Nurse finds uniting humanity during volunteer experience with Project Medishare
By Jane Hays Boehm, RN
Project Medishare was accepting my Registered Nurse skills and all I had to do is arrive at Miami Airport 4 a.m. on a Saturday. Three of my friends were with me so it began like a vacation adventure. Glasses of wine, good food, laughing comparing our malaria meds, nets and boots. It wasn’t until we flew low over the devastation of the earthquake – ravaged country that the serious mission of our trip descended and quieted our beings.
The crush of humanity at the Port-au-Prince Airport, the smell of charcoal fires mingled with garbage, the increase in humidity and the intensity of the sun beating down as we were transported in open trucks down bumpy roads, brought us a new reality which we would share and work in for the next week.
On arrival at the Project Medishare field hospital, which consisted of a collection of some very large tents, 200 feet from the airport runway, we received our army cot, badge and job assignment. We were given the rules and briefly informed of the food (MREs), water and safety requirements for the week and a tour which included a neonate unit (the only one in Haiti) Operating Rooms (24/7 availability) and a triage area treating hundreds of patients a day. There was also a large medical/surgical tent full of patients lying inches apart on army cots 12” from the ground, a wound care tent for the constant daily dressings and a pediatric tent which also housed the ICU, Neonate unit, Operating Room, Pharmacy and Laboratory which I had volunteered to work in, with a Pathologist Charley.
The Lab, astounded me in its ability to function despite numerous interruptions by orphaned babies needing to be held or ride in our chair, Doctors, nurses and helpers amazed at seeing the clinical findings of malaria, tuberculosis, sickle cell and parasitic diseases under a microscope and just the business of our hospital. We were able to produce ABGs, CBCs, BMPs, HIV, pregnancy results and type blood within an hour except when the machines overheated and had to spend time cooling in the freezer. The fact that there was electric outlets and refrigeration (blood transfusion ability) made us a popular spot for the laptop and cell phone crowd.
Amid the sounds of crying babies, jets and helicopters ebbing and flowing around us, the noise level would rise with excitement as food was distributed twice a day to patients and the Haitian workers. The sounds of singing to God would quiet us as more and more voices were added and a visiting Pastor would hold a service in Creole.
The daily stories that formed this patchwork of humanity into a family of unforgettable memories, was effecting every one of us, from the smiling supply tent old guys to the first time young volunteers who at first appeared dazed but quickly evolved into the sought after know it alls. The story of the mother found under the rubble after four days with her two baby girls still alive in her arms, the babies left in dumpsters only to be loved by rescuers and adopted by families with open arms and hearts, the constant influx of paraplegics stoic and uncomplaining, just happy it seemed to be alive. The mother who was separated from her family for 5 weeks then reunited thanks to tireless efforts by social workers. The dead being taken out in the moonlight with workers in white gowns, the isolation tents with active tuberculosis patients, the army personal with there guns almost reaching the ground helping any way they can, and back to do it day after day with order and respectfulness.
This is what my first disaster nursing relief trip showed me, that no matter who we are and where we come from, we have a uniting human ability to want to alleviate peoples pain and will go to almost any end to do so. To the planners, the donors, the organizers, and the people that appear from all corners of the earth to help, thank you for your response and I am so grateful to have joined you in such worthy cause.
* Jane Hays Boehm, RN has been an ICU nurse for 27 years. She volunteered at Project Medishare’s field hospital between March 6-13.