I wrote these thoughts during my time spent volunteering abroad in Cape Town, South Africa. I spent one month overseas helping out at Victoria Hospital looking after terminally ill patients. This was my first diary entry.
Day One, 11th August 2015
My first day volunteering was an eye opener. The staff working within the palliative care unit said they experience death on a regular basis. Patients referred to this team are terminally ill. This means that they will not get better. The palliative care team’s responsibility is to provide patients comfort in living with their illness. This may be in the form of counselling – helping patients and their families come to terms with their illness, providing medical equipment such as wheelchairs and mattresses to alleviate symptoms or providing a support group where patients can come and interact with others suffering with a similar condition.
What really stood out for me today was the fact that all of these services are not government funded. Previously when patients were diagnosed with a terminally ill disease, they would be sent home to die. The Abundant Life programme was set up in 2009 by Dr Cupido and Sister Pitout to improve the quality of end of life care. The programme runs solely on donations. It really made me question the public healthcare system. Imagine your mother, father, sister or brother was diagnosed with a terminally ill disease and the doctor just turns around and says ‘sorry, I can’t do anything’ and sent them home to die? Not a pretty thought.
One person who has really stuck in my mind today is Kathy. She is 60 years old and has been a volunteer for Abundant life for the past two years. This woman is the true definition of strength! During the last 10 years she lost her mother to lung cancer, father to chronic renal failure (as a result from diabetes), her daughter to liver cancer and she herself has suffered from strokes, diabetes and hypertension. It’s crazy how much you find out about a person when you take the time to listen to what they have to say! I literally sat down for about 60 minutes and didn’t say a word! I can’t even remember how we got onto the subject but i’m so glad i got the opportunity to get to know her today. I’m looking forward to working with her over the coming weeks. One thing she said has really stuck with me ‘Our life is a consequence of the choices we have made’ I enjoyed reflecting on this statement, because when I thought about it I realised how true it is! And how we all can change our lives by changing our choices. Guess you really do learn something new everyday.