I went to Haiti on Jan. 29 as a member of a 15-member Passionist mission group; 14 of the 15 members were medical personnel. I was one of four nurses: three operating room nurses and one postanesthesia care unit nurse. We were at St. Damiens Hospital just outside of Port-au-Prince. Fully prepared to perform any task assigned, I found myself in a post-op unit. The last time I was a floor nurse was 20 years ago. I received a quick orientation in broken English from a German nurse. Most of the time, I had a translator.
I started my shift at 7:30 a.m. and would find a quick note from the night nurse. I dont know what time she left, but it was always before I arrived. I came in every day to some problem, such as IVs that had clotted off or a swarm of ants crawling over the medications. The medications were donated from around the world, and had names I had never seen. I discovered Vomigon (a more appropriate name for Zofran) and Duzzicillin (I guess for that Doozy of an infection) and our Morphine was 50mg/ml. The Narcan was taped to the wall. The Haitian nurses on my ward did not hang IV meds; therefore, I discovered that none of the patients were receiving their 10 p.m. doses of antibiotics. I would end my shift at 6:30 p.m. and go back at 9:30 to start the meds.Patty Bells translator, Ridore, and Haitian nurse, Rosalore.
There were no phones in the wards. I found myself going to the pharmacy at least 10 times a day, central supply four times a day, and the lab once or twice a day. I also had to hunt for the doctor. One incident that stands out in my mind is when I was trying to find the doctor to report a hemoglobin and hematocrit of 5 gms/dL and 15%, respectively. It took three hours of searching wards while going back to my own ward to check on my patients in between my searches. By the time I found the doctor, the lab was closed for a type and cross-match. Eventually, we found someone to perform that task and we were able to hang a unit that matched the patient rather than using universal donor units. True to form, it took another two hours to find a blood administration kit.
Luckily, my days were filled with tasks. I was able to take my mind off of the horror that my patients were facing. The patients and their families were strong and faithful and loving. The patients families stayed 24/7 and performed all of the personal care, including emptying bedpans and bringing in home-cooked meals. They would sing religious songs and say prayers at the bedside. I would find myself weeping during those times and my patient at the time would always notice and grab my hand. They have touched my heart as no other patient has done. I have been able to find out about their progress through phone calls with an interpreter.
My body came home from Haiti, but my heart is still there.