cats, coffee and cigarettes.

day four at the hospital was a very slow day. one thing we’ve noticed is that the “understaffed” emergency department we are volunteering at for these three weeks is actually very staffed; by volunteers from all over. on any shift there can be other romanian volunteers, medical students, nursing students, moldovan volunteers, paramedics getting cannulation accreditation in the wards and then there’s us, the english speaking volunteers, all seeking to be involved and busy. when shit hits fan everyones assistance is needed but in the meantime we are one of many pairs of hands wanting and waiting to help.


our days usually start by arriving at the hospital, changing into our scrubs then finding the head nurse who will direct us to whichever ward has an english speaking staff member. sometimes there’s only one, sometimes there’s none, sometimes we get to the end of the day and a staff member will speak perfect english to us who had previously denied being able to speak any. and that’s fair enough; patient care is work enough without having to explain everything in a language that is potentially a persons second, third, fourth or fifth language. really puts our language skills to shame.

we spent the day accompanying an orderly who, between patient care introduced us to the somewhat abandoned hospital basement which serves as the staff smoking area. sounds questionable; but it was conversation and company on an otherwise quiet day. while sipping on whipped cream infused espresso we watched the resident cats skulk around the thirty to fifty padlocked wardrobes adorning the basement walls holding who knows what.

also, due to maintainence the hospital had multiple blackouts over the course of the afternoon. as the hospital halls fell into darkness everyone continued on as normal.


back in the ward we were able to observe a patient brought in by paramedics with alcohol withdrawal related hallucinations, who was now intubated due to excessive sedation. the patient was also catheterised, receiving fluids and had a nasogastric tube; a trio that accompanied a large portion of patients with varying conditions,

besides that and a few chances to help with blood samples and cannulation; the day was all cats and coffee really.

when the fog sets in.

monday was a fairly quiet day. it was good to have a day off from the hospital after our weekend away. laura and i roamed the streets of targu mures to keep our blood pumping and in search of new sights. as we climbed up and up into the hillside neighbourhood the fog and chill intensified. we strolled for two hours mostly on account of getting lost and also due to having to backtrack after being spooked by a suspicious looking dog in the middle of a narrow road; who in hindsight actually looked quite friendly. at one point we found ourselves in front of a soviet military cemetery looking cold and stark in comparison to the civilian cemetery. with hands too cold to take any pictures i might take a walk back up there on another day.

it sounded like the others who were at the hospital had a rather busy afternoon at the hospital with another paediatric burns case this time more severe and a MVA involving multiple vehicles and up to eleven casualties. with patients unable to be airlifted to bucharest due to the fog the team was able to observe and assist in the care of patients with pelvic fractures, haemothoraces and a tension pneumothorax amongst other trauma related injuries. we are gaining invaluable experience in how patients are treated in the hospital after they are bought in by the ambulance here in romania and hopefully being able to assist staff here.

ten locals skip town.

our first weekend off had arrived and we decided to jump a three hour bus to sibiu. the morning started off rocky; the bus driver yelled at us for a reason we are still to determine, old ladies talked us in german thinking we were from austria not australia and everyone talked about the ” zece locale” who were taking up half the bus.. us.

surviving the winding, bumpy bus trip past countless homes with sacrificed pigs on full display, we arrived in the magically cobbled stoned sibiu. true to form we quickly discovered the christmas markets in town and lazily strolled around the sunny marketplace. little did we know it would be one of the last sunny days we would see in a while.

only midday and there were already men drinking mulled wine and slurping goulash soup. we wandering the markets than headed towards the apartment we had booked, which was AMAZING. we had two floors with a huge balcony overlooking the snow capped mountains surrounding sibiu. exactly what we needed after our first week of working at the hospital.


we dumped out bags and wandered back into town, visiting the pharmaceutical museum, climbing the council tower and indulging in the christmas markets some more. we then grabbed all the wine and cheese our arms could carry and slothed around our apartment for a few hours; simply having our own space was something we hadn’t realised we were missing so much.

but of course we could not keep away from the christmas markets for too long and again we set out into the cold to drink mulled wine and enjoy the cuisine on offer. there was something really magical about standing under a canopy of christmas lights, beside a giant christmas tree with nostalgic christmas songs carrying through the cool night air. and of course we partook in the dodgem cars as well just to be festive. we stumbled home in the fog feeling more than a little jolly.

by the next morning the fog had well and truly set it. our cloudless view of the mountains from the afternoon before was now no more than a few roofs with an endless white backdrop. we feasted on a wonderful breakfast of coffee, toast, jams, cheese and eggs in the warmth of the apartment before setting out for one last exploration of sibiu. we sauntered along the city walls, embarked on some retail therapy and got a last round of chocolate doughnuts, a crispy deep fried treat we had discovered the day before.

we then made our way to the bus stop, a seemingly simple task, only to discover at the last minute that we were at the wrong bus stop. descending on a taxi rank with the enthusiasm of an amazing race episode we tore our way across town to make it well in time for our bus.

we entered the bus without confrontation and enjoyed an uneventful trip home, except for the pigeon carrying ex-inmate next to sinead, but I guess that just adds to the joy of bus travel. not that sinead would agree.

so with one week down and much done, we now await the week ahead.

the town is alight with christmas.

this country does christmas very well. as someone who loves christmas more than life itself, i couldn’t be more pleased.

we woke up after our post night shift nap to notice the sunshine streaming in our windows. still hazy and probably needing more sleep we knew this sunshine was too rare to miss and decided to wander into town.

grabbing a mushroom pastry from our new favourite bakery we passed a coffee shop that had a plenitude of coffee paraphernalia in the front window. feeling hopeful we ordered a pour over to go, envisioning a nice sunny stroll with a delicious coffee. the reality was this: an awkward tasting coffee with added hazelnut syrup. we accepted defeat and donated it to a nearby bin.


we then explored the neighbourhood, climbing up a hill to overlook the town.

that night we stumbled into the city centre to find that christmas had erupted over everything. the trees had all been covered with lights, santa and snowman light covered statues stood over us all and a GIANT christmas tree had been assembled in the middle of it all. targu mures had come out in force and there were people everywhere. unfortunately we were heading elsewhere for our end of week one celebratory pizza dinner (which ended up being one of those really uncomfortable travel dinners) and we decided that christmas was here to stay so we would enjoy the markets another night.

wandering in the night.

where to begin.

we decided to opt for a night shift just to try something different. waking up yesterday we acted the tourist and explored the cultural palace, coming back in the afternoon for a pre night shift nap.

post nap we ate an early dinner of soup and headed off to spend the next twelve hours at the hospital. we were a little apprehensive about the shift ahead, the past two day shifts we had done were a little slow and we felt unneeded by the staff. but, thankfully, the shift actually flew by and we were quite busy all night.

we spent the night shifting between the resus room and the immediate care ward and happened to be working along side the nurses and volunteers we had met days earlier. we were able to do arterial and venous blood gases, insert cannulas, take patients to CT scans, do 12 lead ECGs and have pleasantly disjointed discussions with staff. we were so grateful to the staff who would explain to us what they were doing and loved conversations about how things are said in english versus romanian. surprisingly many words are similar.


we also took advantage of the deserted midnight hallways and went exploring. the halls looking gloriously “vintage” as one passerby described. whilst SMURD is very modern, the hospital it is attached to is not.

at the start of the night when we entered resus we were given a hand over of all the patients. there was one young man whom staff expressed their wish to keep him alive through the night, a challenge that would test us well into he next day. with many ailments slowly disabling his body we found ourselves involved in his resusitation many times throughout the early morning. as we worked to push life back into his heart our stomach muscled ached from the same action days earlier on a different man. with six different infusions pumping into his body through a jugular venous catheder whatever plagued his body refused to release its grip. over the course of an hour we stood next to his bed and leaped into action everytime his heart would slow to a stand still. adrenaline and human strength prolonged his young life for an hour until both were stopped and so could he. without being able to understand the language we found ourselves alone with our thoughts while the room was rushing around us. and again we stepped out of the room smiled at carol singing staff and shared snacks with the nurses.

walking out into the cool air of the morning, we felt the relief of our hard work and were uplifted by the support and patience of the staff around us.



she’s got a lot of fight in her.


day two at he hospital done and dusted. we were pleasantly surprised at our guesthouse to be served not meat and cheese for breakfast but a choice of seven cereals. it’s the simple pleasures that get you through the day and today, cereal was it.

wandering into the hospital waiting room we saw the same stetson wearing moustached men with their suit wearing toddlers from the day before, hanging around the hospital with unfinished business. they felt like characters out of a wes anderson film but in reality it’s just another day for them, as it is for me.


again today our group was split between the resus ward and the immediate care ward. the wards were a lot busier with staff, nursing students and romanian volunteers which was unfortunate for us as the staff would delegate the jobs out to the romanian volunteers and why not; they can communicate with patients and all we can do is mime. for this reason the day ran a little slow.

however, as with our first day we did have one job that stuck with us and sparked our conversation for the rest of the night.

she was a tiny, grubby two year old carried in by paramedics. burns covered her bare chest and back and discarded skin had found a new home elsewhere. she had dared a cup of coffee to defeat gravity and she had come off second best. with her screams heard through the halls we watched the hospital staff work quickly and calmly to sedate her distress and cool her burns. as i enveloped her thin arm with the width of my hand for staff to insert a cannula, i shot comforting glances at her mother across from me who was yet to show any emotion. later staff would inform us that this mother asked to leave the hospital and told a too common tale of children abandoned once burdened by injury or disease. moments later she was whisked away to surgery and we had done all we could.

if we did nothing else today, that was enough.


dancing in the streets.

our first day off and we decided to indulge in some much wanted rest and relaxation at the guesthouse. we weren’t too fussed with this choice as it was a national holiday and we expected most things to be closed.

it wasn’t until after dinner that i strayed from the house when we wandered into the town centre to see the ziua națională a româniei festivities. in the main street there was a massive stage set up and even in the cold there were families everywhere dancing, laughing and waving romanian flags. we listened to the very energetic band playing on stage and laughed along to romanian jokes we couldn’t understand, just to feel involved. like all national days im sure not everyone was celebrating, but as an outsider it was nice to see a lighter side of romania.


people take care of themselves here.


our first day at the hospital had arrived, the reason behind our trip, the thing that had brought us to the other end of the world. we had another breakfast of meat, bread and cheese then headed off to the hospital.

for the next three weeks our group will be working alternate shifts at the SMURD (mobile emergency service for resuscitation and extrication) which operates as an ambulance service and as a emergency .. attached to the hospital as an independent service. whilst patients can be admitted to the hospital, SMURD is staffed and run seperately. it was established by dr raed arafat in 1990, targu mures being the first SMURD unit to established in romania.

we arrived at the hospital and after being shown around our group was split in two, half to work that day and half to have a day off. we were divided amongst two wards for the day, resus and immediate care, with the option of walking between both.

being the day before a national holiday to celebrate the union of transylvania with romania, we were told that staffing numbers would be at a minimum, including staff that could explain things to us in english. we had two nurses on our ward that were very kind to us yet we could not help but feel like a bit of a hassle to them with four volunteers constantly asking for things to do. we helped out as best we could in an unfamilar environment with an unfamilar language.

things we could assit with were taking blood samples, inserting cannulas and applying 12-lead ECG monitors, the last of which looked like something from many decades earlier, with suction caps for electrodes. it was interesting to see different practices in action, watching needles being pin-cushioned into mattresses and disposed into sharps containers when next convenient.

when the ward became quiet we ventured to the cafeteria for a lunch of fasole, ciuperci and cartofi (beans, mushrooms & potato).


after lunch the ward had filled up so there was alot more for us to see and do. we wandered into resus to see what the other volunteers were doing and immediately became involved in the resusitation of a man who had fallen in a lake some many hours earlier. it was the first time i personally had performed chest compressions on a person and alot of us felt disconnected from the experience. without going into too much detail i found it difficult to feel like our actions were justified. more confronting, was that as we bounced off this man’s chest with the enthusiasm of a person who thinks they stand a chance; we were in full view of six other patients and their loved ones, we all shared one room. this man had possibly slipped from this world hours earlier and here we were breaking his body from the inside out just to push life back into it. forty-five minutes later the fight was called off and we stepped out of the room to find something else to do. just like that. without being able to talk about the experience with staff we found it hard to feel the weight of what had happened and why.

but without missing a beat, we stepped into the hall and ran into an orderly we had befriended who invited us to observe an endoscopy. back on the ward we were able to get involved for a few more hours before we headed home to debrief over beers. it was an interesting first day; being exactly as we expected and nothing like it at the same time. we are exhausted, but that in itself feels fulfilling.



eating our way around town.

this morning we awoke to our first morning in targu mures. we were fed a breakfast of meat, bread & cheese and then headed out to explore the town.



we learnt a lot about the town, about romanian customs and what life was like under communist rule. we then had a sneak peak inside the catholic and orthodox churches in the middle of town, both side by side and competing for size. wandering out, we bought apples from the markets in front of the churches and then enjoyed a coffee with erno.


in the afternoon we met up with tünde, a medical student in town, who took us out for a delicious lunch at laci cscardi. we quickly learnt that just because meals are less than $3 does not mean they will be small and ended up ordering enough food for a large family. most of us enjoyed soups and the various cheese related dishes they had on offer which in every case ended up being not what we expected. but we have three weeks to work our way through the romanian cuisine, there are bound to be some ups and downs, and many over ordered dishes.

returning home we only had to wait a few hours before we were supplied with another meal of potato and meat. one thing we are all struggling with is how to minimise our eating in romania because we are full all the time!

with our stomachs more than full we retreated to bed ready for our first day in the hospital tomorrow.





to the carpathians.

and so had arrived our last morning in bucharest. we flipped off the shitty hostel we’d been staying at and rolled down the cobbled streets towards the metro.

making our way underground we felt encouraged by the relative ease of the metro up until the moment we became wedged in the turnstiles with our bags. shaking ourselves free we made it to the CFR station and waited for our train, making friends with the resident drunkard (again) and enjoying a bon jovi rendition from our new pal.

we jumped on the train and settle back in our compartment for the eight and a half hour journey ahead. over that time we saw the landscape change dramatically. it was a humbling experience to view the lives of other so far removed from our own.


we arrived in targu mures a little dazed and confused and were met by erno, our in country support with challenges abroad who promptly whisked us off to eat a romanian meal of meat, rice, potato and pickles topped off with some very large, refreshing romanian beers.

so here we rest our heads, in targu mures, our home in transylvania for the next three weeks.