Wednesday, February 3, 2010

"I Don't Know How People Are Surviving Here..."

Alicia Hernandez
Emergency RN and Go Team member

Day 6 in Port-au-Prince: Half-way through our stint here. I can't believe it was only one week ago that we were first flying here. It feels like so many more. I hit a brick wall yesterday as we have all been working almost non-stop since arrival. Some since the minute we stepped off the bus from the Dominican Republic into the hospital. It's the long hard hours in the sweltering heat of the tent, the relentless flow of patients desperate for miracles we can't provide, the lack of sleep, and continuous failed efforts to stay hydrated and nourished. At least one volunteer has succumbed to the pressures everyday since we've been here, to the point of being unable to walk and needing IV hydration.

I came dangerously close to that point multiple times about every 2 hours yesterday, needing to find shade outside of the tents, and force down some oral re-hydration salts (ORS).
I had at least 3 liters of ORS plus more water and still couldn't last more than 2 hours in the tent without feeling like I was going to vomit and pass out. I realized I had to take more than the time it took to down a liter of ORS away from this work. Thankfully everyone else realized it yesterday as well and time off is now not only being more welcomed, but mandated. I quickly stepped up to the plate to take the first day off. I finally slept better, I think knowing I wouldn't face the pressures of not only caring for others this morning but caring for myself in this condition.
That alone was a huge weight lifted for the night. And I still awoke nauseous and still feel so now. But I'll get through. All of us are (with a few exceptions of early flights home for fear of serious illness). With being awake through the night not only because of the heat and stress and mosquitoes, but because of having multiple trips to the bathroom with vomiting and diarrhea. The bonus of doing medical relief is that we all have easy access to medicines and IV fluids with the know-how to provide it to each other. I started an IV on another nurse that went down in the middle of the day yesterday. I have been offered IV fluids and Zofran and cipro by many of my fellow volunteers.
Everyone cares and everyone understands. It's great camaraderie and great inspiration to see what we are all going through to try and make some difference here. And I like to believe it's in the small ways that we are. We are so limited in what we can do for the severely sick and without Social Work, it feels so wrong to discharge those without a home to go to but that is nearly everyone. I don't know how these people are surviving but they are. Not only that, but they smile and thank for the simplest things - some Tylenol, a little cleaning and fresh gauze on a horrendous wound that covers half their leg that they have to limp out on. And to where?
A two-tarp tent, waiting for the next food and water drop. We pass by their lives,
sheltered by the walls of the bus and the walls of hospital, see them cooking and bathing on the sidewalks, bustling to and fro. Life goes on in unexpected ways.

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