Today was the start of the real reason we are here -- home visits. The morning started out cold, although; I'm not going to complain about the weather because I complained about how warm it was in Johburg (Johannesburg). After I gave the others a 6 a.m. wake-up call, we started out with breakfast at the Highstreet Guest House. David then picked us up and we drove to the main Grahamstown Hospice facility. We were warmly greeted by the staff at the office, and after a brief discussion about the days planned events, we started our tour of the facility. We walked through the administrative offices and then through the clinical areas which is in a separate building. After touring the facilities, I couldn't help but think that Haven couldn't have been partnered with a better organization. Did you know that Grahamstown Hospice was the first hospice in all of South Africa to receive accreditation? It is amazing how much good is done at Grahamstown Hospice even though they are challenged, not unlike Haven, to find funding sources to keep providing the desperately needed care to patients and families.
We left the main office and started off for a small township outside of Grahamstown called Ethembeni. We visited one patient in this community and it was an amazing experience. After the visit was over, Vonceil started providing some of the kids that live across the street from the patient with a toy and a candy treat. Their faces lit up and they excitedly ran off to show what they had received to their father. What seems so small to me, and perhaps to those of you reading this as well, is huge to others.
The second township we visited was very much like Ethembeni. The Haven Hospice and Grahamstown Hospice staff worked with the patient and the family who were once again warm and welcoming. It really does the heart well to know that people really are willing to give, even a part of themselves, when someone takes a moment to show interest in them. I think that's what makes the hospice industry such a special part of the healthcare field. What do you think?
Next, we went off to a town called Alicedale. Let me tell you that this was not for the faint at heart! Not only was it about 57 kilometers away, but more than 30 kilometers of that travel was on a road that I wouldn't even consider a road. We were really going deep into the South African countryside and there were miles and miles of untouched bush and wildlife. I started wondering what would happen if we had car trouble in the middle of this trek. Of course I had no idea that we still had more than 50 minutes or so to travel before we made it to Alicedale, nor did I want to ask the driver, Ivis, how much further we had to go before we reached our destination. The others in the group didn't seem worried, but I imagined what it would be like to walk along this road with the possibility of really dangerous animals lurking about. Tangela thought she saw a lion but of course, no one can confirm that sighting, so I'm going to say it didn't happen. Sorry, Tangela.
We finally arrived in Alicedale and made three visits. While we were there, Katie and Vonceil danced with the local children. I couldn't stop laughing but I also wanted to cry because everyone really seemed to be having a wonderful time, including the children. As a matter of fact, we were told that the children in the support group prepared for over three weeks for our arrival. They were dressed up and a little shy, but when the support workers asked them to sing and dance, they started coming out of their shells. What a sight! The last visit in Alicedale was with a young man who could not have been over 27 years old. It was thought that he would be close to the end of his journey this past January but he is still with us. His sister, a nurse, struggled to get him to stay on his meds, so his mom stepped in and figured out a way to make sure he would do so. His favorite TV show comes on at 8 p.m., so in order for him to get to watch his show, he has to take his meds in front of mom. His mom was so excited to have visitors that she literally cried. We were told that she was really honored that we would stop by and pay them a visit. When we were told this, Pam jumped out of the van to go shake her hand and give her a hug. What a wonderful moment for everyone involved. I won't begin to explain the health challenges this patient has but needless to say, it isn't unlike the many other patients under the care of Grahamstown Hospice.
So, after a long day of visits, we left Alicedale and made our way back to our Guest House where Katie, Pam and Tangela decided to take a stroll down the main street. I'm thinking that Vonceil was tired from dancing and singing with the children, so she probably decided to take this time to nap before we go off to meet the executive board for both Grahamstown and Sunshine Hospice this evening.
Before I go, Tangela and Katie wanted to say a few words…
Tangela: I'm enjoying myself thus far and I'm more than delighted for this experience. I never thought in a million years I would have an opportunity to visit a place so precious and take a journey so meaningful. I am so grateful to be in the company of my fellow travelers!
Katie: The children's HIV support group worked for almost three weeks to surprise us with a visit and a performance of three songs. It ended up being four since I begged for them to sing the first one again so that I could join in the singing and dancing. I literally could have stayed with those patients and children all day. I am in complete awe of our day with such beautiful people. From the staff and patients to the families and neighbors -- they all were so kind to welcome us and provide us with a life-changing experience. Thank you to Haven Hospice for all for your continued love and prayers as we continue on this amazing journey.
That's it for now. Until tomorrow…
Haven Hospice Chief Information Officer Arthur Clark is one of five Haven Ambassadors chosen to travel to Grahamstown Hospice – our sister hospice organization in South Africa. The experience will provide an opportunity for the Haven Hospice Ambassadors to learn about end-of-life care in South Africa and to bring insights back to Haven Hospice to share with their colleagues. The selected Haven Ambassadors come from a variety of career paths and will bring a wide-range of experiences to the exchange experience: Pam Giebeig, hospice nurse; Tangela Wilson, respiratory therapist; and Vonceil Levine and Katie Alphahando, clinical social workers.