Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Beautiful Nightmare

I went to Haiti, saved some lives, and found out a whole hell of a lot about myself that I didn't realize. When you are immersed in a culture so alien from your own it lays bare all the asinine little things that plague your life; you figure out what really is important. And you find out how powerful you are and all the other human spirits are that swirl around you every single day.

I received my phone call from Sherri late on a Tuesday night after weeks of avoiding the media hype surrounding the earthquake in Haiti. I felt helpless and unused when I saw pictures of people who I felt I could tangibly make their lives better. Sherri asked me if I could be ready to leave the country by 6am Friday evening; I didn't give it a second thought. Well, that is until I spoke to my mother, who scared the pants off of me with her frantic concerns of rabid bats, white slave trade (what!!?!), and bed bugs.

Despite these warnings I found myself rushing off to take my test I had put my life on hold for several days sooner than I had planned. I found myself packing my bag, filling my malaria medicine prescription and brushing up on my adult disaster relief nursing skills, which I had roughly a 0% knowledge base. I found myself realizing hours before I left that I had forgotten to tell anyone but my parents and my bosses that I was leaving. The feeling of nauseous, smothering, overwhelming fear of the unknown was always first and foremost in my mind.

"What am I thinking, I don't know a thing about adults, or emergency medicine, or rabid bats"

And yet, I got off the plane in Santo Domingo with all the faux zeal and confidence I could muster. My little team of three nurses met and sped off in a rickety little taxi to the Carey House Hotel; a quaint little B&B where the front desk boy will be more than happy to fetch you the list of local restaurant numbers that are held down by his hand gun/paper weight. We spent our first night in Latin America eating Chinese food out of cut up water bottles and homemade utensils.

The next morning our one contact in the DR agreed to take us to the local bus station as long as we handed over his coveted Wal-Mart brand tropical trail mix we were told to bring with us. We were herded off to the bus station and placed on the bus bound to Jimani, which included such things as live chickens, pushy sandwich peddlers, and some very lively Latin music. It was during this bus ride that I was finally able to accept my growing panic for what I was about to face and talk it through with my fellow nurse, Sharon. She assured me that even NICU nurse would be more than capable of handling what lay ahead.

Our welcome to The Buen Samaritan Clinic was warmer than any of us expected. I suppose they had hoped we were coming but had resigned themselves to the possibility that they may just have work without the nurses. My first impression of the clinic was positive; people seemed busy, but in control, and distracted, but enjoying themselves. But in the office I received my first really bad news. They were going to place me on day shift, but Sharon and Ann, my only support system, were to work on night shift. For the first time, of many, I told myself I wasn't here to make friends, but to work hard, and to do the very best I possibly could. So I threw my bag down, unpacked my meager nursing gear (most of which I lost before an hour passed) and headed down the stairs for my "orientation." The orientation facade shattered 30 seconds later when a patient came in complaining of dizziness and fainting. I found myself being asked to get "orthos"; and what might those be, I wondered to myself. And could I please get a CBC and Chem 10's? The doctor might as well be speaking Greek at this point. hmmmm... I wonder how this lady would feel if I pricked her heel like my NICU babies to get lab work? Oh there is a lab that will draw blood for you? Excellent!! Oh, but they only speak Spanish, so you'll have to find someone who can interpret for you. WEll CRAP. Flash forward 8 hours of this crazy "chasing my own tail nursing," and that pretty much summed up day one for me.