After our late first night, we woke up bright and early for our first day at Wanblee. Our preparations on Monday as well as Tuesday included multiple cups of coffee (we were spoiled thanks to Char’s Keurig and barista skills), a hearty breakfast (thanks to Dr. Thurman’s wife Ann for grocery shopping), and a lunch assembly line (thanks to Dr. Thurman for lugging his own room table all the way to our room).
Upon arrival to the clinic Monday, we were given a crash course in the EMR and the documentation system from Brad (looked like a foreign language to me), introduced to many of the team members, and had a chance to speak with one of the providers at Wanblee about any updates on the clinic and the community. Getting this information directly from someone at the clinic was invaluable, to hear their interpretation of current issues in the area, what they’re seeing at Wanblee and their suspicions of why. They mentioned how many assumptions elsewhere in the nation don’t always hold true on the reservation, and what might be a simple solution back in La Crosse (for example), isn’t always applicable here. One example was scabies—many healthcare workers would suggest washing your clothes in a very hot wash cycle, but many residents in Pine Ridge don’t have laundry machines, or access to a Laundromat.
Then we were thrown in! Well, more specifically, Dr. Thurman, Char, and Stacy were thrown in. I was surrounded by a whirlwind of nurses, patients, and the other staff going to vitals stations, x-ray, patient rooms, the pharmacy, and more.
Meanwhile, I was getting a lesson in flexibility and graciousness—two things the Wanblee staff possess in spades. My anticipated purpose for the 2 days we have been at Wanblee was transporting women to the Pine Ridge hospital for mammograms, since many don’t have access otherwise. However, we didn’t have any women available to go to the hospital on Monday, and Tuesday morning our scheduled women weren’t able to come in. Since that was supposed to be my main responsibility for the 2 days, I’ve been feeling a little useless—however, I’ve had to remember that I’m not here for the Wanblee staff to find something for me to do so I can feel useful, I’m here to simply do what I can to be of service. So after no luck calling potential mammo patients, I’ve been posted up near a bookcase, administering patient surveys and doing other random tasks, as well as observing. The chance to be exposed to the operation of Wanblee has already been extremely valuable and meaningful to me—I’ve never witnessed much of this side of patient care, so it’s been new and fascinating, and I’ve gotten a chance to interact with many of the clinic patients and staff.
The bookcase is right next to the X-ray room, so I often end up sitting next to patients who need X-rays. One woman who was getting a chest X-ray for persistent pneumonia had hands that were decorated with a variety of rings, so I asked if there were any stories behind them. The first, on her pinky finger, was given to her from her daughter, a little gold heart. Another was her wedding ring, a wide gold band with beautiful, contrasting metals dashed across the middle. Then the next was a band with a number of jewels on it, all different colors. She said there was one for each of her children—10 in all. She herself had 5 siblings, and her mother had died from childbirth when she was very young. Each of the patients I talked to had an incredible amount of resiliency—facing so many challenges and yet moving forward, overcoming.
In other news, we’ve definitely had some excitement: Monday we discovered there were a couple of wild fires close by—they’re still unable to be controlled (yes we drove out there to get a closer look and snap a pic). Stacy also got the fascinating and weirdly satisfying task of washing out someone’s ear and being rewarded with a big chunk of earwax. And Tuesday, I passed out in a very embarrassing fashion when Dr. Thurman let me watch a joint injection for a patient. If I had been considering a medically-oriented future, maybe it’s time to rethink…
Wednesday we go to the DOJ to provide physical exams for the police force on the reservation, which will be our first time in the town of Pine Ridge. I’m looking forward to widening the scope of my experiences here and seeing a different perspective of life and work on the reservation.