Thursday, January 22, 2009

The End

All journeys must come to an end and this will be the last entry I make in "Stories from Swaziland".
I have now been back in Australia for almost 3 weeks and I am slowly adjusting to life back in this privileged country. I'm back working in an emergency department. The irony is that I'm working for 6 months in the private sector, so I am treating people who have every resource available to them and I don't have to think twice about ordering tests or prescribing drugs- their insurance will cover everything. No one has HIV and no-one has TB. My working environment is relaxed, pleasant and stress-free. I am surrounded by support and I feel nurtured and appreciated. Yet, if I had to be truly honest, I actually miss some of the mayhem I faced in Swaziland. I miss my patients who were so grateful for the smallest things. There were times where all I could offer was a hug and a smile and somehow that was often enough. I miss my nurses who drove me crazy most of the time but had hearts of gold and treated me with an almost "God-like" status. I miss walking into town and having everyone I pass smile at me and greet me warmly. I miss my friends terribly. I think of Kristin, Andrew and Susan everyday and often wonder what they are doing. I am in regular email contact with them and the other day, Kristin emailed me to tell me of some of the projects they have done recently and I actually yearned to be a part of it. They are doing amazing things in terms of educating their community about HIV/AIDS. Kristin has started giving lectures at the nursing school and I know she will inspire the nursing students and encourage them to learn more. I am so incredibly proud of them. Susan still faces the endless bureaucratic nightmare of trying to co-ordinate care for those suffering HIV and TB and I hope that she knows that I am supporting her in spirit whilst not being there in person. Julia and Chris are settling back into their lives in the States (with their gorgeous new President). Jenny (Scottish medical student) has just finished her medical exams and will start her first year as a doctor.
I was walking through a shopping centre the other day and I saw two young African children. I had to stop myself from going up to them and giving them a warm embrace. In Swaziland, the children would have instinctively run up to me for a cuddle, but here in Australia, children are taught to not be so trusting. I am still in regular contact with my friends at Bulembu and I am sent regular updates on all the children as well as photos to add to my rapidly expanding collection. Sometimes, during my more quiet moments, I think about all those orphans and wonder what lies ahead of them. I still cry randomly and my heart often aches for inexplicable reasons.
That being said, I have adjusted quite well and I'm not sure I've ever felt this happy, nor this comfortable within my own skin. I have this new-found confidence in myself that allows me to think that anything is possible and that nothing is too hard. I appreciate things now that before I have taken for granted. I am able to see beauty in the mundane and I am able to treasure things that others may see as unimportant. This is a true gift that only the heartache of being in Swaziland was able to give me.
People ask me whether I will go back and the truth is, the answer is yes- just not yet. I can't imagine going through the rest of my life without being able to touch lives the way I was able to in Swaziland. It was the hardest experience of my life so far, but that doesn't mean I will shy away from such difficult experiences again. I actually think I will be back in Swaziland sooner than I think. I have some special friends there and although it may mean using the dreaded latrine again, I think my Peace Corp friends will have a visitor sooner rather than later.
I cannot finish this story without thanking some incredibly special people in my life. Many of you sent me warm wishes, support and love in various forms, but there are a few people who deserve special mention:
Courtney- by best friend in the whole entire world. She set me up with the blog and made various adustments to it upon my request. She emailed me every single day I was in Swaziland and her regular contact provided me with comfort that is simply indescribable and will not be forgotten. I think some of my "adventures" caused her quite a bit of angst at times and she has asked me to never embark on this type of thing again, but the amazing thing about Courtney is that her support is unwavering and no doubt will continue on the next crazy mission I undertake.
Mum, Graeme, Dad and Rachel- thank you for encouraging me to step outside of my comfort zone and refusing to let me give up. Thank you for still seeing the special side of me despite the fact I am incredibly "different" to every other 30 year old you know! Graeme- thank you for the 200 tea bags, 6 kilos of coffee and 3 litres of hand sanitiser that you went to such effort to send me. I never got around to using it all, but rest assure, there are many others who are still appreciating your efforts!
Anna from Ireland- despite your own difficulties, you were still able to empathise and encourage. It certainly was fate that brought us together again and I will never forget the support you showed me.
My friend Adam- you patiently listened as I described in graphic detail my various changes in bowel habit, my fears that my skin was infested with bugs and the ailments of my patients that were never quite appropriate to talk about on the blog. Somehow, you just knew the right things to say to settle my hysteria and you gave me a laugh when I needed it most.
All my friends from PA Hospital- I know it still seems bizarre that I had the courage to go to Swaziland, but rest assure I'm a lot stronger for it. Dr Mel has "toughened up"! I still have a propensity for tears, but there are some things you just can't change! Your donations and support mean that you're not just my work colleagues- you're also my friends.
To Kristin, Andrew, Susan, Julia and Chris- words will never be enough to describe how much I love you and how much you affected my life. I will never forget the laughter and tears we shared. I tried to share my experiences on my blog, but only you will be able to truly appreciate my experience of a lifetime.
To everyone who read my blog- those I know and those I don't- the blog was more for me rather than anyone else. As I sat and wrote of my experiences, I never felt alone and somehow sharing the heartache, telling people about this forgotten country and describing my adventures helped eased the enormous sadness I felt at times.
To the people of Swaziland- you have changed my life forever. When the rest of the world ignores your tears, I will not forget you. When you feel pain, I will feel it too. Where you have a glimmer of hope, I will encourage you. You are not alone- my thoughts will always be with you.


The Lemings said...

What a nice post to leave off on! And yes, I'm afraid you are stuck with me for life!