Straight into the Fire

Port Au Prince Travel Blog

 › entry 3 of 8 › view all entries
The Mercy Works team at Miami

Being an operating room nurse, I felt my skills would best be utilized in a hospital setting and when I told people I was an OR nurse, their eyes lite up and I was told over and over that they needed OR nurses.  That is how I got set up with Miami Field Hospital. 

Being the closest American Hospital to Haiti, the University of Miami Hospital rushed down and set up a true M*A*S*H-style hospital on the airfield grounds.  Three large tents make up the hospital, one for staff, one for adult patients and one for pediatric patients.  The hospital is staffed by medical personnel from all over, the majority from Miami; some staying a couple days, others a week or two.  The turnover rate is very high, but Haiti is only about 2 hours from Miami and some airlines are flying medical people down for free.

The chaos that is the OR
  Unfortunately, just like in the States, there is a nursing shortage here in Haiti.  There are more doctors than nurses (someone told me the doc to nurse ratio was 7:1).

The operating room is in the back third of the Peds tent, sepearted from the kids by a tarp.  There are 4 operating "rooms", each slightly partitioned off by blue moveable walls.  The operating beds are saw horses with a mattress on top (though the mattresses are temurpedic!)  There is no privacy or any way to block the traffic flow in and around the OR.  People come and go and we often get a lot of "sight seers" coming in to take pictures or watch.  We have no scrub sinks to wash our hands before surgery, so we use hand sanitizer to clean our hands before surgery.

Trying to get our poor Burn Baby to smile- it didn't work :(
  The big lights hanging from the ceiling do nothing to iluminate the surgical field and often go out when we overload the circut.  We also share the space with the ICU, which was once our recovery room, but now have at least 5 vented patients.  The back wall is our supply shelves and sterile processing area.  Most of our supplies are in cardboard boxes, either on the shelves or on the floor.  We have no autoclaves, so our instruments are sterilized by using a chemical agent called Cidex or rubbing them down with heavy duty cleaning rags.  They are then placed on a table and covered with sterile towels.  We are truly operating in extreme conditions here.  At least our tent is air conditioned- though you could never tell in the middle of a 100 degree day!

The intial crisis is over, the mass chaos that was shown on tv has calmed.

Decontam- where we put our dirty instruments
  The majority of the surgeries I've done the past 2 days have been wound care, skin grafts, stump revisions (people who lost their legs and needed to more work to make sure their stumps are healing correctly).  These are high acutity patients- meaning that they are very sick.  My first day we had two codes- one we were able to save, but we lost the other.  Its still hard work and I don't think I sat much these last couple of days- I think I did eat at one point :) 

Lots of pediatric patients.  We did skin grafts on a darling 2 year old girl, who was with her mama in the kitchen during the earthquake and had hot soup dumped on her, leaving her back horribly burnt.  She was in so much pain, she just cried and cried, and there was nothing we could do to comfort her because holding her hurt her.

Universal Precautions?
  We took skin from her legs and grafted it to her back.  Barring any complications, she should heal just fine.  Also did a stump revision on a 3 year old who lost her leg when it was crushed by falling debris. 

With such a high turn over rate and being short staffed, anyone who walks in and really wants to help is put to work.  A group of military medics came in one day and were quickly put to work.  They really wanted to learn and were a big help.  One helped with anesthesia and I taught another how to scrub a skin graft.  He had never washed his hands before (for surgery), but he did very well and followed directions nicely.  I don't think I've seen weapons in the OR before!

Back at the orphanage, living so close to an active airfield is still taking some getting used to.

Because we don't have PACU, sometimes our patients recover on the floor next to us so we can monitor them closely before they go back to the ward
  My tent shakes everytime a plane takes off, which they do at all hours of the night.  More than once, I've woken up wondering if they were going to land on my tent!  Had our first rain storm last night, the first rain since the earthquake.  We learned very quickly who had good tents and who's tent needed some TLC.  My tent was the latter and I had about 3 inches of water in my tent by morning!  I did get to brag that MY tent had running water!  They found me a new tent today, haven't tested it out yet, but we'll see!

maximo87 says:
Thank you for all your help in this country that needs so much help. It's unfortunate that we have such poverty in our hemisphere. My biggest wish is to be able to go to Haiti and help. If you could let me know how I can come out and help I'd greatly appreciate it. I think it's a calling for me to go there and help, it's something I've wanted to do for many years. Please let me know if you can. Once again thank you, God bless you and what you have done.
Posted on: Aug 19, 2011
Kliffy says:
i have been floored with your experienced ...Great to hear your experience and i must say you have been a true angel to touch so many hearts.. God bless you and the work u did...Cheers
Posted on: Apr 14, 2010
TravellingAuntie says:
How wonderful to be able to contribute in such a meaningful way
Posted on: Mar 06, 2010
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
The Mercy Works team at Miami
The Mercy Works team at Miami
The chaos that is the OR
The chaos that is the OR
Trying to get our poor Burn Baby t…
Trying to get our poor Burn Baby …
Decontam- where we put our dirty i…
Decontam- where we put our dirty …
Universal Precautions?
Universal Precautions?
Because we dont have PACU, someti…
Because we don't have PACU, somet…
Someone call for transport?
Someone call for transport?
Port Au Prince
photo by: Bluenose