Thursday, April 1, 2010

Living the Haitian Life

As most of you who read this know I recently returned from a 12 day trip to Haiti. It was of course an experience like none other. The feelings and experiences that were felt and had are difficult to put into words but I will try my best.

First of all, the group that I went with is called Healing Hands for Haiti and they are a Rehabilitation organization that sends groups from all over the country. Most of their focus is on physical therapy and rehab but with the recent devastation from the earthquake the needs of the people and their country have changed. When I arrived it had been almost 2 months since the earthquake had happened. Seeing images on the news and pictures in magazines gave a very small idea of what to expect, and of course my thoughts and imagination conjured many possibilities. But when these events are put right in front of your face, when the people are tangible and their stories become personal and their tears are real it is unlike anything the mind could imagine, which is a blessing.

Our group did a variety of projects over the days we were there. As a group we consisted of MD's, NP's, RN's, Social workers, physical therapists, and ancillary volunteers. We helped out at the two major hospitals in Port-Au-Prince, CDTI and the Miami/Medishare hospital. We visited orphanges and evaluated the needs of the children and the caretakers. Healing hands also runs a clinic Monday's thru Saturday's where the people come to receive therapy and medical attention.

The most difficult place that I went were the orphanages. These childern are so special and they love so much. The caregivers do the very best that they can and they are wonderful but are limited to the care they can provide and these children are starved for human contact and love. It broke my heart to see it. It's difficult to see anyone is such situations, let alone a beautiful, loving child. They wanted to play and be held and just hug and love all over you. It was very touching. It's so easy to see the innocence and love in a child's eyes and know how sincere it is, something not easily witnessed in an adult.

The hospitals were very fun. Extremely difficult, but rewarding. At the Miami/Medishare hospital I worked a night shift from 7-7 and had 9 patients, 8 of whom had spinal chord injuries and one who had active TB and was in an "isolation" tent. I work on an adult medical floor where the patients are relatively stable, no spinal cord injuries. Being a fairly new nurse to begin with and being in an extremely unfamiliar situation, environment, and element, I felt ill qualified to be doing the work and caring for the patients I was caring for. Self doubt is something that comes naturally to me and something I fight to overcome daily, and this experience completely overwhelmed me. I will admit, when the long gueling 12 hours were over and we returned to the guesthouse I crawled up to my top bunk of the bunk beds I was sharing and cried and prayed that the people I had taken care had received the best possible care I was capable of and that they would be blessed with hope and faith to continue on the difficult road that lay ahead of them. The units were in huge tents with rows and rows of cots. I ran all night long and was exhausted beyond explanation. Yet it was a very rewarding night. One patient as I was leaving grabbed my hand, smiled and laughed to me, and said something in Creole. The translator that was with me told me she said that I was a beautiful angel and thank you for you love.

CDTI was another hospital. The patients here are relatively stable patients, the acuity of care is not as high. There are many tents each with approximately 7 beds, which consist of crates. There is a lot of physical therapy, rehab, and wound care that takes place here. The day that I was here I went through the tents and performed simple wound care and dressing changes. Wound care is not my forte. The wounds don't bother me so much as I'm just not experienced enough to judge which type of dressing should go here or what type of ointment would be best for this, etc. However it was a great experience and I rather enjoyed myself. After I was finished with my wound care I wandered around and helped out wherever I was needed performing basic nursing tasks, changing an IV bag, inserting an IV, administering medication, etc. It was busy and rewarding day. The medical staff that are at these facilities on a daily basis are remarkable. Nurses come to the Miami/medishare hospital and work 7 straight 12 hour shifts. That is insane under normal US conditions, never mind those in Haiti. I have absolutely no idea how they managed to do it, but to know how grateful they were for our added help felt wonderful.

By far my favorite experience was the "tent clinic." I was in my element. Run much the same as an ER(minus the "emergency"), I was in heaven. Patients showed up, I assessed, triaged and sent on to the MD or NP. On an occasional basis I made a clinical call what this patient needed such as an ace wrap and some ibuprophen. These people have no where else to go for their care and they appreciate what we provide so much.

Through it all the overwhelming feelings that occampanied the seemingly insurmountable tasks the lay before us were consistently along the lines of "What good are we doing?" and "Are we really helping anyone?" I felt as if we were appying a band-aid to a gushing chest wound. My wise father reminded me in an email that I was touching the lives of each individual I met. We couldn't be expected to change an entire country, but each hand helps. Of course what made it all worth the sweat and tears were the people. This is truly a remarkable group of people. I suppose living in such conditions as they do day in and day out and experiencing a devastastingly life altering situation will cause someone to find strength and hope they may never have imagined they possessed. I myself cannot imagine having everything I own destroyed and having to live in a tent and not knowing if I would be able to eat the next day or losing several members of my family at once. We all have our trials and our obstacles in life and I suppose we never really know what we can handle until it is foced upon up, but these are truly remarkable people in my eyes. I was not lucky enough to have been acquainted with them and their culture before the earthquake but I can see how much it has affected their lives and yet the move forward. Most, if not all, still have the remnants of sadness in their eyes and demeanors yet they smile. And they are sincerely grateful for the help they are receiving. It is part of the human condition to need to feel wanted and appreciated. And I can honestly say this is one place and one experience where I have felt overwhelmingly appreciated and needed.