In the wake of disaster domestic or abroad nurses are often first to volunteer to put their unique, invaluable skill set to good use under extraordinary circumstances. The Haiti earthquake was no different. Nurses signed up in droves for service. Three Texas nurses spent a week in Haiti, and their experience is one theyll never forget.
When Hill Country Bible Church and a local orthopedic surgeon put out the call Jan. 20 for volunteers for a Haiti mission trip Sarena Green, RN, BSN; Lindsey Griffin, RN, BSN; and Jenny Husband, RN, FNP, quickly signed on. Almost overnight, an 18-member team, with only the three RNs, was chosen. By departure time on Jan. 23, the team was equipped with two G4s jets (donated by a private citizen) filled with 26,000 pounds of medical supplies, antibiotics, medicine, anesthesia, casting materials and baby formula to take with them.Sarena Green, RN, with Dani, a memorable patient
Green and Griffin, good friends since attending and graduating from the University of Texas at Austin in 2008 became interested in participating in medical missions as a way to serve the poor and last summer traveled to Tanzania and Kenya for two weeks. I think thats why we were able to get things together so quickly for the Haiti trip we went through similar prep work not too long ago, says Green, a NICU nurse at St. Davids Medical Center in Austin.
The trip to Haiti departed Jan. 24 for a week-long trip to set up a mini-hospital at a Mission of Hope-owned clinic on a 70-acre plot of land 10 miles outside of Port-au-Prince.
A million miracles happened before and during the trip, says Griffin, who works with Any Baby Can, a non-profit nurse-family partnership program in Austin, Texas, that focuses care and follow-up on first-time moms-to-be and follows the infants progress until theyre two years old. An oncologist donated an ultrasound machine, and we had gathered enough supplies to set up the mini-hospital, a well-equipped OR and a pharmacy. When we arrived, we spent time setting up and began seeing patients the next day. By mid-week, word was out about our facility, and the patients began flowing in. Soon, the U.S. Navy began transporting patients to us via helicopter.Others gather around as Green, in the forefront, and Griffin treat a patient.
The clinic received critically injured walk-ins and patients, who had been seen at other facilities after the earthquake, suffering from infection or sepsis shock. Many amputees did not receive post-op care, so they had secondary infections at their surgical sites. The team also saw cases of malaria, typhoid and fractures and treated pregnant women. Soon after the earthquake, amputations were even being done on the front lawn of the hospital – many without anesthesia, says Green. And there were numerous cases of secondary infections because of lack of post-op care.
We had plenty of supplies, but in the beginning, we still found ourselves making makeshift IV poles out of nails hammered to the walls or IV tubing strung around door hinges), says Griffin. We couldnt find foley bags, so we had to use normal saline bags, IV tubing and sutures to fashion foley bags. We had plenty of supplies, but when youre in the middle of organizing everything, you use whatever you can to treat the patients quickly.
As expected, the nurse trio worked long hours and were emotionally touched by many patients, but none as much as Dani, a 16-year-old girl who had to partially amputate her own arm to get out of a fallen building. Afterwards, medical personnel at the general hospital in Port-Au-Prince finished the amputation. Dani showed up at the clinic with an infection at the surgical site. Surgeons cleaned up the wound and dressed it, and she was given post-op care.
One night, through the 15-year-old Creole translator, Dani asked for prayer from the nurses. Caring for the mind, body, and spirit was part of holistic healing, so we were thrilled to do that for her, says Green. We were all moved to tears by the experience. But what amazed us more was that Dani used her only hand to wipe away our tears. To think of someone who had so little and still wanted to comfort us and wipe away our tears was incredible. Soon after, all the patients in the clinic broke into worship songs in Creole. They were so thankful for the care they had received.
We didnt have the facilities to keep patients for long, so we had to discharge her once she was stable. Two hours before she had to leave on her own and after praying for her safety, her dad walks in to get her. She was not alone anymore. For him to get wind of where she was and find her was a true miracle in our eyes.
Looking back on the trip Green says it would have been helpful to have had X-ray technology to help diagnose patients. Since that was not available at the time, some patients had to be diverted to other clinics or Mercy ships. From this point on, she says, nursing care, including post-op wound care is of utmost importance because of the risk of infection.
We wished we could do more, but we gave them food and beds and care they so desperately needed, says Griffin. There was mass suffering, but they had a strong faith to help them.
Pre-earthquake Haiti was already the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, says Green. No one can ignore the immense need there. There are so many ways to help and we all have a part to play.