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Healthcare and Heroism in Haiti: One Nurse’s Story

Friday, May 12, 2017 7:16 AM

Project Medishare for Haiti was founded in 1994 and started as a field hospital on the grounds of the Port-au-Prince airport. Project Medishare brought in the first group of foreign medical volunteers, treating more than 30,000 earthquake victims at the field hospital before joining forces with a non-profit community hospital, Hospital Bernard Mevs. Although the earthquake happened over six years ago, Project Medishare and Hospital Bernard Mevs have committed to helping the Haitians rebuild their community and their healthcare system, and is the only critical care hospital in the country. Casey Fauré, an Emergency Department Nurse at NorthShore, shares her story from her recent volunteer trip to Haiti. 

HaitiProjectMedishareCasey (middle) with some Emergency Department attendings.

In April 2016, I spent two weeks volunteering for Project Medishare at Hospital Bernard Mevs in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. I went to share with the Haitian staff our procedures and techniques, and care for the Haitian people, but they taught me so much more than I could have ever expected. 

My clinical experience in Haiti started in the Emergency Department (ER). The ER consists of a triage area, two beds and an athletic training table. There are many motor vehicle collisions and motorcycle accidents in Haiti. Additionally, the crime rate in Haiti is very high. Every day we had more than a handful of patients walk in with injuries related to a gunshot or a machete encounter. Very often these patients had to sit in chairs instead of lie in a bed because the beds were occupied by patients with spinal cord injuries and strokes. The most notable problem with this was that the ER had only one telemetry monitor (heart monitoring device).

Resources in Haiti are scarce and ambulances have minimal supplies. The most heartbreaking thing to see is a patient come in and die who may have had a better outcome had there been more resources made available to Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel or more supplies in the hospital. When I returned to work at Evanston Hospital after my trip, I was so grateful for everything I had.

One ICU patient in particular really touched my heart. This patient spent four days in the ER due to the ICU being full. He had been paralyzed in a car accident last year and came in for fever and fatigue. This patient spoke a little English and was continually thanking everyone for helping him. Day by day I watched him ride a roller coaster of wellness and decline. I said goodbye to him on our last day knowing he likely would not make it to my next visit. Shortly after I arrived back in the United States I received a text message letting me know that the patient had passed. His last words were ‘map byen pase’ which translated to English means ‘I’m going well.’ I was sad to hear he was gone, but it was great to hear that he went in peace instead of suffering at home.

One of the things the Haitians taught me is what it truly means to care for one another. At Hospital Bernard Mevs the family feeds the patients, performs bed baths and other daily activities, empties foley catheters, and picks up medications from the pharmacy. The wards cannot accommodate family members staying with the patients. For that reason, many family members slept in the courtyard and along the sides of the drive on cardboard while their family members were in the hospital. On any given day, you could walk out of the volunteer living quarters and see 15 family members sleeping on the ground outside. 

Similarly, on the pediatric unit, all of the parents help each other. In Haiti, care for the disabled is variable because of lack of resources and prevalent belief in Voodoo practices that rebuke those with disabilities. Sometimes there are children with medical problems whose family leaves them at the hospital due to social and financial constraints. The families work together to help care for the babies who have been left behind. They look out for not only their own, but everyone else's. It warmed my heart to see one family drop everything to assist a young boy who needed help splinting his own chest to cough after a major surgery.

Each day after my shift, I spent some time alone on the roof of the volunteer living quarters to reflect on my day. Some nights we did group yoga sessions to relieve stress, some nights Dr. Temple led a workout circuit and other evenings I read a book alone. I felt it was important to look back on each day to keep myself balanced. I saw many things that broke my heart and others that raised my spirits. I shed tears and shared laughs. Even now when I talk with my friends back in Haiti I am filled with mixed emotions. I love hearing the stories of the things they see in the ER but I’m heartbroken that they don’t have the access to the things we do in the States.

Explore how you can further help Project Medishare.