Helping a young Vietnamese woman with stage-four pressure sores was confronting for nurse volunteer Susan Elliott, but she says it has opened her heart and changed her future path. The photos in this post might be confronting for readers too, but this is the reality of challenging nursing.
The reason I became a nurse was to help people. People who are scared of dying. I believe that life is a gift and to be part of a process that strives to keep strangers alive is an incredible feeling. Volunteer work had always been on my bucket list, but I never had the time or money.
During a rough stage of my early twenties, I heard from a dear friend of mine about her partner who was overseas doing occupational therapy with disabled orphans through GGC Volunteers. A week passed, I was busy with my life again and no further towards ticking things off my bucket list. The thing about nursing is, every morning or afternoon I walk out of work and reflect on my life, my loved ones and my place in the world. One morning I woke up and decided to put my name down for GGC volunteers and I was uplifted immediately, excited for this adventure.
Next thing I knew, I was on a flight to Da Nang, Vietnam. I met a friendly face at the airport named Mr Phuc, who was an experienced physiotherapist. I could tell straightaway that this was going to be an experience I would hold close to my heart forever. I was introduced to a welcoming bunch of student physiotherapists at the volunteer house and that afternoon we went to meet some beautiful children.
As I’m a qualified nurse, I had a different program from the others. I was asked to attend the Social Support Centre, for those affected by Agent Orange, the disabled or orphans. I was asked to review a 21 year old woman who suffered from epilepsy and cerebral palsy. She had been bedridden for a year, on a metal bed with no pressure area care. I remember walking into her room and being lost for words. For the first time in my career, my heartstrings had been pulled. I told Mr Phuc I would work on her every day of my trip. The state of this young woman was unlike much I’d seen before, it was admittedly very confronting.
After my head to toe assessment I counted four stage-four pressure areas revealing bone, three black necrotic areas, severely excoriated female areas caused by her own urine and faeces and severe oral thrush from her NG tube. By the end of my trip the wounds had significantly improved, with thanks to the old nursing remedy of Sugardine. I’d had to improvise on account of the lack of supplies and was pleasantly surprised by the remedy.
I brought the young girl a few necessities such as pyjamas, dressings, pain relief and a few pillows to help relieve the pressure on the wounds and encourage healing. Despite my efforts though, the lack of supplies and education will in all likelihood result in this young girl passing away.
The young orphans I worked with need nurses to come over and help educate the carers, to show them how to look after the children and to prevent this from reoccurring.
If volunteering abroad is something you’ve ever considered, please don’t hesitate another moment! The investment is well worth it, you’ll be astonished at how much you are capable of contributing. The GGC Volunteer experience has opened my eyes, my heart and it’s changed my career path and future goals.
Previously on Nurse Uncut: