Alexis Sweeney
Alexis Sweeney
South Africa, 2021
My name is Lexi Sweeney, and I am so excited for this 5 month journey in Cape Town, South Africa! I will be a social work intern at School of Hope, a school for vulnerable youth, as well as a social work intern at O' Graceland, a home for women who have aged out of foster care.

Learning through pain

Oh how quickly the days are going, and how not quickly I have been posting. My apologies for the late blog posts, but this time there is most definitely a reason (and of course a good story to follow).

Windmill Beach

Not too long ago, President Ramaphosa reopened the beaches, and boy was I excited. That weekend a couple friends and I headed to a beach called Windmill in Simon’s Town, hoping to be far away for the popular beaches that most would go to. We were having a wonderful time with the warm sun on our faces, the cold water rushing against us, and laughs filling the air. That all unfortunately came to an end when I somehow ended up stepping on a bunch of sea urchins, resulting in me having countless stings in my feet. I will save you the long version of the story but here’s the basics: We were out swimming in the ocean when we heard a huge scream from kids on the shore. It took us a minute, but we realized they were screaming because the wind had picked up their ball and the ball was now far into the ocean where they would not be able to go. So, I decided to swim as fast as I could to go get the ball, ended up stumbling upon a group of rocks that laid just below the surface, and ran across them to fetch the ball. I was able to return the ball to the kids and everyone was happy. At least until I realized my feet felt like they were stinging in a way I had never known before. I thought the rocks I stepped on simply had a sharp surface and my feet were sore from that. Little did I know I stepped on a multitude of sea urchins, leaving my foot to slowly begin to hurt and sting- pain growing minute by minute. Once we figured out that I had sea urchins in my feet, we quickly packed up and went back to my friend’s house. There, we followed the guidance of the internet on what to do to get sea urchins out, but someone finally made the call that we needed to go to the hospital.

The first attempt at taking some of the sea urchins out. So thankful for these friends’ help that day.

Now this is where the real story and reflection comes because this experience at the hospital was something very new and different for me. We went to a private hospital, and only one friend was allowed to come in with me due to COVID restrictions. So, my friend who is a native South African came inside with me. Checking into the ER was similar to the US, just with a little less paperwork, and honestly my friend did most of it for me since I was in so much pain. I got taken to the back alone (due to COVID restrictions), and when the doctor arrived he asked about what happened, took a couple pictures of the bottoms of my feet, and walked away. I was very confused because there was not much communication as to what he was thinking or as to what the treatment plan was yet. Eventually the doctor came back and said that when he tried to count them, stopped counting at 70 in just one foot because there were just too many and that there were easily over 100 in that foot. Then, he said that there was basically nothing he could do and that my body would just dissolve them. Now, imagine hearing that news while in an intense amount of pain, cannot walk, scared because a friend who is a doctor told us we needed to go to the hospital, and now there is nothing this doctor can do. Unsure of what to do, I said ok to the doctor, asked about the pain, and texted my friend who was in the waiting room.  

A wonderful selfie straight from the ER

 

Out of nowhere I hear my friend’s voice forcefully asking to speak to the doctor. I was so confused how he got to the back there and almost nervous about what he was doing (now remember, my friend is South African). He was then let into where I was and basically explained to me that sometimes as a foreigner in South Africa, you need a South African to vouch for you. Meaning, there will be times that things I say and do as a foreigner will not be taken as seriously as when a local says them, specifically in the health care setting. Along with that, the fact of the matter is that there are times in South Africa that you simply have to push a little bit to get what you need. My friend then strongly requested for the doctor to look again and see what he could do about taking out the sea urchins, along with explaining the need for something to help with the pain. Finally, the doctor took a lot of the big ones out, gave me advice on what to do moving forward, and some medication for pain. I hobbled out of the hospital in even more pain from him taking them out, but I left there with appreciation for my friend and many reflective thoughts on the experience.

 

These wonderful friends worked on getting the sea urchins out almost every day.

If you know me, you know I am no stranger to getting injured. I don’t know what it is, but for some reason I am really good at getting injured. So even though I didn’t want to go, going to a doctor was not too big of a deal for me. However, the experience as an American in a South African hospital was interesting. I think sometimes I forget that South Africa is a developing country and what it means day by day to live in a developing country. Cape Town is pretty westernized and where I live is not necessarily like the majority of South Africa. While I know that South Africa is a developing country, I think sometimes my expectations might fall more into the mindset of living in a developed country because of living in Cape Town. So, when I experience something like having to rely on a native friend to forcefully ask for rightful care at the hospital, I am reminded of the fact that I cannot have the same expectations for things here as I do in some place like the States. My experience is not abnormal either. When talking with my friend again as well as other South Africans, everyone kind of just nodded their head, chuckled, and said “Welcome to South Africa.”

 

This injury definitely put me down for some time, both physically and mentally. I was stuck on my couch unable to walk or go to work for about 4 days. Each night for 2 weeks I had to have a friend use a needle and tweezers to dig out countless urchins (and I am still digging some out to this day). But in the end, I am thankful for this experience because I got the chance to continue to gain a deeper understanding of South Africa and what life is really like here. Along with that, I realized how loved and supported I am here. The friends I have made here all checked in on me and helped me in their own ways. A friend worked form home one day to keep me company as I was couch ridden, another friend made dinner for me many many nights, another sent me funny videos and pictures, one drove me to see the sunset a couple times so I didn’t feel trapped inside, and many people here and from back home called, texted, and video chatted to check in on me. I truly am lucky to be surrounded by so many wonderful people here, and I definitely am not taking that for granted. This experience gave me the opportunity to learn through pain, and I am weirdly thankful for it.

Love Always,

Lexi Sweeney

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