Just a few short weeks after a catastrophic 7.0 magnitude earthquake devastated Haiti, I traveled with Project HOPE, an organization that works to provide health education and humanitarian assistance internationally, to Haiti with a team of medical relief workers to help. I knew that offering care and comfort to the children injured and displaced by the earthquake was important, but I could not have imagined the impact my work in Haiti would have on me.
The working conditions and resources were alarming. I was one of just three Pediatric Intensive Care Unit registered nurses on the trip, and our experience with pediatric patients, particularly preemies, was in high demand. We were immediately put to work, but with limited resources, we struggled.
We had a makeshift PICU and NICU, operating on a U.S. Naval ship, but these units were like nothing I had ever seen or experienced before. Nearly every child had an amputation of some sort, most were infected, and the ship had run out of antibiotics. We saw patients with tuberculosis, typhoid and tetanus. We made our own feeding bags.
Sanitation was a challenge. We quickly ran out of gloves and masks, and we had no bath supplies except for tiny towelettes and small amounts of antibacterial spray. We had to reuse suction catheters, with only soap and water to clean them between patients. We worked 12- to 14-hour shifts, seven days a week.
Most of the children we treated had lost their parents. One preemie came to us in a cardboard box that a Navy soldier had found by the side of the road in Port-au-Prince.
Despite the mountain of challenges we faced, I know we made a difference. Even if all we could do was comfort children, it was important for us to be there. I’ll never forget caring for an 8-year-old boy that had been critically injured when a house fell on him. He had lost his left arm and right leg; his face was crushed. I didn’t know what to do, so I found some bubbles and began blowing them around him. He started to smile and then laugh. Seeing the smile on his face reminded me that, in spite of all of their hardships, these were still children that needed the special kind of care we give to kids.
Knowing how to offer special care to children is something Children’s taught me. My training at Children’s also gave me the confidence and skills to improvise solutions in a really rough environment, and the support of my co-workers back home inspired me and sustained me during the trip. I never thought I’d be able to do what I did in Haiti, but I’m so glad I did. And I’m so grateful Children’s gave me the training and support I needed to make it possible.
Staff Nurse, Children’s at Egleston