Sunday, January 31, 2010

There are Many Children Who Need Care - But Few to Deliver It

By Beth Sloand
Assistant Professor in Hopkins School of Nursing and Hopkins Go Team Member

I spent the day in the pediatric wards, which means four Red Cross tents filled with children and parents-- all sick, many recently post op, most with no homes to return to.

It was a challenging day. There many children who needed care- but few to deliver it. The supplies were difficult to come by; things were very confusing- with Swiss physicians, Haitian doctors and nurses, and us with our translators.

I had one translator, Daniel, who was a sort of EMT--he set up the IV for a child whose IV had blown. There was no nurse or doctor in the pediatric orthopedic ward,-- none-- from mid- morning and for hours later. I tried unsuccessfully to find someone who could care for them. After several mothers and fathers asked me for help, it became clear that there was no one else to help, and so I drew on my hospital nursing experience from years ago and managed the IVs, pain meds, dressings, antibiotics, etc. A bit overwhelming but there was not much time to think about it.

There is so much new to me here. Though I have been in Haiti multiple times for many years, this post-earthquake situation is a war zone. There are so many people here who have come to help, but that is both a blessing and a challenge. I am fascinated by the role of NGOs in this disaster situation. Groups we have worked with here: the Haitian Red Cross, the Swiss Red Cross, the World Food Program, Unicef, the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne group (complete with big guns), Wings of Help (Germany), Spanish helpers whose organization I don't remember, the Scientologists, etc, etc. The challenge is huge, with coordination, communication with various languages, cultural differences, etc. Then there are the Haitians, who are in shock and grief mode. The Haitian pediatricians that I worked with seemed numb, sad, barely there. All understandable. But that is difficult because we really need their expertise.

One sad thing- there was a nursing school on the grounds of the University Hospital here. It collapsed. The bodies of many nursing students are still there-- somewhere between 70 and 140-- I've heard varying estimates. No matter- it is terribly sad because this building is on the hospital campus and I walked past it several times today. The bodies are entombed there. So that represents another huge issue- the Haitian health system has lost many, many nurses, physicians, and others that are so important in the already stressed system. They will have to work without these many professionals as they rebuild the country and health system. As a nurse educator - I am still struck every time I walk past that building. So very sad. Can't get used to it.

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