Louphine is a 31-year-old mother of three. I first saw her sitting on her mattress the first morning I did wound care rounds. She had an above-the-elbow amputation of her right arm and an above-the-knee amputation of her left leg. Through a Creole interpreter, she asked, “How am I going to take care of my children?” I had no answer.
Violette is a 51-year-old mother of six who had a fractured left femur and fractures in her right forearm (she had had surgery on both). Her 16-year-old son taught himself English and told me that on the day of the earthquake his mother was in the kitchen cooking and he was outside. After the shaking stopped, he saw that the house had collapsed. He cried because he thought his mother was dead. The son helped dig her out of the house. He wasnt sure what he would do in the future, but I saw him taking care of his mother daily. He bathed her, assisted her with toileting, and helped carry her under the trees in the afternoon when the tents became too hot.VanOrder worked in tent row 5 of 10 hospital rows established in Fond Parisien, Haiti.
Louphine and Violette are just two of the women I cared for during my two weeks in Fond Parisien, Haiti. I returned on March 6. I was a member of a team of nurses and physicians from Operation Smile (www.operationsmile.org/), an organization that usually provides surgical repair of cleft lip and cleft palate deformities in Third World countries. This was the organizations first medical team that took care of conditions other than facial injuries. Our team had four orthopedic surgeons, and we had two ORs available for surgeries. We mostly did repair and revision of previous surgical cases or wound debridement and cleaning. I did wound care.
All of the women in the tents on row five (the row I shared with my friend Linda, a registered nurse from Portland) had wounds that needed tending daily. The tents had no floor, only dirt, and each patient had a mattress with a thin cloth covering. They had few clothes, hardly any underwear and few other belongings. They had been brought to the hospital for treatment wearing what they had on the day of the earthquake.
We started rounds about 8 a.m., trying to beat the heat, which steadily rose during the morning until about noon and then lingered at about 100 degrees with about the same amount of humidity. If the breeze was blowing and you caught a bit of it, or opened a tent flap was opened so you could get some air, it was refreshing beyond belief.
We would finish the morning rounds about 11:30 a.m., take a break and then start afternoon rounds about 3 p.m. We would change dressings and give pain and sleeping medications, which almost all of the patients required. The Haitians were very sensitive to pain medications, so most of the time, non-narcotic medications were sufficient to ease their pain.Evening church service at Fond Parisien Hospital
I found myself mostly kneeling on the dirt with my bag of supplies tending to my patients wounds. We had supplies and were able to clean, dress and care for their wounds. The logistics of moving around the tent to get to people was the bigger problem. There was not much space to move around, and it was dark. Many times I found myself wiping the sweat from my face on the shoulder of my scrub top and thinking about how uncomfortable I was. Then I would think about what I was doing and look at those I was caring for and be ashamed that I was thinking about myself.
I was struck by the overall poverty that is a part of, has been a part of and will continue to be a part of the Haitian peoples lives. The sheer number of men, women and children with amputations was enormous.
Patients received two meals a day, one at 9 a.m. and the second at 2 p.m. Many days it was rice and beans and sometimes a combination of several vegetables. We ate what the patients ate, at the times they did. It was difficult to get both meals during the day, as we would be in the middle to the morning work time for the first one.
Communicating was a challenge, but we had interpreters. The language was Creole, and I had taken French in high school. Some of the words are the same, or close, and I did fairly well if I could not find an interpreter. Sometimes words are not needed to communicate; it is obvious what the patient is trying to tell you by their motions and actions.
The Haitians face the challenges that come their way, and the worship of God is a part of their life. They would meet almost nightly to sing and pray and listen to messages that thanked God for saving them and continuing to care for them.
One of the things patients with amputations must do is wrap their stumps daily to shape and mold them so that they will fit into prostheses. One of the last times I took care of Louphine, she had wrapped her stump where her left leg had been with a bandage and was sitting with her daughter. It was appropriately wrapped, and I know she will one day walk on a new leg.
Louphine is my hero. She represents to me all the hope I have for the Haitian people that they will recover from this disaster and go forward to take care of their children. I am honored to have been able to help them in a very small way for a very short time.