I am a health worker and all I can tell them is: “Wash it well with soap and water, or drink lots of fluids…and then go to the health post.” They’ve heard that song and dance. They want to know what the huge festering pus scab is behind their daughter’s ear, how to prevent it, why it keeps coming back, and exactly what medicine they need to treat it. I just don’t have that kind of training. Not that basic germ theory, nutrition information, and first aid don’t help clear up a lot of things, but my classes and tips to people would carry a lot more clout if I was actually a licensed health professional.

People are scared of the workers at the health post because they treat them horribly and they are not well trained. I’ve heard horror stories of people bringing in sick kids and the nurses just sitting there refusing to get up and help, making tea, and getting angry for being badgered during “break time.” My own sister once went to the health post with false labor pains and was told that she would deliver within the day, was given Pitocin (to speed up and make contractions more forceful) and SENT HOME (a HUGE no-no), only to be in tremendous pain for hours. At which point my brother called the Dr. and he had her rushed to the nearby bigger hospital where they gave her a counter medicine, or at least monitored her until the pain stopped, and she went home…only to give birth 19 DAYS LATER!! No wonder people don’t go to the health post until they’re so sick it’s too late. The place has a reputation…you only go there to die, because often people wait so long and are so sick beyond the capacity of the local health workers that they do die.

Point is, that all of these kinds of experiences have just cemented my desire to be a health care professional. Sometimes I wish I had just listened to my 6th grade self when I declared that I wanted to be an OBGyn, but you know, sometimes you have to go on and do other things to end up right back where you started right? (Does that even make sense? My English is seriously lame these days).

While I was working with Operation Smile providing translation support, I met some amazing nurses and even though I wasn’t “healing” anyone per se, I just adored caring for the patients and answering their family’s questions. The results were immediate and the families SO appreciative that I felt on top of the world, and SO useful!
I pulled 13 hour shifts for multiple days in a row, cried some, laughed a lot, watched a couple of surgeries, and ultimately fell in love with the profession. Granted I want a bit more responsibility and want to be able to be a midwife and deliver on my own, but the medical mission was just a taste of what is to come.

I’m applying to several different schools with accelerated BSNursing/MSNursemidwifery programs, all over the country. I’m going to spend the late spring and summer months taking billions of prerequisites and studying for the GREs like a madwoman. I am allowed to leave country as early as April 11th at which point I am going to go straight to DC and the East Coast and do a brief tour of schools and of course visit a whole lot of people I haven’t seen for two years. I am a little bummed that I’m not planning a huge Close of Service trip, which many volunteers do, but I’m antsy to get started on these classes. If it turns out that I complete them ahead of time then I can always travel later I suppose. I’ll be back in Cali for the summer, taking courses at UCBerkeley through August and working to get my official doula certification so that I can start getting more experience attending births.

Then who knows where I’ll end up for school?

It makes me nervous knowing that I will have to be in the states, in one place for roughly 3-4 years. After spending the past three years abroad (London and then Senegal), I am terrified of getting too comfortable living the cushy American life and forgetting all that I’ve learned out here. At the same time I also yearn for luxury, to be clean, comfortable and healthy, and for the freedom from constantly worrying about scorpions, dysentery, malaria, child abuse, the heat, malnourished children, and death. I am eager to be off mefaquin (woohoo!) and to stop being a constant source of entertainment. I am looking forward to being just another face in the crowd, but it also terrifies me that maybe no one will want to listen to my stories, and I simply won’t be able to shut up about Senegal.

I am anxious and sick to my stomach every time I think about leaving my host family, but I also can’t wait another second to see dear friends from home. I know I’ll come back to Kanel eventually, but who knows when? My host father is 81 years old…who knows how much longer he’ll be around? I have pledged to come back if I eventually get married…someday…and hold a mock Senegalese wedding ceremony, and I mean it now, and don’t want to lose that conviction.

I keep repeating to myself…

I will be back someday. I will call often. I will send letters, pictures, and packages. I will not forget the Lam family and the town of Kanel who have done so much for me.

The whole thing is just so heartbreaking. In some ways it’s worse leaving here than it was leaving the states two years ago. At least then I had a time frame. I knew I would be back in two years time. I have no idea when I’ll be able to come back to Senegal.

At this point it’s all my family can talk about. They are obsessed with the countdown and telling me how much they are going to miss me. It makes me feel good, but it’s difficult to concentrate on all the projects I still have to finish up before I can leave. I just want to spend my time sitting around with them and my closest friends, soaking up all the sights, sounds, smells, and joyous moments and commit them to memory.

I have asked PC to replace me with another volunteer, an Environmental Education volunteer, female (at my family’s request), who speaks French. That will make it easier for me to send things and stay in touch, but my family keeps saying that no one will be able to replace me, and that they almost don’t want anyone else! Very sweet.

In any event, I’ve got two more weeks up here, then it’s down to Thies for GAD meetings and a GAD conference, then the West African Invitational Softball Tournament over President’s Day weekend, and the all volunteer conference, our Close of Service conference, and medical appointments, and then two friends, Lisa and Wendy are coming to visit for 2 weeks! Yay! They leave March 7th, then it’s back up to the desert for 3 weeks to start wrap things up and say my goodbyes. By April I’ll be in Dakar finishing film stuff, and then it’s home to America for good!

It really has all gone by so quickly I can’t even believe it. I am so lucky. It’s been such an incredible experience. Sure it’s been trying and almost unbearable at times, but the highs have been more rewarding than I ever could have imagined.

Looking back, I truly would not trade it for the world.

2 comments:

Shayla said...

Cait,

I, of course, would love to listen to your stories. Although I have not been in your shoes there, I will always have an open ear!! Your stories and interpretations are always wonderful. I enjoy hearing you talk in person as opposed to the blogs, although they are great too, because I am able to see the expressions on your face and your voices and such. You are such an amazing person and mean so much to so many people. Soak in the rest of your time there and come back to America ready to share oodles of stories. I'm always here for you!

Love you,
Shla

phyllis said...

I would be very proud to call you a colleague, even though I haven't practiced nursing in a while. It is a very worthwhile and humbling profession, you will be awesome, no doubt. There is so much to learn, and it is very exciting. And I don't doubt that you will go back to help again...May you always keep the excitement you now feel! It can get so discouraging, but your energy is contagious! The 1 thing about nursing, you learn something(s) new every day, it never ends, because new treatments and advances are always happening...Good Luck to you and finding a school, there are many good ones. Believe it or not, midwifery is something I so desparately wanted to pursue, but then I had children...and so it goes. You will be wonderful at it!
phyllis