I lived in the Work the World house during my time in Sri Lanka. Meeting my housemates for the first time and comparing placement experiences thereafter was really quite special. We shared stories about our lives back home, too.
The house team went above and beyond to make our stay as comfortable as possible. Speaking of which, the home-cooked food—a mix of western favourites and Sri Lankan meals made by the house caterer—was delicious.
A language teacher came to the house twice a week to teach us Sinhalese, the national language. The lessons helped us all get much more interaction with hospital staff and patients, and to fully embrace local Sri Lankan culture. It went a long way with regards to building relationships, which opened doors to opportunities to see and experience things that would have otherwise been unknown to me.
The bustle of the hospitals was best described as organised chaos. The whole clinical experience was eye-opening and I saw so much more than I would have on a regular physiotherapy placement back home. Initially, I found it quite confronting; basic resources I took for granted at home, for example, were in some instances totally absent. I came to appreciate the local staff’s knowledge and practices, making the most of the limited resources they had access to.
In terms of cases, one patient presented with tension pneumothorax. The patient was unable to have a drain put in—the normal medical procedure—for another three weeks, so physiotherapy was the next best option. In Australia, physiotherapy treatment for this condition is unheard of. The care and rehabilitation plans for stroke victims was also different. In Sri Lanka, mere survival was seen a good outcome, severe disability notwithstanding.
In the outpatient gym, the son of one patient who’d had a stroke was responsible for taking him through his exercise. The attending physiotherapist looked on as the patient’s knee hyperextended every time he took a step. I asked whether knee control was a component of stroke rehabilitation, and the attending physiotherapist told me that it had already been covered in another session. His response made more concrete the difference in care where limited resource meant limited time. On paper and in conversation, the physiotherapists were incredibly knowledgeable, but they were stretched so thin that they couldn’t operate at their fullest.
Work the world organised for me to spend a week in a rural Ayurvedic clinic outside of my placement in Anuradhapura. It was the last week of my time in Sri Lanka, and it was by far the best. The direct connection to rural culture was priceless. The hospitality and kind nature of the local people we met made for a truly memorable week. We lived as though we were locals in a rural village, spending mornings in the clinic and cultural activities in the afternoon (the latter included an ayurvedic spa massage!)
The rural outreach clinics I participated in allowed me to see conditions that are virtually unheard of in Australia, leprosy being one of them. I also saw conditions that were typically well managed in Australia, but in their extreme and largely untreated states. Comparing Sri Lankan and Australian practices helped me to reframe my understanding of why we do what we do back in Australia.
The country itself was beautiful, and opportunities to travel and explore the local area and the surrounding towns were unlimited.
Weekends away with my housemates were a highlight. There was a seemingly endless number of beautiful national parks with breath-taking walks and views—World's End, Little Adam's Peak, Kaldulla National Park, the Cave Temples and Mihintale to name a few.
My trip to Sri Lanka was just incredible. I learnt so much and made some incredible new friends along the way.