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RN Volunteers Reflect on Service in Haiti

Guerna Blot, RN, MSN, OCN, president of the Haitian American Nurses Association of Florida, used to consider herself a strong, resilient individual, but after volunteering in Haiti to assist with earthquake relief efforts, she began to question that identity. “When I returned from my first trip, I couldn’t sleep just thinking about what I had seen,” says Blot, director of the oncology unit at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach, Fla. “I have never seen so many dead people in my life, and the smell was horrible.”

Blot has returned to Haiti four times since the devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake and has witnessed how the country’s medical needs have changed in the past 12 months. When she volunteered during the first week after the earthquake, the majority of patients required medical care for broken bones. When she returned two months later, many were suffering from wound infections and pressure ulcers because of a lack of proper care from family members.

Guerna Blot, RN

When she volunteered in June and again in September, however, she began seeing more signs of the emotional toll of the temblor. More patients, for example, were showing signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. One woman sticks in Blot’s memory. “This woman was outside of her house when the quake struck,” Blot says. “She lost her husband, her three children and other relatives who were in the house. She asked me how she was to move on when she was the only one left and wondered why she had been left behind.”

To help survivors cope with PTSD, Marlene Cesar, RN, DNP, PMHNP, a board adviser for HANA and a psychiatric nurse, has done a weekly call-in radio show from Florida since June 2010 that is broadcast in Haiti. During the broadcast, Cesar discusses coping strategies, does simple cognitive behavioral therapy exercises and encourages listeners to form support groups. The call-in segment allows Haitians to vent their concerns.

More than 100 HANA members went to Haiti during the past year to help with the relief efforts, and the organization received numerous calls from groups that wanted to help donate supplies or send volunteers to help HANA nurses with such things as translation and logistics.

The fact that hundreds of thousands of Haitians are living in tents also is impacting the health of the people, Blot says. The cramped, unsanitary living conditions are only accelerating the spread of cholera.

Lindsey Courage, RN, BSN, a nurse from Austin, Texas, recently traveled to Haiti specifically to care for patients suffering from cholera. She had volunteered shortly after the earthquake, and then in December she felt compelled to return to help again. Courage said the majority of the patients recovered from the disease after two to three days of treatment. “If the people make it to the treatment, then they have a 99% chance of recovery,” she says. “But sometimes they live in remote areas and are too far away to get to us.”

Many patients simply needed oral rehydration, but more serious cases required intravenous fluids with antibiotics. Before discharge, patients were taught how to make the oral solution at home using salt, sugar and purified water. They also learned that they could not bathe in contaminated water, and needed to purify their drinking water by boiling it or using a chlorine tablet. Courage says that disease prevention education is needed even more in the next year to help Haitians avoid further disease outbreaks.

Like Blot, Courage believes one of the top priorities going forward is to help provide housing for the displaced Haitians. “People have to get out of the tent cities,” Courage says. “It is not good for STDs, for morale or for their overall health. They have to have a place to live that is safe with clean water. Right now they don’t have the basics to sustain human life.”

By | 2020-04-15T13:18:23-04:00 February 7th, 2011|Categories: Regional, South|0 Comments

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