Wairarapa District Health Board Nurse Educator Jenny Percival realised just how resilient the human body is during her time with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in South Sudan.

Ms Percival has returned to the DHB after six months in the world’s newest country, where her main focus was treating weapon wounds – mainly from gunshots. She also worked with the people suffering common medical conditions; severe malnutrition, small children with pneumonia, gastro illness, and hepatitis.

She has 15 years’ experience as a nurse in Wairarapa Hospital’s Emergency Department, and said her skills were put to the test in South Sudan.

“Small things that we take for granted in New Zealand, like blood transfusions, were challenging. There was no way to store blood. If a patient required a transfusion we had to ask a relative for blood, and keep our fingers crossed that the laboratory was available.”

An ICRC plane used for medical evacuation and transportation of supplies and staff. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

An ICRC plane used for medical evacuation and transportation of supplies and staff. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Ms Percival was one of several Kiwi nurses from New Zealand Red Cross that made up an international surgical team, and spent some of her time working in a community hospital in Maiwut, close to the Ethiopian border.

“It was times like those it really came home to me how resilient the human body is. It’s incredible how people can survive with simple interventions, and often having a hospital stay for many months. Life is hard, conditions are harsh, but the people are stoic and hopeful and brave.”

She worked with South Sudanese nurses to educate them on supportive care – a very different experience to her nurse educator role in Acute Services here at home.
“In my usual role, as a nurse educator, I’m there to help new staff and graduates develop skills and confidence and keep up with the latest advances in research and clinical practice. In South Sudan, the priorities were very different – I guided and reinforced the nurses’ skills around patient care but at the same time, the cold hard facts were that I had to prioritise what was most important at that moment. Saving lives was paramount.”

It would take a while to settle back into life at the DHB, but she was pragmatic about the contrasts of South Sudan and NZ.

“Over there, I had to let go of my own world view and just accept how life is over there. Other things become more important.

She had high praise for the ICRC organisation. “They looked after and supported us very well and had really good policies in place to ensure our safety.”