Flinders University 2020

Paramedic Science, Zambia Lusaka

I don’t even know where to begin when writing about my Work the World trip to Zambia. 

It began with a crazy idea and a best friend and ended with a life-changing journey.

Caitlin Merriman (MERRIMAN23964)

When we first enquired about organising the trip we were told that we would be the first paramedic students to complete the Zambia Work the World program – how could we say no to blazing a path for future paramedic students! 

Our excitement grew immensely as we counted down the months, weeks and then days until our trip. 

The nerves were definitely strong in the lead up – I had never been overseas before and my parents thought this was a crazy place to start! 

It was amazing to have the support of the Work the World team before we left. I think I asked 300 questions during the preparation for our trip trying to prepare myself for what it was going to be like. 

I thought I had asked enough questions and done enough research that I knew what to expect. I couldn’t have been more wrong. 

There was no amount of questions that could have prepared me for what I was actually going to experience in Zambia.

My placement hospital in Lusaka will always have a special place in my heart. 

After only ever being exposed to Australian hospitals I was shocked at how few resources they had. But they made up for it with the most passionate and driven staff I have ever met, and the strongest and most resilient patients I have ever been exposed to. 

The reality was there were a lot of trauma victims that we treated in Emergency, there was a lot of pain and suffering and not much pain relief. 

A lot of people had to go without and I was absolutely blown away by the resilience and strength of the patients who sat for hours on end with broken bones, burns and amputations and no pain relief. 

Caitlin Merriman (MERRIMAN23964)The biggest shock was that not once did a patient complain, ask how long it was going to take or beg for pain relief. 

I was so accustomed to Australian healthcare where patients, who already have a copious amount of pain relief on board and minor injuries, begin complaining and becoming impatient after waiting for 15 minutes. 

The highlight for me was the wisdom and skills imparted to us by the Zambian Emergency doctors and nurses. I learned so much more than I was expecting to. 

They were so willing to go above and beyond to teach us how to adapt and thrive in their environment. 

The doctors taught me how to treat without equipment and facilities, how to adapt and still make a difference. 

The patient that will stay in my mind for the rest of my life was a 6-year-old girl who was hit by a car and sustained a broken femur. 

Caitlin Merriman (MERRIMAN23964)In Australia, that’s an easy one – put on a traction splint to maintain bone alignment of the femur. 

Only they don’t have pre-prepared plastic traction splints in sterile packets at the ready in Zambia. And I was useless at knowing how to help this child without my first world supplies at my fingertips. 

But, the doctor came over and taught me how to make a traction splint out of a bucket of water and a crepe bandage. I will never, ever forget that. 

I was so amazed at his ability to overcome and invent something that worked just as effectively. Absolutely incredible.

The hardest part was the children. So many children who have suffered trauma. 

But it was magical when you got to see them discharged home or to a ward with a smile on their faces. The children definitely tugged at my heartstrings. 

Also the first time a patient died. Especially as I hadn’t yet experienced a patient pass away at home in Australia. It was hard. 

You definitely need your friends and housemates around you after a bad day.

Caitlin Merriman (MERRIMAN23964)Here are some of my diary entries throughout the trip to give you an idea of what it’s actually like living and working in Zambia...

“What a start this trip of a lifetime has been! 30 hours of travel through 3 different countries brought us to the city of Lusaka. 

We moved into the Work the World house with 12 of the most incredible students I’ve ever met from all over the world, studying everything from nursing, medicine, paramedic science, surgery, midwifery and physiotherapy. 

We got to visit the local Sunday markets and then completed our hospital orientation day yesterday. After returning home we completed a Nyanja language class to help us communicate with patients who don’t speak English. 

My sleep clock (apparently still in Adelaide time) ensures I’m wide awake at 4am to watch the sunrise!

Today I am pulling on my scrubs to start my first day working in the emergency department. I am incredibly nervous and excited to learn and help in such a challenging environment. Wish me luck!”

Caitlin Merriman (MERRIMAN23964)“This week has been one of the most challenging of my life. Working Monday-Friday in the emergency department has put me in some of the saddest and most frustrating situations. But has also shown me great strength, love, persistence and adversity. 

No matter how many questions I asked I couldn’t have prepared myself for what I was going to see here. I had no idea just how different Zambian healthcare was to Australian. 

There are no minor injuries or early onset sicknesses here. Every. Single. Patient. Who presents to the emergency department is actively dying. 

And the hardest part of the job is having to triage who gets help first when in Australia every single patient would qualify for immediate emergency help.”

Caitlin Merriman (MERRIMAN23964)“Our nights off consisted of handwashing loads of laundry, games nights with the other students, visiting local markets and eating at Nandos (an exciting surprise)!

On Thursday night we were treated to an African dance night where we tried to learn some traditional African dance (the most fun of my life)!

And on Friday night we hit up the town together, found the casino and had way too many shots. A great night to bond with some of the other students!”

“Can’t believe another week has almost flown by. I have absolutely fallen in love with this country and its people! 

After almost 2 weeks I think I’ve earned the trust of the emergency department nurses and doctors - now getting my name put on the staff board in the morning and given more responsibility, within my scope of practice, during emergencies. 

Caitlin Merriman (MERRIMAN23964)The local nurses have already asked and made me promise, to give them my medical scrubs, oxygen monitor, blood pressure cuff and pen torches before I leave (items that are an absolute necessity to helping emergency patients, yet are an absolute luxury to the staff in Zambia). 

I can’t believe how such small gifts can make such a massive difference and so wish I had brought more with me to give!”

“Spending time with all my housemates at night is such a perfect and relaxing end to the day - even visiting the local body-building gym and eating a three-course meal for $9!! 

I’m so sad to think I am only here for one more week before starting our safari up the east coast of Africa! I would stay here forever if I could!”

“Can’t believe the hospital placement part of our Africa trip is already over! 

There’s not really a journal entry that can describe or explain the bonds I have formed with the incredible women I met on this journey. They are all such beautiful, caring souls and it’s been an absolute privilege to get to know them all. 

Can’t decide whether to be excited or sad to move on to the safari part of our trip of a lifetime!”

Caitlin Merriman (MERRIMAN23964)

I thought I would go to Zambia and change the world, but instead, I went to Zambia and it changed my world. 

I can say with complete conviction that not only did this trip make me a better paramedic, but it also made me a better person. 

Thank you Zambia, thank you Work the World, and thank you to the Zambian doctors and my placement hospital for teaching me so much. 

You can bet I will be back one day. Probably sooner than you think. 

And to all those paramedic students wondering if they should give this experience a shot, I say absolutely take the leap.

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