Volunteering at Purple House

  • Emma Buttolph with pharmacists Danny Tsai (l) and Tobias Spears (r) at Purple House
    Emma Buttolph with pharmacists Danny Tsai (l) and Tobias Spears (r) at Purple House
  • The Purple House community gathers to celebrate the 80th birthday of a patient and friend
    The Purple House community gathers to celebrate the 80th birthday of a patient and friend
  • Traditional remedies made by the Bush Balms team
    Traditional remedies made by the Bush Balms team

Photos: Emma Buttolph

During my university winter break, I was fortunate to volunteer at Alice Springs’ ‘Purple House’, a place for those with end stage renal disease to come and dialyse three times a week, for 4-5 hours each time.

I really had no idea what my job would entail, so as any eager city-based university student would be, I was ready to throw myself into the experience. I realised upon walking through the front door that Purple House was not just a facility with a couple of big dialysis chairs like those I had been exposed to in Melbourne. Instead, in front of me was a home with a warming fire pit, paintings, chickens and a beating heart of staff who are inspirationally guided by CEO, Sarah Brown.

This home supports a large Aboriginal community, some of whom travel hundreds of kilometres to be dialysed. My role as a volunteer included cooking breakfast and lunch for patients, accompanying them to appointments around town, and most importantly sitting down and simply sharing a moment or story with patients around the fire. It’s somewhat ironic really, coming from a big city where everyone preaches efficiency and an in-and-out sort of mentality, things at Purple House ran perfectly and calmly without any need for that. In fact, the calm and collected way of Purple House is fundamental to how it is run, and in my opinion is something that every city can learn from.

Another role I had was working with the Bush Balms team, who make traditional bush remedies and skin care products from naturally grown plants on Aboriginal lands. This was a humbling experience for me as someone with medicines at the centre of my university degree, as I had no idea about the need for these products that are so important to so many people living in Australia. The plants would be picked, crushed, and mixed into a range of products all at the one location, a far stretch from the creation of rigid and synthetic medicines that I have studied.

Both the roles I had at Purple House as well as with the Bush Balms team included things that no course at any institution could teach me. It came down to exposure, understanding, and swallowing what I’ve previously learnt to realise an incredibly integral way of delivering health care in Australia.

This place taught me countless lessons and opened my eyes to true health care, not in the clinical sense, but through the genuine care that’s provided and the sincere relationships that are formed. I learnt that when you strip everything back, your ears can be the most valuable tool in your armoury to just listen.

 

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