I’m sitting outside with the sun shining on me as it begins to set. This Saturday is coming to an end and as it’s ending I’m reflecting on these last 2 weeks that I had at the hospital. I have been in the Mental Health Ward and it has been such an eye opening experience!!! At first I was really worried because I didn’t know what to expect. I had heard how it was very different in some aspects. However, I absolutely loved it.
I spent my first few days in the male acute ward and fell in love with the patients. In the psych ward they have an acute ward for males, a general ward for both females and males, PPI which are private rooms for people with private insurance, Occupational therapy unit for groups, a day clinic for pediatric and adolescent patients, and a methadone clinic. I had a chance to go to each of these units; however, I spent most of my time in the male, acute ward because I was able to see and learn a lot there!
When patients first arrive they are immediately admitted into the acute ward (if they are males) and then when they calm down they’re admitted into the general ward generally after being in the acute ward for 24 hours (sometimes longer). A lot of the male patients upon admission are aggressive. I witnessed quite a few. The family members that bring them in as well as the staff hold them down to the bed and restrain both arms and legs. At first I had a hard time dealing with this. In America, restraining patients is a last ditch effort. We go from least invasive to most invasive. Once they get the patients tied down they then administer medications. Both through the vein and an IM (intramuscular). However, when they administer the medication through the vein they don’t insert an IV cannula. They do it strictly with the needle into the vein. It’s quite a big needle and sometimes the patient is thrashing around on the bed. Typically the needle is jerked out and the nurse re-inserts it several times until they’re able to get it all in. In America we never restick the patient with a needle. This was quite different to see. I’ve never seen medication injected directly into the vein without the use of an IV cannula. It also made me nervous for a needle stick injury. It would be very easy to accidentally stick yourself with the needle with the patient is trying to fight you putting the needle in.
A lot of the patients were admitted with psychosis due to drug use. The most common drug of choice was cannibus. Patients were also admitted because they weren’t being compliant with their medications. Therefore, the patient may come in because they’re being manic from their bipolar disorder. There were also patients there who had schizophrenia, grandiose due to psychosis, aggressive/agitated patients, major depressive disorder, etc. A lot of the patients were highly educated and had a college level education. A lot could speak English as well. In the acute ward there are two rooms. Each room has 6 patients so a total of 12 patients. However, the rooms didn’t really look like rooms. They looked a lot like a jail cell. The male patients wore blue scrubs and the female patients wore red.
Inside the acute ward there was one patient that absolutely broke my heart. He was found on the street (they think his family just dropped him off and left him) and brought to the mental health ward. He is mute and seems to have some sort of mental disability. A lot of patients with mental disabilities are seen as someone who has a mental health problem. They tried sending him to an orphanage but things didn’t work out there so he has been in the acute ward for 2 years now. T W O Y E A R S. I just couldn’t believe it. The rooms aren’t that big and there’s nothing to do inside the room. Every now and then the patients are able to leave for OT but that’s not that often. Since he is mute he’s unable to tell anyone his name. In addition, he’s not able to write so he can’t write his name. He’s literally known as Unknown. They don’t have a name for him. They’ve tried putting his picture in the newspaper, on the news, and on radio broadcastings to try and let his family know he’s at the hospital because he’s unable to give the staff any information about his family and where he’s from. However, know one has shown up. In one regard it’s wonderful that the government pays for him to be there and that he’s not left out on the street but it’s very sad that he’s been there for so long. They’re trying to get him a permanent home but it’s still in the making. I’ve learned that you can’t change things in the hospital but you can have an open mind and just understand that’s the way it is. Before I came here a native had told me to
Be compassionate but not emotional.
That’s the one phrase that I’ve kept in mind over and over again. I’m not here to compare and contrast how we (America) do things compared to how people in Africa do things. I’m here to see how they’re able to manage and use the resources they have here. Countries can learn a lot from one another. Whether that be a developed or undeveloped country.
The man in charge of the acute male ward is named Clemence.
He’s been there for 10 years and went to college at Muhimbili. He’s such a sweet man with a huge heart and shows compassion to all of the patients. He was so good at explaining how a lot of people in Africa aren’t educated on mental health conditions and people may think the patients are bewitched and such. He also explained how the police force aren’t educated on mental illnesses. A lot of the times the police officers will see a person acting out. Maybe the person is being overly manic and destroying things or acting out in public and the police officers will beat the person and then bring them into the hospital. There was one patient who would scream in pain any time you would touch him and his upper lip was extremely swollen, bruised, and bleeding. When I asked what happened to his lip Clemence explained that he was acting out in public so a police officer bit (yes... bit) him on the lip and they beat him before they brought him in. They did this simply because they weren’t aware that he couldn’t help what he was doing due to his condition.
Moreover, a professor and clinical instructor invited me to a class presentation that his students had where they presented a case of a patient. This was very eye opening! I learned a lot by getting the chance to attend the class. They use a lot of the same terms we use in America for their patients and they also use NANDA! Which is North American Nursing Diagnoses. So a lot of the same nursing diagnoses we use in America they also use in the mental health ward.
Getting to go to the Methadone clinic was a very unique experience. A lot of the patients who have addiction problems to drugs and/or alcohol will go to the clinic to get methadone which is a type of opioid. It is bright green and they drink it at the clinic. It’s in liquid form so the patients can’t try and sell it which they could if it were in pill form. The patients who are seen here have to want to get help and have to no longer use the substances they have been using. Each and every day the patients come to the clinic to get the methadone and then leave.
A lot of the patients who suffer from addiction and have risky behaviors tend to also have risky behaviors sexually. Therefore, a lot of the patients being treated at the methadone clinic also are being treated for HIV. Since they HIV and their immune system is lowered they tend to also have TB. Almost all patients with HIV also have TB. Before the patients can get their methadone they have to come and get their TB and HIV medications. Since the patients really want their methadone, it helps increase the compliance of them taking their other medications first so they can get their methadone. I know back in America it is extremely important for patients with TB to take all of their medications each time. Patients are typically on TB meds for an entire year and take up to 6 pills. At the health department if patients don’t come to take their meds then staff members will call them and even go to their home. It’s so crucial to be compliment with the medication regiment. I thought it was very smart for them to put all 3 medications (methadone, HIV, and TB) in the same clinic. Since there is methadone in the clinic there is a risk for people coming in with guns to try and get the methadone. They said that it’s happened in the past where people have come with guns. So I was extra cautious. However, nothing like that happened while I was there. I also got the chance to see a patient in the clinic get reassessed with how he’s doing with his addiction and no longer using drugs. During the interview there was one thing that really stood out to me. When he was asked what his annual income was he said 350,000 Tanzanian shillings. This is less than $200 US dollars. I just couldn’t believe it. On a typical week here I usually take out 200,000 which is $89 US dollars for food and commuting each day on the bus and tuk tuks. I just couldn’t fathom it.
The methadone clinic was different then any other clinic I’ve been to in America. The experience I’ve had in my mental health rotation and my senior practicum which was in a child and adolescent psych unit back home in America was quite different compared to here. There aren’t rehab programs here or a place for children to stay in patient. The day clinic for children and adolescents doesn’t admit children for overnight. In addition, there is not a problem with self mutilation among pediatric patients here. The most common issue with children and adolescents are drugs. This was a great thing to here! I had to explain to the doctor and nurses how children in America do self mutilate and will sometimes try to kill them selves. It was the first time they had ever heard of self mutilation. However, one of the nurses did tell me that on the adult unit a patient would bite at his fingers and literally chewed them off. Other than that, the patients don’t tend to harm themselves as often as I’ve seen in America. Furthermore, there was also a difference with not having a geriatric unit. The older patients tend to stay in the acute ward and aren’t put in the general ward because the other patients are too intense there and there isn’t as much observation in the general ward. There are about 30-40 patients in the general ward and they all share one room. So the older patients just stay in the acute ward until they are discharged.
Overall, I was able to see a lot of admissions, discharges, and transfers. During my time in mental health I learned a lot! The biggest issue I see is the need for educating others on mental health and imploring more time for the patients to have in OT and getting out of the room on a day to day basis. There are some things they can’t help like being understaffed and not having as many psychotropic drug options as we do in America. However, I was able to learn a lot here from the patients, nurses, and doctors. I’m excited to see what my next two weeks will be like in the Emergency Department! I did a night shift once in the ED already and it was a very interesting experience.