I went to the Cancer Hospital with an LDS Charities missionary couple from church and Karu Gamage from OSC – Overseas School of Colombo. That was a large experience. Sad. Somewhat overwhelming. How best to explain?
Really, the best way to understand is to see it yourself. But you can’t, so I’ll do what I can to translate those images into words here.
When we arrived, we saw hundreds of people sitting around outside and hundreds more waiting inside on chairs, standing up – in both the official waiting area and up and down the hallways.
I took this picture later, after most of the people who occupied it went elsewhere. I’m not sure where. But this still shows you where people can sit. And also, this is where the outpatients go between or before or after treatments, and where people can go to eat their meals. Not much in the form of real facilities.
They were waiting either for outpatient treatment, or to be admitted.
This hospital is a government funded hospital. Treatment for all patients is free. However, imagine if you will – they have 650 beds, but 750-800 patients admitted at any point in time. They give outpatient treatment to another 350-500 every day. Think about this. They’re that short on beds – where are they putting everyone? How busy must all the doctors be? In the course of a year, they’ll get something like 9000 new patient registrations. In other words, they have a fair bit of traffic.
There are government run hospitals here, and there are also private hospitals. Private hospitals are where those who can afford to will go. A patient gets better care there with doctors who aren’t stretched to the limits.
We sat down with the president of the hospital, and she explained a lot of things to us. Some of the patients are here for up to two years. As in, overnight, permanent residents of the hospital. This is true for both children and adults.
With children, often, and even the vast majority of the time, the mother accompanies the child and takes care of him/her. There are not, unfortunately, beds or anything else set up for the mother to sleep at. There simply are not enough funds. The mother will end up sleeping on the floor beside the child’s bed, and during the day, will nap when their child naps, but then, if they can, will simply sit down with head resting on child’s bed, like this woman did.
You may not yet be wondering how the mother will take care of things like laundry. I didn’t either once I saw all the lines strewn up outside the hospital. It’s a good thing the lines are up – it provides a good place for them to hang their laundry.
In all fairness, though, it wasn’t just clothing hanging up. It was also sheets, towels, cleaning cloths, etc. So obviously the hospital also uses the lines.
I mentioned that some of these patients are here up to two years at a time. Radiation treatment, chemotherapy, that sort of thing always takes time, and as far as I know, this is the only national cancer hospital. It sure doesn’t sound like there’s anywhere else for anyone to go unless they go private. Anyway, when it comes to children here for a couple of years, what do you do about school?
These children are sick and they’re going through enough already. They can’t handle full time school. Most of them, however, can handle a half hour or a couple of hours of school a day. That’s why OSC (Overseas School of Colombo) staff and students volunteer there – to tutor the children. Of course the children aren’t able to progress from grade to grade the same way as they would if they were in full time attendance – but at least they can prevent losing what they’ve already learned, perhaps progress some, and at least not destroy the child’s self-esteem by being completely behind absolutely everyone else when they go back home. It also gives them something to take their minds off cancer treatments.
There’s also a small playground. I’m not sure if it’s intended for visiting children or the patients. Either way, it’s here.
The volunteers from OSC – both adults and students – have done some fund raising for the building and equipment. They’re planning on doing further fund raising and get a computer or two in here for the children to use.
The Cancer Hospital has been expanding their facilities over time, as they can, when they can. The children’s wing as I photographed above was completely only a few months before, and relatively speaking, it’s new, clean and hygienic. It’s not up to North American standards – for one thing, there are perhaps twenty or thirty beds in a room. Crowded. When you have that many patients crowded in, how can you possibly clean it properly? But compared to how it was, the president of the hospital told us, it’s much much better.
The Cancer Hospital has, in a lot of cases, simply taken over existing buildings and renovated to suit their needs. Take a look at this picture. Bank of Ceylon. On the bottom floor of the old bank is the children’s wing.
There’s also a canteen. No cafeteria. Simply aren’t the facilities for it.
As another note, while we were in with the president of the hospital, Bro. Bennion talked about some of the goods and services the church’s humanitarian fund can provide. He talked about medications and things, personal hygiene kits, crutches and wheelchairs, and medical training.
About the crutches and wheelchairs – they cannot be given to the hospital for hospital use. They are intended for end users. As in, to be given to patients, not to be kept in inventory. And the church can provide a few wheelchairs and crutches, or as many as 250 or 500 wheelchairs. This is cool. The church has to have documentation of who the wheelchairs are going to – forms filled out and digital pictures taken – but that’s no big deal. The president was excited. No problem, she says. As long as she has a letter or something from him or the church stating that that’s what has to happen, then she can do it. She has to answer to a governing body as well with rules and regulations. But as long as she has it in writing, then she can.
As far as training goes, there were only two types of medical training listed on the info sheet Bro. Bennion had – one for neonatal cardiac resuscitation (I’m probably getting it wrong – I’m not a doctor – but it’s something close to that) and cataract surgery. Unfortunately, neither type fills the needs of this particular hospital. They will, however, put him in touch with doctors who could use the training.
Having said that, what happens with the training is that doctors from the USA who are members of the LDS church or perhaps who have otherwise volunteered to do this with our church, I don’t know, will come over and provide training free of charge. The doctors will have to arrange to have the proper facilities, but the training is free.
I didn’t know our church did this.
Back to the medical training. The president called down the head of the pediatric department, a woman of about perhaps 40, give or take. She did her medical training in Britain, and she’s been working at the hospital for only a few months.
What does that mean?
That she’s not used to the conditions and she’s still pissed off enough to try to change things, but not accepting yet of the situation. Excellent.
She listened to what Bro. Bennion had to say about the medical training, then immediately piped in. The neonatal care doesn’t apply to this hospital – they don’t deliver babies. Sure, she can get him in touch with doctors who would gladly accept the training and who could benefit from it. But meanwhile, she did have a few things to say about what kind of training was needed.
There are central lines a patient can have that make medicating a lot easier. Basically, the way I understand it is that a central line is put in once and left in for months or years. It’s put into the chest, and that’s where IVs are given, same as shots. Otherwise, a patient has to get IVs put in, shots in the butt, things like that.
What she told us is that children are screaming from the IVs and shots. They’re in pain. But what can they do? They have no options at the moment. But the complication here is that, after a few months, it becomes very difficult to find veins, so the nurse has to dig a little deeper. The child cries and screams even more.
It’s bad enough they have cancer, it’s bad enough they’re stuck in a hospital and can’t play or go to school like regular kids. It’s bad enough that they’re away from friends and family. It’s bad enough that a lot of them lose their hair and wind up with horrific scars and missing various body parts, like one girl who no longer had a nose, just slits. But this? This is torture.
And they have no choice. The nurses don’t have proper training to install a central line. They need training in this area.
This doctor made an excellent case. Bro. Bennion will be writing a report, requesting this specific type of training. The doctor will also be writing a report, letter, whatever stating exactly what kind of training is most badly needed.
At the end of this visit, and I gotta tell you that several of us were teary from the visit, it was noon. Suddenly a huge stream of people entered the grounds. Visiting hour is from noon until one. Hundreds of people. I’m glad they could come to visit their relatives and loved ones.
Later, when I got home, I wanted to talk to Fahim about the visit. He wouldn’t listen to any of it. He said he couldn’t handle kids like this – kids unhappy, in pain, miserable. He wouldn’t let me tell him about any of it.