To start with, it was emotional. Seeing patients going through their battle with life and death, being afraid and vulnerable, you want to help them. But how much can you help you have neither the ability to speak their language nor the knowledge of a doctor? Actually, that is quite a lot you can do. And that’s what the GoAbroad allowed me to experience and share.
Firstly, a little bit of a backstory. About half a year ago now, while still in Edinburgh, I am researching summer opportunities, when the GoAbroad fund comes across. To be fair, it is not difficult to find because of its wide advertising. After giving it very little thought, I decide to text my old acquaintance from Georgia, who I have met at the Biology Olympiad a long time ago. I ask her whether she knows how to volunteer in a Georgian hospital and get a surprising response almost straight away – she, in fact, does know one professor at the High Technology University Clinic who would be happy to help me. “That’s it!”, I think straight away and start filling the GoAbroad application. Fast forward a couple of weeks, and I know that my application was successful. Having heard little from the professor, I only know that I have a place to volunteer, and now, the money (with which the real responsibility comes). I could not believe that it is going to happen, but I know that it will have to.
After filling a couple of papers, arranging the flights and the meeting with a doctor, I am all set to go. The realisation that it is happening comes only after the plane lands in Tbilisi. The day I come to the hospital, it hits even harder, but there is still more to come. The professor allows me to choose any department to attend during each day, so I choose to spend the most of my time at the Emergency Department – the one that has the most diverse and unexpected cases. A junior doctor assists me to the Emergency and, after a very short introduction, leaves me there. Anxious about what to do and who to talk with, I am alone in the middle of an unfamiliar busy ward. After feeling like an alien for a minute or so, I start talking to the nurses then the doctors and soon recognise the well known Georgian hospitality, which will be there for the subsequent 10 days.
The most important things I have learnt:
- Do not be afraid of showing interest and be curious about everything. People are eager to share their knowledge. Also, that will probably lead to further out gamblings of the initial conversation, one of which could be assisting pleural effusion drainage (which is a fancy way of saying removing fluids from the lungs).
- Work with what you have at hand. You see that something needs fixing – just do it. Proactively solving small issues, such as passing syringes, bandages, infusion kits or bringing an EKG machine to the patient, will make you useful and will get you involved.
- Listen to people’s needs, even if you don’t speak their language. Take a look at how you could get them more comfortable and do so – cover them with a blanket if they cannot do so, help them find their shoes, bring a cup of water with their medicine (it is advisable to consult with a doctor on this one), or bring a wheel-chair if they want to go to the toilet or adjust their oxygen mask. There’s always a lot you can do for the people, just look for it.
Unfortunately, I was not able to take any pictures from inside the hospital. I did, however, travel a lot through this Gorgeous country. I could write about my adventures outside the hospital a lot – hitch-hiking from the mountains, learning how to surf, exploring the most humid part in Eastern Europe and much much more, but let the pictures speak for themselves (also, I ran out of the word count :).