A few days ago, walking near the Parliament building in Budapest, Hungary, I came upon this tent. As a nurse from the U.S., the words “poor hospital” caught my attention. I wondered if free care was being given–perhaps blood pressure screenings or immunizations.
While my husband went on to find a currency exchange, I stopped and asked if anyone spoke English. One person did. Her name was Hajnalka Szabo. She had lived in California for a time and new friends there simplified her name and called her “Honey.” I quickly came to feel the nickname fit her. I told her I would call her that, too, and got permission from her and the group’s leader, Kiss Laszlo, to blog about them.
They represent a newly formed group (in English, the Independent Organization for Health Care) advocating for better conditions for their patients in the public hospitals. They were not giving care in this tent, but were showing passersby the equipment they used in their hospitals. I was appalled. It predates my early sixties entry into nursing in the Midwest U.S. I felt as though I was in a museum or reading the nursing history text-book I had during my diploma nurses training in Michigan in 1960.
Here is an adult patient bed. Some go up and down, but not all.
This metal-like coffin is an isolette used in the nursery for the sickest newborns.
The regular newborn bassinets were not much better. Note they are not on wheels, and it is often necessary to move them.
When patients die, they are wheeled out on a stretcher covered by a person-sized metal box. Imagine seeing that contraption passing your bed. In the U.S., we cover the patient with a clean sheet, which is distracting enough but far more dignified and respectful of the newly deceased.
When patients come to the hospital, they must take their own clothes, towel, washcloth, and soap. The hospitals have no patient gowns or bedside care toiletries. They do have a large metal basin to give a bath that reminded me of a smaller version of wash tubs my grandmother may have used.
Nurses work 12-hour shifts and earn about $600 U.S. equivalent a month RNs are responsible for passing meds, changing dressings, serving meal trays–including pouring tea from a large dispenser. Plus monitor postops, admit new patients, and do all the paperwork. Charting is still by hand on clipboards at the foot of the bed. They may have 30 patients to one RN and have the assistance of a few people who sounded like our nurses aides.. Those people give the baths, but when they need help, the nurses, for example, must help turn and clean patients.
One of our guides on this Danube River tour corroborated this RNs story. An acquaintance who lived here recently also said they avoided Hungarian hospitals when they were here.
I asked Honey why she didn’t stay in the U.S. What made her come back? “I’m asked that all the time,” she said, and went on to say her family is here and implied these were her people and she wants better care and conditions for them. “You are so lucky to be in the U.S.,” she said. “Every week,” she added, she gets letters inviting her to go to other countries, one example-Finland-to work. But her love and concern for her people, her patients, keeps her here.
Florence Nightingale would be proud.
Keep these nurses in your thoughts and prayers on July 1 as they conduct their third gathering, the first overnight, at the Hungarian Parliament building. The group’s first gathering was May 12. Ten thousand people joined them. More joined their second on May 29. I urgently hope, this time, their government will heed their pleas.