This is the last night in Belfast. It is very difficult to say good bye to everyone. I have been given so much by this community, so much more than I could have ever given them. No matter how much we prepared in the classroom, nothing could get us ready for the experience we had here. I would strongly urge anyone who is given the opportunity to take part in this trip in the future to take FULL advantage. I have made many strong friendships while being here and have pushed myself to and beyond limits I never thought I could do. This trip was more than worth it and I do not think I have still comprehended all that it has done for me as a person and clinician. This experience is like no other and I am so grateful I was able to be a part of it.
Unfortunately, I will not be sharing the same experiences with you that my fellow colleagues have been sharing the past few days. How can you integrate into a community without getting the FULL experience? I took it upon myself to be admitted to the local hospital for an overnight stay in order to get an inside look at the national health care system. Kidding…it was completely unexpected and I, unfortunately, really had to take part in an overnight stay in the hospital here in Belfast for an unforeseen surgery. Things went well and I have already been released from the hospital so no worries. The experience was something that could absolutely never have been taught in a classroom and I fully witnessed the bitter end of N.I’s health care. I’m going to take this time to paint the picture for you and do a little comparing and contrasting of the health care systems. This blog is in no way intended to bash one system or the other, it is simply a pros and con’s opinion of each and based on your personality one may seem more endearing than the other. I ended up at the A&E (emergency room) at 11:30AM Monday morning with a waiting time of 7 hours and 30 minutes. And we think waiting 2 hours to be seen is bad? Due to the “seriousness” of my condition I was able to be seen in a measly two hours and 15 minutes. After being examined for literally 10 mintues, I was asked to sit in the corridor of the A&E to wait for the surigical team, in which I sat in pain for another four hours. For the most part, no one would even make eye contact with me and I couldn’t help but wonder if my lack of treatment had to do with being American, until I saw a young kid who waited just as long as I had that eventually came out of his cubicle with a knee high cast on and crutches. He obviously sat for hours, with a broken leg. I was then moved to the surgical A&E (I’m pretty sure they were sick of the impatient Americans asking questions every 5 minutes) where I sat for at least another 6 hours until I was see by a junior surgeon who had to consult with his senior surgeon…which took another 3 hours. Needless to say from the time I walked into the A&E to the time i was in my room in a bed I was there for 11 hours. My “room” consisted of me and five other women who were there for similar issues. I was not expecting 5 roommates, I’m spoiled, don’t we get our own rooms? Sounds miserable, right? Well here’s the upside. My experiences with hospitals in America have been somewhat less than satisfactory. Doctors are usually hard to find and they usually do not come to see you until later in the day, so you sit around wondering what is going on. I’ve also felt at times, people have been kept in the hospital longer than needed which sometimes can slow down the healing process. Laying in a hospital bed for three extra days can’t be good for blood flow or your mental health. I was woken up at 8AM Tuesday morning by a TEAM of doctors giving me the plans for the day. I was on an emergency list for surgery so it was hard to say when exactly I’d get in, but by 11AM I was being prepped for surgery. As far as my excessive amount of roommates, I am in a country with no family and a group of people I have only had the pleasure of really getting to know for 2 weeks, those women in my room were the highlight of my stay. I had wonderful conversations and was able to make light of the situation. Yes, privacy is nice, but what’s better than a genuine heartfelt conversation with someone when you are feeling nothing but loneliness and fear. I had surgery Tuesday morning and was released that evening, they don’t mess around here. And after all of that…my stay is cost free. So you wonder is 11 hours worth not having to pay a dime for care that would have been just as good elsewhere? Not to mention, the nursing staff walked around the hospital singing and as happy as I’d seen a nursing staff in my life. However, my personality doesn’t contain a whole lot of patience so I think I’ll stick to the quick and easy way of the American health care. But I will say, my experience with the national health care system left me pleasantly surprised. Knowing what I know now, I would do it all over again. And a special thank you to our wonderful TA who spent countless hours with me in the hospital, without you I would have lost my mind.
This weekend as been one of the most unbelievable experiences I have ever had. Yesterday, we walked the streets of Derry/Londonderry and took pictures of all the murals for peace and civil rights. The most incredible part was seeing the “H-Block” and Bloody Sunday memorials. Reading the young ages of some of the lives that were taken during Bloody Sunday really hit hard. The town was like nothing I have experienced since I have been here. It was one huge story and a very, very different atmosphere. Today, we were able to hike up Cave Hill, which was a site I have never in my life experienced. As we walked the hill, every person you passed said hello to you as if they had known you for years. You engaged in conversation with anyone within close distance. Even on the hill, the sense of community is still as strong as ever. I cannot say enough how truly blesed I am to have had to opportunity to be a part of something so impactful…and it’s still not over.
It is amazing to me how quickly the time has gone by. I am having an amazing experience with some very incredible people. Everyday is a new adventure and you never know what you might hear or the unbelievable things you are going to learn that day. Yesterday, we met with two separate individuals. The first man worked for a restorative justice program. It was so touching to me how much this man wanted to give back to the community and create peace. No matter how many times their ideas fail or how slowly things are moving they never give up and continue to fight to bring peace among Belfast. The second woman we met with was a Minister of Sinn Fein. The most intriguing thing to me was that she really wasn’t sure what she was supposed to be talking to us about, but as soon as she got started she had no problem educating us on the history of Belfast, what she has been involved in and what she is doing to help now. Every single person has a story in Belfast and are more than willing to share. The amount of history and the feeling of resilience and community is overwhelming. It is like no other place I have ever been.
I began my trip to Ireland in Dublin where it appeared everyone was a tourist. As I made my way to Belfast, tourism was obviously rare form. It seems surreal that after four months of intense preparation I am already at the end of day 3 of my trip. Everyone said the time will fly while we are here and I now know that was an understatement. As the days fly by I am immersed into a wealth of knowledge from so many different people and experiences. The things I have learned in three short days are more than I could ever gain from a classroom and I am grateful for this experience. Not only am I given the opportunity to meet people and learn from them, I am able to grow as a clinician and learn from myself. I have been inspired by so many people in such a short time; I cannot even begin to imagine what other experiences are to come.