UBC School of Nursing grads, Julia Iwama and Christine Fantuz, spent five weeks in Western Nepal
UBC Reports | Vol. 53 | No. 5 | May 3, 2007
Nursing at 7,000 Feet
By Hilary Thomson
Caring for patients in a Himalayan village hospital has forever changed the outlook of two UBC School of Nursing grads.
Julia Iwama and Christine Fantuz spent five weeks, ending in February this year, at the TEAM Hospital in Dadeldhura, in Western Nepal. The facility is perched on a mountain ridge at an altitude of almost 7,000 feet. It has 36 beds, treats 250 outpatients daily and serves a surrounding population of 1.5 million people. Nursing staff deliver approximately 100 babies every month.
“Sometimes, there are not enough hands to catch all the babies,” says Iwama, who recalls one busy birthing night when the hospital security guard had to help deliver babies.
The students encountered both injuries and conditions unique to the area. A common scenario was women -- including heavily pregnant women -- falling out of trees as they gathered leaves to feed herd animals. They also treated the serious complications of local healers’ interventions such as packing an injury with dung. They dealt with daily power outages, scarce equipment, some poor-quality medications and temperatures barely above freezing.
Also, providing care within a vastly different culture was challenging.
“I delivered a baby girl and the mother told me to throw it in a bucket,” says Fantuz. “Women are devalued in Nepal and it was so hard to see women also devaluing their own daughters.”
A highlight for her was donating two units of blood, carrying the bags into the operating room, and administering the blood to a patient to help save her life.
In addition to patient care, the pair was involved in ward management. A surgical team from Kathmandhu came to the small hospital for a week dedicated to performing as many surgeries as possible, meaning staff had to accommodate and co-ordinate care for 286 in-patients with only a few dozen beds.
When they weren’t working, the duo spent time in Dumada, a neighbouring community of about 300 villagers, sharing meals, singing and hiking.
Both women say the experience helped them focus on what’s most important for the patient and the value of “just being present.” Iwama, who also worked at the hospital in 2006, stresses the importance of understanding Nepal’s health-care issues in the context of people’s -- especially women’s -- daily life. “They want their stories told, and not just to be a statistic.”
“What I’ll remember is that even with so many differences, people are similar -- they want to be loved, to be touched and cared for,” says Fantuz, a former registered massage therapist who is working toward a critical care nursing specialty and plans to work as an intensive care nurse.
Iwama will return to the hospital this Fall to work there indefinitely. “This experience affirmed for me where I want to be in life,” she says. “My heart came home.”
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