Caring for someone in need, especially during illness, is difficult and tiring, but one of the many ways to show love and compassion. When caring for the sick is part of ones culture, the task is divided and the burden is lifted
The inpatient hospital experience in Turkey gives a new perspective on Turkish culture. The general case in Turkey when a loved one is admitted to hospital is they are accompanied by what in Turkish is referred to as a "refakatci," which translated into English, for lack of a better word, would be "companion." In other words, when someone is admitted to hospital for an overnight stay or longer, it is widely accepted that said person will have a companion with him or her throughout his or her hospital experience. In the best case, family members will exchange places, coordinating schedules to ensure that their patient is accompanied throughout the duration of their hospital stay. If the situation involves chronic hospital stays then sometimes a caretaker is even hired to take on this position of "refakatci." Meals are even allocated by the hospital for this companion. In ideal situations, there is even a bed or a pullout chair to ensure the companion has a place to sleep; however, this is most definitely not always the case.
In other words, it can be a daunting duty for the novice in simply physical terms never mind the emotional strain of experiencing every waking moment with a person you care for in a critical condition. The thing is the "companion" actually plays a critical part himself or herself in the patient's hospital experience as they are given practically every duty they are deemed capable of. I am not, of course, referring to direct medical intervention, what I mean is pretty much everything else. This could include getting the patient to take their oral medication, keeping track of the hours they need to take said medication. They need to pay close attention to the intravenous medication being given and have to let the nurses know when the drip has finished. Helping with cleaning and caring for the patient is definitely par for the course, as is making sure they eat and get enough water. The duties are endless, and as the position of "companion" is a well-established one in Turkish culture, it is readily assumed that every patient will indeed have someone staying beside them and that they will be in charge of all of the finer details involved in a hospital stay.
For me, someone who had never spent beyond an hour or two visiting a loved one in the hospital in the U.S., I do believe that this system is one of those beautiful examples of how Turks get their sense of patience, compassion and a sort of "roll with the punches" attitude. The urban dictionary defines "rolling with the punches" as "when things don't go your way and you adapt to the changes and keep moving ahead instead of flipping out." This, along with even more compassion and certainly more patience are all attributes I see in the Turks that I hope to someday adopt myself. However, in my own current "refakatci" experience I am suddenly very much aware that I am far from meeting that goal. For me, even coaxing my beloved patient to drink water or to eat and certainly to take medication are all unfortunately trying tasks. It's not that it is difficult for me, it's that it is hard to suddenly take on this role of being a pushy and pokey caretaker to someone who does not want to be in that position nor on the other hand in their current condition to begin with. Instead of the silent and sterile suffering experienced in the U.S., and I am generalizing, here the hospital room is transformed into a makeshift home and the companion loved one becomes a 24-hour on-call immediate nurse. It's a lovely sentiment, and I am in awe of the Turks I see so committed and generous with their care, and I aspire so hard to be the same. But in Turkey, because this is an inherent part of their culture, they have so much more experience as most have either been through this themselves or have seen their loved ones go through this ever since they were children. They may be sleepless, but they are loving, cheerful and calm and collected, which I just am not.
I wish I could be, but this experience is so real, so heartbreaking and so foreign to me that I have never felt more like a foreigner in this land that I love. But try and try again, tomorrow once more I will try to do as the Turks!
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