Volunteer nurse shares journal from Haiti
By Jennifer Browning
From Pittsburgh, Lynn Byers flew to Port-au-Prince with Project Medishare to work at the field hospital set up there between February 17-23.
Volunteer nurses work 12 hour shifts during their time at the Project Medishare and UM Global Institute hospital. Byers spent most her time working in the adult ward. She shares her experience including the joys and frustrations that come with working as part of the earthquake relief effort.
Medishare Trip; February 17-23, 2010
Feb 17, 2010 (2300)
I’m here in Haiti! Our flights kept getting changed and delayed, but nevertheless after 3 flights I made it to Haiti. The heat feels good after months of snow and cold.
We rode over to the hospital compound in the back of a pick-up truck. We got a quick tour & orientation, and then some people went to work that night. The fact that a hospital made of tents can have an ER, OR, ICU, pharmacy, Xray, etc. that was set up so quickly is truly amazing! Emily & I set up a small one person tent because all the cots were taken in the big circus like tent. She went to work & I get to sleep outside.
Feb 19, 2010 (0415)
It’s quiet this time in the hospital adult tent. I am working night shift (this is my first of four 12 hour shifts in a row). Last night it down-poured and my tent got soaked, as well as myself. I got an empty cot inside the big tent so I could catch some dry sleep.
One thing I have to get used to is changing in a co-ed tent or in the immodest showers. There’s really no privacy, but I am learning to make-do (as I’m sure females in the military learn to do).
I woke up early the first day (Feb 18th) thinking I might working day shift. So I stayed up for awhile. I donated my supplies. I met the chaplain. We went around passing out dum-dums I brought for the children. Almost all the kids had a smile to their face. They are so strong for going what they have gone through. One child had his arm amputated with a pocket-knife. We met a beautiful baby boy that was born yesterday. We then went to the adult tent and prayed with the patients. We even had one guy sing us a hymnal (in French Creole of course). I noticed that the patients sing at times, which is so beautiful to see that in the midst of tragedy.
This type of nursing is very different. I have 11 patients. I was just trying to get a flow of what to do. Very basic assessment, pass meds, make sure all the orders were done for the day; and then make sure people are breathing, IV bags are dripping, & people are medicated for pain. There’s no real charting except meds and if something significant happens. We have no heplocks for IV’s, so we just have to leave the IV bags attached. I’ve gotten good at pulling air out of IV tubing. The pharmacy meds are just out in the open on shelves (including narcotics…but there’s been no issue with people stealing it).
Patients are just lined up side to side with no privacy (no curtains) and no gender separation. They have to pee and bathe in the open. The urine is taken outside to a bin (that is emptied with the porta potties). The family members do all the aid type work and stay over night. But I don’t mind that they stay because they are actually helpful instead of being annoying like a lot of family members back home. Co-workers are great because the people there want to work. We are all volunteers. Even the doctors are laid-back and easy to get along with. We are making do with the supplies we have and we were laughing together to keep the mood good.
We have plenty of Haitian translators & transporters. There’s one stretcher with wheels, but they don’t use it. Instead a couple Haitian men carry the stretcher by hand. The Haitians are hard-working and want work. They want to get their country back to functioning. The worst thing I did was forget my watch. I am getting pretty good at guessing the time. There are no clocks on the wall. There is some electricity though from generators.
My patients diagnoses range from: pneumothorax from a stabbing, malaria, pressure ulcer on paralyed patient, broken bones, severe malnutrition (He was stuck under the rubble 22 days…his H & H is 5.1 and 13%…crazy! no blood transfusions). I have wound vacs, foleys, external fixators, dressings, chest tube.
The tents on ground are: Big sleeping tent for workers, command center tent, wound supply tent, ortho tent, adult/xray tent, peds/ICU/OR tent. The ER is outside under a tarp. We have porta potties & only hand sanitizer. There’s a bush to brush your teeth. The whole place is surrounded by a fence & watched by military & Haitian security guards.
Well, I’m dehydrated so I’m going to go try to find some water.
Feb 20, 2010 (0900)
It’s been a long night, but I definitely felt more organized & confident in what I was doing & how things are run. The people I work with give me a good laugh.
I’ve never been so thankful for the food and water brought to us. I’ve never had the feeling of not knowing when my next warm meal will come. We get one warm meal a day, and usually there are MRE’s (made ready to eat). Then I snack in between. Some plane brought in burger king that night & it tasted oh so good. I didn’t really know how to respond when a patient said to me “America has lots of food and we have very little.” What do you say when it’s the truth and it’s not fair at all. We have people having gastric bypass while people go hungry everyday here.
I’m learning some French Creole. It’s nice to be able to talk to my patients more directly. The thing I’ve noticed is all the amputees & paralyzed patients. There is not going to be set-up and care they need once they leave. Lots of them don’t even have homes anymore. I pray that a solution will be found for these people.
Another amazing thing is SHOWERING! Even though it was only a 2 minute cold shower, I felt like I was in an herbal essence commercial because it felt so good. The curtain was flapping in the wind, but I didn’t even think about it. We had a 3-year old boy come over and eat half of Klaire’s (another nurse) rice. He was adorable. They said he was found naked in the dumpster. He’s an orphan now.
Feb 20, 2010 (0215)
Well, it’s my 3rd night working. I only have 9 patients tonight. Some patients don’t have much expression, but that is understandable. All of them have lost at least one close person in the earthquake, & most do not have a home anymore. At least they are not nasty to me.
One thing is for sure, this is definitely the type of nursing that I love. No unnecessary charting. Providing basic, sound nursing care; co-workers that are fun to be around (no cliques or pettiness…or at least for now there’s none); patients and family members that are appreciative; MD’s & pharmacists that are always in the room. Now of course, there are frustrating parts. No patient ratios; low supplies; the chart is a little unorganized and hard to follow; primitive living conditions; limited communication with the patients. But, I will try not to complain like the Haitian people are not complaining about their situation. I hope to learn from them to make the best of things that are in your life. In general, my conclusion is those who have more complain more, and those who have less complain less.
Feb 24th (1845)
Well, I’m back at home unpacked, laundry done & dishes washed. When I woke up in the morning, I was overwhelmed with sadness and grief. I cried for Haiti for the first time. I guess its one thing to see the terrible images on the screen, but far more impacting & saddening to talk to them, touch them, & live near them. I wish I was around someone who went so I could talk about it, because it’s hard to explain to someone who wasn’t there.
I cried over my carton of milk (first milk I’ve had since I left) because I had one paralyzed patient who asked if he could have a can of ensure or milk for his children. There was none to give him. Here I am with a whole gallon of milk for myself. Here I am with running water, food, & a comfortable home.
But, I know I have to get back to life. I can’t have emotional break downs that interfere with daily life, but I don’t have to forget these people or stop praying and supporting them financially. I can change the way I do things. I don’t want to waste money or resources. I can work on complaining less.
Well, I think I took up enough of your time reading about my trip. Sorry it is so long, but I hope it helps you understand what is going on in Haiti. I hope you can continue to support Haiti financially and/or continue to pray for them.