Saira, Pakistan and Washington

Saira is a senior President’s Scholar and member of the University Honors Program who is majoring in biology and anthropology in Dedman College. She received a Richter Fellowship to travel to Peshawar, Pakistan, during winter break 2012 to research the health of Afghani refugee children. Then, during spring 2012, she will intern with the U.S. Department of State.

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Day 4: My research begins

Children could be heard crying from every direction. In one room, a child was receiving a shot; in another, an IV was being started. My heart broke for them. I wondered how long it would take for me to become desensitized to their crying.

Attempting to battle jet lag, I decided to take my host up on her offer to visit the hospitals where she was beginning her rotations. We were expected to wait as final-year medical students were being taken on rounds. Of course, for a group of ten 21-year-old girls, that means explore.

An organized chaos filled the hospital, one you couldn’t understand unless you were groomed in their system. We split up and wandered from room to room. As we were inspecting the female ward, an excited student informed us that a birth was happening downstairs. We rushed to (thankfully) find out that the child had been born a few hours before. The proud grandmother held her grandson in the post-maternity ward, where we all gushed over how handsome and healthy he is. This led to my first introduction to the children’s ward at one of the three hospitals in which I would be conducting my research.

Two stark rooms were filled with only the bare necessities. Peeling walls surrounded eight rusted metal hospital beds; patient files lay on metal desks attached to the beds. We accessed the patient files (no HIPAA here) and assessed how many patients had acute gastroenteritis and whom we would be able to interview later. We learned that three patients had indeed been admitted for diarrhea.

Before we could start our interviews, though, the medical students were called down to the head doctor’s office, where they were being taught how to check the thyroid. Again, chaos filled the air. Patients filed in and out waiting to be seen by the doctor (who was teaching us), a child was receiving a rectal exam behind a sheet-like curtain, and students crowded around a patient with an enlarged thyroid. I took it all in from my bench in the corner of the room.

It is in this environment that I would come to learn the importance of effectiveness over privacy. These refugees, displaced people and Patans had been thrown into a world where the little things we value in America don’t matter. They wanted to get better, and they were willing to forgo a privacy they never knew in order to receive it. It was this openness that allowed me to begin my research.

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