An Holistic Model of Care
Sometimes it's hard to remember the exact moment life changes, but for others, the turning point remains vivid and unchanging. For Helen McGarrell, a three-week stint in Thailand transformed her approach to community care and she is now back in Australia advocating for change.
"I had been working in community based rehabilitation," says Helen, "but without a nursing qualification, I was limited in the treatment I could deliver. I wanted to do more to help my patients so I enrolled as a mature age student at the University of Newcastle."
Helen chose to study an alternative therapies elective in Thailand, an experience that opened her eyes to a whole new way of thinking.
Helen's three-week university practical placement gave her the opportunity to participate in a holistic model of care.
"I witnessed a difference in philosophy," she says. "The wellbeing of the patient is highly valued and at the centre of all decisions. It all comes down to communication. If the patient feels listened to and cared for, it helps them manage their condition."
In Thailand, Helen could see first hand the immediate relief alternative therapies such as massage, herbal therapies and meditation brought to patients.
"It was also such a peaceful environment," she says. "The rehab centre is built around beautiful gardens. It is a place of solace where every effort is made to make patients feel comfortable."
As Helen looks back to her days in an Australian community care setting, the difference is clear.
"In Australia, we tend to take a formal approach. We focus on the disease and what the patient is no longer able to do. In Thailand, the approach is centered on the whole person."
Helen returned to Thailand after her graduation to volunteer at the Centre.
"I learned so much there and I wanted to give back," she says. "I spent time talking to patients about how they were feeling, discussing goals and meeting their families. Patients were recovering from strokes, head trauma and spinal injuries and they wanted to talk. We were encouraged to take a personal approach and find out about their lives. It really helped when it came to administering care because there was an established level of trust. I just felt it was so important."
Helen recalls trekking into the jungle one day to visit six patients in their homes.
"We went with a volunteer medic and a community nursing team," she says, "and arrived at a village to see an old lady with sever health problems. She was over one hundred years old and was the sole carer of a daughter with cerebral palsy. She looked after her daughter and worked in the rice fields. She had no bathroom or kitchen and a terrible chest infection but she greeted me happily. We gave her some antibiotics and she got down on her knees in the prayer position and said a prayer for us. It was incredibly moving. I left feeling as if she did more for us than we did for her."
When Helen's team left the community the woman wished them well and Helen walked away with a renewed sense of purpose.
"I want to change our approach to community based care," she says, "and I'd like to go back to Thailand to volunteer."
Helen's philosophy is now about connection.
"It was so rewarding talking to people about their lives without the time constraints of being in a hospital setting," she says, "so I would like to work towards a more holistic approach to rehabilitation in Australia. Now I've seen the impact a peaceful environment, communication and alternative therapies can have, it's hard to go back."