These scissors have a history. A history spanning over 30 years of Nursing experience. 30 years worth of stories that rarely get told. They tell of the desperation as they swiftly tore off the cast of a 9 year old boy who may or may not have sustained a fracture. The answer to such a question is written on the cheque. Will more money be passed over if it’s fractured? Or less? The truth is, these scissors don’t live in a place of justice, they work in a broken work place. Where no one will shout against corruption and where compassion is a fluffy western idea for people without balls or an understanding of the real world.
What can you really judge by a man’s material goods? What can you say of a nurses scissors? Fob watch? Finger nails? It’s interesting to entertain the idea, if just for a moment. Well let me tell you what you can tell about Major from his scissors. You can tell that he has only ever had one pair. You can guess that he saw an advert for a swiss army knife about ten years ago and has used the scissors as transformers ever since. You can see that he cares about cleanliness as they have clearly been through the ward steriliser a few times. You can also tell that they are precious, the top pocket of his white coat displays them with the pride seen in a veteran with a medal.
Major has seen the hospital go from bad to worse over the last 5 years. In 2009 after the coup and all foreign aid was stopped. Money given to healthcare diminished with each new year; the health care budget halved in 2012. Major, unlike other people I have worked with, opens his cupboards and remembers when they had contents. Supplies, bandages, dressings, blood tubes. He told me that before, it was OK. That healthcare was better. All he has seen is digression, yet he encourages and motivates his new staff nurses who know nothing of this better world that was. Isn’t it a little backwards? I mention things and he would reply yes we used to have that years ago. It’s like hoping for a future that has already been, and has since submerged into the past.
I walked on to the ward one day and there was a TV. He said he wanted to motivate his team. Another time there was a water filter. He said he wanted to make them happy. Most hospital leaders drive nice cars, wear nice new shiny shoes. He doesn’t. This is a man of integrity, of standing, of compassion. A man that’s brave enough to care in a world where people see that as a weakness.
When I ran a mentorship program with his staff I didn’t ask him to join; that would disrespectful. One must assume that the Major’s know all. Yet half way through the course he asked if he could join. He wanted to learn, he said. In transformational development and medical capacity building, Humility brings hope.
I like Hope
At the end of the field service we pray that all our patients are well and go home. Sometimes prayers don’t get answered. Everyone knows that. If this prayer got answered then you would never hear the best bit of the story. The story would have already ended there.
Tip-toeing through the year I found myself wondering if any of this makes a difference. I fully recognise and have learnt the hard way that without love, nobody learns, without trust nobody listens and without respect nothing happens. So when I see people listening and showing signs of respect, there is hope for things to be learnt and a chance of change.
When some of our patients needed further post-op care and treatment as we closed our hospital ship, Major was there. I had already picked him and his team to take over the care of those we would have to leave behind. They had received their briefing from our Outpatients Matron and had seemed pleased to be asked (and of course to receive the money we would pay them in return for the care continuum).
Leaving a country with locals in charge of money, patients and supplies is tricky. We haven’t always had good outcomes. In a world where people don’t get paid and everyone else in the ward have no supplies you can see that it’s easy for things go missing, money to disappear and patients to leave with no sign. When the person responsible for the distribution of money looked at me and asked again “Are you sure you want to give all the money straight into this man’s hands for the team?”, I replied “Yes” doubtlessly. I said again, “Major is a man of integrity, a man we can trust”.
I left for England shortly after. Prayed that no patients would need further hospitalisation and that we really could trust Major. My part was over. I had spent 10 weeks with the team, taught them what I could and then left.
In a wet and damp England one week later I received an email that produced tears and a face to reflect the weather forecast. The Matron of Outpatients wrote to say that there was a patient that needed hospitalisation as our hospital shut. He needed treatment and recovery. She recounted the story and explained that she rang Major to arrange a medical transfer. It was late in the day and he said he would be at the hospital to receive the patient, he put his most trusted nurse on the night shift to care for the patient and when money was discussed as it had been before, it was refused.
Major said with the full support of the team that “Mercy Ships has done so much for the people of my country. You have trusted me with these patients and I want to give them the same care that you are giving them. You are all volunteering and I will too. This is my gift to you. Thank you for trusting me.”
And so these nurses cared for our patient without bribes, without money.
This is unheard of!
This happened in a hospital that I have spent 8 months in slogging away and attempting to get people to care. I have seen so much apathy and disregard for people, so many people cast aside because they don’t have money. The compassion that was described in this email suggests hope is alive, that trust has arrived and that change is unstoppable.
All of that is not written on Major’s scissors, you could stare at them for days and analyse his methods of use but you wouldn’t know what is in his heart. I guess we can never know what is happening in someones heart; we can never know whether our teaching is really making a difference to health care but the contents of their pockets and their actions displayed when trusted might give us a clue.
I’m a nurse, I work in Madagascar and I teach and train Malagasy nurses.
I work alongside them and they work alongside me.
I learn from them and they learn from me.
I work as a volunteer for Mercy Ships – but these are my thoughts and do not represent the organisation as a whole.