Guest Blog: Nursing Haiti

If you've ever been interested in a Yobel Exposure Trip, you've probably spoken with the amazing Irene Jaw.  Known around Yobel as 'The Asian Awesome', this brilliant, compassionate, intentional woman is one of our greatest assets and friends.  She recently returned from a trip to Haiti where she spent more than a week treating hundreds and hundreds of patients desperate for healing.  While sitting on our gray couch last month, Irene relayed parts of her experience.  As she spoke  I found my heart humbled and convicted by the plight of so many desperate for access to the most basic of care.  We complain often about our heath care system in America. The lack of access; the costs associated.  And while I do believe deeply in health care reform, I also believe in being grateful for what we have. And while Yobel's mission is not directly related to the medical field, we are passionate about loving our neighbor.  Irene's story is one of a young women willing to risk, to sacrifice, to get down in the trenches in order to touch those in desperate need of hope.  That is a story we believe in here at Yobel.  Read on and you will too.   

Irene Jaw: Nursing Student and Yobel Exposure Trip Coordinator

I'm a normal girl. I'm a college student, a sister, a daughter, an aunt, a friend. I'm on the delayed college start plan (read: three years of an unpaid internship), the delayed college degree plan (5 years for an undergrad s normal, right?), and a highly unsuccessful sugar-and-gluten-free eating plan. And I preface this blog by writing that I'm not a hero, an inspiration, or anything close to resembling cool -

I'm just one person in a sea of people that travel to a Third World country and come back with a new appreciation and thankfulness for life.

I went to Haiti last month on a 10 day medical trip with my nursing school. Out of 100 total team members, the 10 of us were the only nurses on the entire team - we were joined by medical students, doctors, surgeons, and a smattering of administrative staff that kept us on track. We went to a town just 30 minutes over the Dominican Republic border, set up shop in a local government run hospital, and were told to brace ourselves for the upcoming week.

Haitian Hospital

The first day was chaos - searching wildly through suitcases for supplies, herding crowds of people into lines, setting up a triage system, running out of supplies, searching desperately for interpreters, organizing medications, setting up specialty departments, calming crying babies, pleading for patience from the crowd pressed up against the gate, and shuttling patients from the general admission area at the local elementary school to the hospital where we had areas for more specialized care.

Every day we were there was another level of barely controlled chaos - reorganizing & searching out more supplies, more crowd control, more crying babies with high fevers and phlegmy coughs, finding out that the crowd had outsmarted our numbering system and created their own system, distributing medications to people who couldn't even read their names (much less their medication instructions), taking blood pressures that were twice the normal range, blabbering the 4 Creole phrases we had learned over and over again, running out of supplies and improvising with whatever we had.

McGyver must have been on our side as we learned to improvise on the fly.  When we ran out of interpreters; we learned to recognize the Creole words for the most common symptoms. We had no sharps or biohazard containers for blood and needles; we used water bottles taped to the wall. We ran out of operating rooms; we set up drapes and metal stands and operated outside instead. We ran out of oxygen; we stopped using general anesthesia and conducted surgeries with patients awake utilizing nerve blocks instead.

We ran out of antibiotic cream for infections; we wrote them a prescription and whispered that we were sorry - we should have brought more.

We ran out of medication at an offsite clinic in a village; we handed out frisbees and cuddled their babies instead. We triaged over 250 adult patients and 100 pediatric patients every single day and watched as people waited 4-5 hours in the hot sun to see a doctor, only to wait another 2-3 hours for specialized procedures, and another 1-2 hours to get their prescriptions filled. 7-9 hours for a 30 day supply of medication. We had patients that waited outside for 2 days for surgery, a man who waited a whole YEAR for a hernia repair because the team last year ran out of time. We talked to teen girls who were going through puberty and had no idea what was happening to their bodies, met people who had lived with tumors and growths for decades, saw wounds that were horribly infected in a place with barely any running water, got teary eyed with kids that walked for an hour unsupervised because they had heard there was a doctor that would see them for free.

The Waiting Room

If it sounds overwhelming, it was. If it sounds scary, it was. If it sounds totally and completely out of my scope of practice as a nursing student, it most definitely was. Let me tell you what else it was - it was full of hope. It was full of challenge. It was full of laughter and silly moments and joy. It was full of a music loving culture.

It was full of the conviction that education is the single most helpful tool available to people who have little or no access to healthcare.

It was full of inspiration, once we realized that disease CAN be beaten, if we would just take the time to teach and empower. There were a lot of sad and hard moments, but we live with those moments and are grateful for them because meeting every one of those people, even in their sadness, was so unbelievably worth it.

I think that's the crux of justice issues - yes, it is for the greater good, but it is also about the individual.

We believe - we have to believe - that every person matters. Every life is sacred. Every child is worth the effort. Each and every community is worth the investment, every person worth the time, the energy, the cost. So I ask you, what are you willing to lay down your life for? To what lengths will you go to love your neighbor as yourself?

- Irene Jaw