Project Medishare | My Project Medishare, Karen Miller
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My Project Medishare, Karen Miller

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My Project Medishare
By Karen Miller

I am adventurous by nature and a traveler at heart, so last summer when I considered what the next stage of my life would look like as I headed into my thirties sent me into panic mode.  I have always wanted to do medical work overseas and it felt like my opportunity to do so was “now or never,” so it had to be now.  Aside from becoming a Nurse Anesthetist, my decision to move to Haiti last September was the best one I ever made.

Family members through CFM brought me to Haiti.  They offered me a place to stay and the emotional support that every person needs when taking on an adventure like this.  When I arrived, I didn’t know what I was getting into.  Where would I work?  How would I get around?  What exactly would I be doing?  Everything was up in the air.  I knocked on the gate of Hospital Bernard Mevs Project Medishare, and little did I know, I was home.  The four buildings behind a large guarded orange gate would challenge me, frustrate me, reward me, and change me.  The people I saw hustling around would become dear friends, coworkers, or maybe just a nuisance, but a part of me nonetheless.

My first job assignment was to work as an anesthetist in the operating rooms.  We had new volunteers coming every week and sometimes we would have anesthesia help, and sometimes we wouldn’t.  Dorothy was my mentor, a locally trained Anesthesiologist who had the patience of a saint.  I will never forget my first patient; he was a little 5 month old with hydrocephalus.  I wasn’t used to doing pediatric cases, and the resources were so limited and unfamiliar that I wasn’t sure I could.  But, the weeks went by and I slowly became less green.

My second week, I was asked by our wonderful medical director to become the director of the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) in the hospital.  This was intimidating for two reasons.  The first was – Director?  The second was the fact that our hospital’s ICU is the only one in the country.  We had all the ventilators, all the medications, and most of the gadgets to offer.  That meant if someone needed to be intubated and mechanically ventilated, they came to us.  If somebody needed support with medications, they came to us.  With only four beds in the ICU, it amazed me that we were not overflowing continuously.  The people of Haiti are very resilient and they can withstand almost anything thrown at them, but, just in case their defenses were down, we were there.

I can’t even begin to describe how blessed I felt to have helped each one of our patients.  As I am writing this, I can see their faces.  Some stories ended badly, some ended triumphantly, but we always tried our best with what we had.

The most rewarding part of my journey was working with Haitian ICU nurses, all of whom I grew to know and love.  When I met them, they were slightly standoffish.  Most likely they were tired of all the new faces, and medical volunteers constantly telling them the “correct” way to practice nursing.  I slowly gained their trust and their respect and together we made a great team.  With their increase in confidence came a new desire for learning; they were constantly asking great questions and studying on their own.  I started holding some classes for all the hospital nurses, and everyone loved it.  They would repeatedly ask me to teach them again.  It made me realize how much I took my education for granted during my schooling years.  Groaning about doing homework, or missing an event to study seems silly to me now.  What an amazing opportunity we have in the United States, to pick up a book in our native language and read it; to be able to research anything that comes to mind using a search engine.  I wish that everyone had the opportunities for education that I did.

Last month, as my time in Haiti was winding down, I began training one of our very talented Haitian nurses to take over my position as Director of the ICU.  She is perfect for the job and I’m so proud of her and all of the nurses for their dedication to nursing, to Hospital Bernard Mevs, and to the people of Haiti.  The ICU will still be receiving volunteers, but the nurses have really made it their own unit.

My future plans include another adventure – Boston this time.  I will begin my career as a pediatric nurse anesthetist at Children’s Hospital Boston this September.  I am very grateful for the opportunity to have learned about myself and the people of Haiti.  It has entirely changed the direction of my life.  I am also grateful to Hartville Mennonite Church and CFM for granting me that opportunity.  It would not have been possible without them!

Karen Miller with a patient at Hospital Bernard Mevs Project Medishare

From everyone at Project Medishare for Haiti: