23 March 2009: Orientation to McCord Mission Hospital

I am presently listening to voices carry up from the street to my fourth floor ears. Beautiful Zulu words spilling out in song. From my point of view, it appears to be a walking parade of campaigners or protesters. Even though I don’t know what I’m hearing, to sit and listen to African singing is too much for words.

Today. My first day at McCord Hospital. We met with Petra (our “leader” on the ground) and Toni (our “clinical faculty) – both are from the University of Kwazulu-Natal (UKZN). And we met McCord. Let me first reiterate that I am officially on African time. My US pace races ahead while South Africans take time. When my mind thinks that we are finally accomplishing something to my “US standards”, it’s time to take tea. And then it’s time to take lunch. And then another break for tea. One does not walk, one strolls. You do not have a quick conversation. You really get to know someone on first contact. It’s a beautiful way of life. Once you get used to it.

Matron Ngubane gave us a tour and our assignments for our 6 weeks of work. I will spend two weeks on a female surgical ward (A2), two weeks at the HIV/AIDS clinic (Sinikithemba), and two weeks on Siyaphila (Hospice/oncology). All subject to change, of course.

Each ward is run by a matron and the chief matron is responsible for all the matrons that run the wards. Under the matrons are sisters (what we would call RNs and LPNs) and pupil nurses (in training). After 2 hours on A2 I was struck most by the fact that the pupil nurses seem to run the floor (or keep it running) – there are by far more of them then all the sisters combined. The sisters operate only by function – each is assigned a daily task. It is rather robotic (although efficient in a sense) and impersonal. The ward is made up of rooms (“cubicles”) that can hold up to 6 patients. A2 has 8 cubicles and can hold up to 28 patients. There are far more resources than I imagined. I was assuming minimal with what we were expected to bring.