2013 Medical Professionals of Tomorrow Scholarship Winner
Kathleen Rose Fischer-Price
University of Washington
My father's body lies at 29,035 feet, on the top of the world's tallest mountain. I was five-years-old when he died, still so new to the world that he had just left. Though I remember little else about him, for some odd reason, I can recall every detail of his hands. They were giant and rugged, a direct reflection of his profession. At night those rough, warm hands would pick me up, set me on his lap, and flip through the colorful pages of Dr. Seuss' Oh the Places You'll Go. I do not remember my father's voice, but I remember his hands, as they stopped on the last page and pointed to their favorite passage "Your Mountain is waiting." That memory, and those four words have followed me for all these years, echoing in my head and reminding me that somewhere in this great big world, there is a mountain just for me. All I need to do is find it.
The summer before I applied to nursing school, I traveled to the most mountainous country in the world, Nepal, in search of that mountain. I settled in Kathmandu, a city that housed my father before each of his many adventures up the Himalayas. Though I was alone and without a plan, I felt his presence everywhere, and I felt his hands pointing me in the right direction. Kathmandu was rich with color and life, but equaled by poverty and sadness that was unlike anything I had ever imagined. I had always been drawn to the medical field, and because of this I had hoped to volunteer in a hospital or a clinic. Although I found a few places that would take me, I decided against it. The language barrier would prevent me from speaking to the majority of patients. In addition, I felt that my medical knowledge was limited, and would be of little use. I knew I wanted to stay and I knew I wanted to help, to truly help, but that was all I knew. On my fifth night there, I met a Dutch climber who was intrigued by my story. She set me up with a Dutch organization that had recently opened a children's home just outside of the city. Within a week I found myself working as a volunteer at the Tiom Laura Children's Home. It was a small ramshackle building that was the recent home of 32 Nepali street children. The place was a disaster. The children were wild, uneducated, and sick. I knew right away that I had found my place.
On my first night I stood wide-eyed as the children lined up for dinner. They piled their plates with a heap of Dal Bhat, a Nepali staple food, and shoveled it in their mouths with bare, unwashed hands. Every child, even the small ones, ate with ferocious speed, and within a flash they were all back in line for seconds. The table resembled a violent storm of rice and lentils. Yet when the meal was over, not one speck of food remained anywhere. They aggressively licked everything perfectly clean; clearly unable to conceive that food was now regularity. All 32 kids came from shattered backgrounds, some were abandoned, and others were horribly abused. Whether they were four or thirteen, these kids had been taking care of themselves for years. They were rough and often mean, but under it all they were simply unloved. All of them wet their beds at night and struggled with the ability to use a toilet. Hand washing was a foreign concept to them. None of them spoke English, and the staff was not much better. Though all the Nepali workers were eager to learn, they too came from uninformed impoverished backgrounds. I was shocked at their limited knowledge of simple sanitation and safety.
For the duration of my two-month stay, I spent much of my time teaching the residents of the Tiom Laura Home essential lessons about hygiene and health; lessons that I have taken for granted my entire life. Through direct application of nursing skills, I was able to recognize the problems that perpetuated illness in the home, and I worked to develop strategies to fix those problems. My work there was by no means easy, on an emotional or a physical level. I took 12-hour shifts at a local hospital, stepping in as a family member for Pawan, a nine-year-old orphan who came down with a critical case of encephalitis. I held art classes for the children, encouraging them to develop new mediums for expression and to deal with their difficult pasts. I worked with them on potty training, and I changed soiled linen on a daily basis. I wrapped and treated hundreds of cuts, burns, and scrapes, each time using it as an opportunity to demonstrate proper sanitary technique. Because I could not communicate with the children through language, I discovered new vessels for communication, and unique methods for motivation. They grew up deprived of love and lacking emotional connections, and as I built relationships with each of them, I learned how to intertwine my compassion with my knowledge in order to better my life as well as theirs. The language barrier between us proved to be more of a bridge than a barrier, because it linked me to the children on a deeper level. It heightened my perception and taught me how strong the correlation is between mood and health. Though their lives were so different than mine, these street kids taught me the importance and universal power of two tools: love and compassion.
My experience in Nepal was more than a culture shock. It was a lightening bolt, an electric current that both brought me down to earth and lit up the sky. It was the light that I needed in order to finally see the mountain that my father told me about so many years ago. It was a two-month long journey, in which I was submerged in a totally different place. Alone, and away from everything familiar, I found familiarity in myself. I realize now that my knowledge of the medical field was far from "limited." My upbringing and education thus far has provided me with an influential foundation for the nursing field, but it is my dedication and care that will secure my future as a nurse, and lead me to the top. My father was a climber, and his mountain was Everest. He followed his passion 29,035 ft, to the very peak of world. He was the best of the best. Though my path is a less obvious one, I know with certainty that I have found my mountain. That mountain is nursing, and I, like my father, will be the best of the best. I am thankful for the Tiom Laura family, and for my father. They have lead me to base camp. From there, I look up towards my future, confident that I posses the tools necessary for the journey ahead. I know that I will always remember the children. I will remember their smiles, their tears, and oddly enough, their hands. Because as I watched them line up for dinner on that last day, every single little hand smelled like soap.
I grew up in the Seattle area and remained in the city in order to attend the University of Washington. I currently work as a nanny for an amazing family that has helped me grow in more ways that I can count. I also work in the office at a Seattle-based trekking and guide company called Mountain Madness. This job, as well as my experience in Nepal has set me on a path of adventure. I know that the world has a lot left to teach me and I cannot wait to graduate nursing school this spring and travel. I find myself drawn to the community health field- with a particular interest in psychiatric nursing and end-of-life care. I am inspired by the Functional Medicine movement and find comfort in the promise and progress it brings to the medical field. I have a passion for writing and I feel that reflective practice is an essential part who I am- as a person and as a health care professional. I am incredibly honored that I have been selected for this scholarship and I would like to thank my brother Andy, my Aunt Alta and my dear friend Dawa for their friendship and guidance. I would also like to recognize my first nursing clinical professor, Dr. Catherine D’Ambrosio, for her encouraging presence at the start of this journey.