A couple months ago, one of my friends from nursing school
in Chicago shared a link on Facebook to a National Campaign for Safe
RN-to-Patient Staffing Ratios in the US. The proposed safe ratio for Pediatrics
was 1 nurse to 3 patients. And, in the States, I actually whole-heartedly agree
with that proposition. But, then here- I had just finished shadowing a nurse at
Kibuye Hospital on the Pediatrics service, and her nurse to patient ratio that
day was 1 nurse to 34 patients. Quite the contrast!
One of my life-long dreams has been to practice nursing in
Africa, and it was one of the reasons we joined this team here in Burundi. In
the last two years since we moved here, I have spent most of my time at home
with our young boys, only occasionally making it up to the hospital for
Grand Rounds or special occasions.
But then - this year, a team of our doctors started a
program (actually, the first in Burundi) to treat Retinoblastoma (“RB” - eye
cancer) with chemotherapy in pediatric patients. When they first asked if I
could help out with the program, I was terrified. I hadn’t spent much time at
the hospital yet, but I had been there enough to know that chemotherapy in this
setting scared me: most of the kids in the program would be malnourished, overcrowding
and poor sanitation in our hospital is a constant challenge, and nursing and
medical supplies are limited. I was used to pristine, sterile hospitals (well,
hem/onc floors at least) around Chicago, with the best of the best supplies at
my fingertips. But, before long, I found myself working 12-16hr shifts during
chemo weeks with a group of incredible RB kids. And now, I’m so glad our docs
here had the guts to say, “Let’s do this!”
|My Staff ID badge for Hopital Espoir de Kibuye|
|Living my dream working as a nurse in Africa|
|Drawing up chemotherapy medications|
|Our first round of chemo, we started with mattresses on the floor in the cleanest room we could create and only 4 patients|
However, the transition hasn't been easy for me. I miss monitors. I
miss pharmacists. I miss ports and central lines. I miss J-tips. I miss EMRs
that remind me when a med is due or an order is outstanding. I miss IV pumps
(Yes- I had to reteach myself how to calculate drip rates!). I miss saline flushes.
I miss oxygen piped through the walls. I miss wall suction. I miss Child Life
Specialists. I miss Respiratory Therapists. I miss Rapid Response Teams. I miss
a lot of things about working in the States. But these kids, though… Totally
make it worth it.
|12 kids in the chemo program during the latest round of chemo|
|Using the iPad for some distraction for the kids|
|Our youngest child in the program- only 8 months old|
|These two patients were the best of buddies, but unfortunately the one on the left passed away last month|
|These two patients are good friends too- sharing a meal together. God, please keep them healthy!|
During our second round of chemo, one of the new patients
developed a fever and was vomiting. Oral Tylenol wasn’t an option, but we didn’t
have any suppositories. We waited almost an hour before one of the nurses from
Pediatrics had time to come hang IV Tylenol. I had never hung IV Tylenol in the
States. I didn’t know how to set it up or where to get it from in our hospital
here. I was the only nurse working in the RB program at that time, and I
realized that I really needed to spend some time with the nurses on other
services to see how things work here from a nursing perspective.
So, I’ve started shadowing whenever I can. And wow, have I
been amazed. My first day, I worked in Pediatrics with an incredible nurse,
Joyeuse. There were 117 patients on the peds service that day and only 4
nurses. Here, they don’t assign patients to nurses - they assign whole rooms
full of patients. She had three rooms with about 10+ patients each in them. Overnight,
there is usually only 1 nurse, maybe 2, per service.
But, I don’t want to communicate that working in the US was
“easier” than it is working here. I have never been more stressed as a nurse
than I was working nights on a busy adult med-surg floor in Chicago. It’s just
different- some things are easier, some things are harder- it’s just…different.
Yes, there were more resources there, but there were also more expectations on
the nurse. In a hospital in the States, you have almost any resource you can
think of to help prolong someone’s life. Of course, they don’t always work, but
there is a big responsibility on the nurse and the patient-care team, to try
absolutely everything. But here- along with a lack of resources, comes a sort
of fatalistic mentality. If you don’t have access to the supplies needed to
save a life- then they die. Whether it’s wrong or right, there isn’t the same
amount of pressure here as in the States to keep people alive. I imagine that
will change as our hospital grows and more and more interventions become
available. But, right now… it’s just different.
Here, each patient is required to have a caregiver (usually
a family member) at the bedside at all times- to help feed, bathe, assist them
to the bathroom, etc. In the States, that was all my responsibility. Here, if
you work night shift as a nurse, you actually have a bed in an on-call room and
you often sleep from the last med
pass at 10pm until the next med pass at 6am (unless you are working maternity or surgery- Labor and traumas can't wait!) The nurses here couldn’t believe that
in the States, I worked from 7pm to 7am as a night-shift nurse on peds and didn’t get a
bed, and certainly never slept during my shift!
|Room with 10 beds in it for those working night shift here|
There are some similarities though. One of my favorite things
about working in the States was the awesome team of nurses I worked with. We
helped each other out. Yesterday, I worked with Divine (one of the Peds nurses)
in the NICU – she had 18 patients… 18 NICU
patients- by herself!!! So, Joyeuse came to help her out, placing lines,
inserting NG tubes, and administering medications. They were totally there for
each other. I love that.
|The full NICU|
|Nurse Divine checking on one of the NICU babies|
|NICU babies sharing a bed- can you find the two babies?|
|Divine and Joyeuse inserting an NG tube into a baby who only weighs 950g|
|Divine and Joyeuse starting an IV on one of the NICU patients|
We hope to hire a Burundian nurse in the RB program soon, but for several different reasons, we have not yet been able to. Right now, volunteers are key. The
first few rounds, our awesome doctors functioned as nurses, helping administer the chemo and monitor patients at the bedside. My sister-in-law,
Heather, has been helping out as our “pharmacist”, drawing up meds while we
administer them. And in September, we had some new team members join our group.
Among them were the Sund’s (Stephanie is a nurse and Greg is an anesthesiologist)
who have been such a huge blessing to the RB program.
|Working with an awesome team - Dr. Logan, Dr. Parfait, Heather (my sister-in-law) and Stephanie (the other nurse)|
|Heather helping us out by drawing up meds on chemo days|
| A fantastic hem/onc nurse, Becky Cook, came from Kijabe Hospital in Kenya with a wealth of information which helped us to get our program up and running|
|And she brought Stephanie Cox, an audiologist who performed baseline hearing tests on all of our RB kids|
So, even though there are a lot of differences between practicing
here as a nurse and practicing in the US, a couple of the most important things
remain the same in both places:
And a heart for the people we are caring for.
|The wonderful team of nurses on the Pediatric service|
|Some of the incredible kids in our RB program|