Monday, February 8, 2010

"Children...Suffer In Silence

Beth Sloand
Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and Go Team member

The hospital is mostly outside in tents. Tents come from the Red Cross and Red Crescent of various countries. There are six pediatric tents. The infant tent has about 30 little cribs crowded inside - only a few inches separating them. IVs hang from tent strings. There are no chairs in the tents, so parents sit on their child’s bed. In the infant tent, parents slept under babies’ cribs at night on a piece of cardboard or sheet or whatever they had.

The American military, all in full uniform fatigues, and the Scientologists, with bright gold T-shirts, distribute food at times. A funny combo. There are two pediatric orthopedic tents, since orthopedic injuries predominate from the earthquake. Lots of broken femurs as well as other bones.

Children mostly suffer in silence. There is little crying in any of the pediatric tents. There is some pain medication given, but not regularly. Children tend to be stoic; they are not used to life being comfortable. Everyone is on antibiotics to treat or prevent infections.

Parents seem to have a pleading look in their eyes, or maybe it is my imagination. For all those hospitalized, a predictable hurdle is discharge. How do you discharge people who have no home?

Conditions in the tent camps scattered throughout the city are much worse, and it is difficult to know that recovering surgical patients will be living there.
I worked in the ER Monday, joining a team of about 16 nurses and physicians. It's a hopping place. We saw 470 patients. The range was wide -- a woman who had just been hit by a car, a man who was found unconscious on the street, a child with an infected orbital fracture, as well as those with back pain and headaches and fevers. We have a lab with basic capabilities; radiology that works for simple films, and a limited pharmacy. Supplies are available, but not always what you need or want. There are some Haitian nurses and physicians who are very helpful when they are around.
It is a loud place, with lots of yelling and people talking. The outside venue doesn’t lend itself to tranquility, and there are several patients being seen in the small area. We have three ER tents. In Tent 1, where I worked, I lined up kids and adults -- three or four -- on the edge of the bed, and then worked through them.
The questions are redundant: What brings you here? When did the pain start? Have you sought other care? And so on... My translator, Stevenson, was helpful and reliable. We often have to move patients off the bed for a more seriously wounded or ill person who arrives. Then we see them on a chair if available, or just standing. Not optimum, but it works.

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