My cousin Regina sent out this letter February 11 telling everyone she was home and about her experiences in Haiti.
I wanted to post this letter not only because I am proud of Regina there were many people wishing her well that are not on her e-mail list.
I thought some of you would like the opportunity to read her letter.
We departed 95 degree Haiti at 9 in the morning, and arrived home to frigid Boston around midnight Sunday 2/7. Shovelling out from 6-8 inches of snow this morning never felt so invigorating and freeing to me. I’ll take this weather and American taxes anyday over life in Haiti. I live in a beautiful country and really take way too much for granted.
I’ve been home a few days and am still feeling the effects of what I experienced. My body is physically spent as I’ve never worked so hard in my life. Every time we turned around there was something more that could be done. The morning quickly became afternoon and soon it was evening and then the sun set and the next thing we knew, it was midnight or 2 AM and, I was STILL working!!! Half the time I couldn’t remember when the last time was that I ate or went to the bathroom! Constantly I was pulled in different directions….to medicate someone or perhaps 50 patients; to take down dressings and re-bandage gruesome wounds; to bathe victims caked with 3 weeks worth of earthquake soot; to improve the living quarters of 100 women who were sleeping on straw mats on a concrete floor; to assemble a shelving unit from card board boxes & surgical tape, to create an accessible stock area for nursing supplies; to digging a foxhole-like ditch for the emptying of bedpans; to hanging a 2 mile long clothes line for the hand washed laundry to dry. No joke…these are some of the many things that I found myself doing. Sometimes reality would hit and I’d shake my head and think ‘I can’t believe I’m doing this’!
As a nurse, I found myself thrown into situations that were far beyond my scope of knowledge, however I worked to the best of my ability and really believe I made a difference in the lives of many. As a woman, I felt my maternal insticts pulling me into that role of nurturer and protector. I fell in love with so many of the beautiful children. One in particular who I will give an update later in this letter. As a human, I felt very conflicted that such poverty exists…I’m talking about life in Haiti before the earthquake. How is it that a country can be so corrupt and allow their people to live in these conditions? It is an awful place…dirty, antiquated, sad.
I was in Milot, Haiti. A small town 75 miles north of Port Au Prince. I did not go anywhere near the epicenter of the quake. Our area was not damaged by the earthquake. Hopital Sacre Coeur is a hospital funded by the Order of Malta, here in the States. It functions and is well equipped for 75 patients. Since the earthquake, the hospital has expanded to nearly 400 pts. The original hospital building has been transformed into an ICU, PACU, 3 OR’s, 3 Procedure Rms (mostly for casting), and the upstairs is used for non earthquake related patients. We had a birth up there last week. A beautiful healthy little girl! Across the street there was a school building which has been taken over to house the majority of patients and also a nutrition center which was taken over and used as the Pediatric Center. And, another school which is used as the Emergency Room & Triage areas. A soccer field has become a helicopter landing area where victims are brought in from Port Au Prince, the USS Comfort ship, and many of the field hospitals around the immediate earthquake area. The Caritas Hospital Network in Boston, has shipped down 5 very large tents which went up during my time in Haiti. We called it Tent City and it looks just like M.A.S.H. The plan is to move all of the patients out of the school buildings and get the children back into school. The tents are being stocked with supplies and cots/beds and can house up to 500+ patients. The moving of patients had just begun as we were finishing up our 10 day stay.
The volunteers sleep (not much!) in a gated, secured compound. There are 3 buildings, sort of like retreat houses, with 3 people per room and several common bathrooms/shower rooms to share. Tents were also pitched to accommodate volunteers. I was lucky to be assigned a room with a bed in the convent. I roomed with 2 other Caritas nurses and we did have a bath & shower in our quarters that was shared with a few other nurses who were sleeping on cots in the convent kitchen & living room. There was a cook for the volunteers and meals were meager and a little different than what we’d normally choose to eat. Breakfast was delicious juicy grapefruit & Haitian porrage. Lunch was rice & beans and some sort of mystery meat, either goat, mule or some kind of bird. Supper was rice & beans and vegetables. I was very happy that I thought ahead and brought with me those foil packages of tuna!! There was also a fridge full of Coke and cold beer…which was a welcome treat enjoyed by all.
Many of us left behind our shoes and clothing. I gave the few articles of clothing I brought to my friend Rita. She had nothing of her own and was thrilled to have some “new” things to wear. My shoes went to my interpreter Jaqueson. He was a tremendous help to me and I was really happy that my brand new Reeboks would be well worn. I also gave him the Quaker Instant Oatmeal that I brought and never ate. You’d think I gave that boy a thousand dollars. He actually cried real tears to receive my leftovers.
My little boy Raymond looks to be 2 yrs old, but they say he is very articulate, so it is possible he is 3 yrs old. He was found in the rubble of a little shack in Port Au Prince. There were other bodies around him, however he was the sole survivor. He arrived at Hopital Sacre Coeur on a chopper, the same day that I arrived. He was brought to us from one of the field hospitals in Port Au Prince with his right arm already amputated at the elbow. I met him when he came out of the OR on my second day. His wound was badly infected and he had just had more of his right arm amputated. He is now left with a shoulder stump. He woke up hysterically crying looking for his “Mama”. I leaned over his bed and tried to comfort him. He was wild and trying to climb out of the bed. I was impatient, stressed and frustrated as the ONLY nurse in an ICU with 12 patients. I asked the surgeon to escort the baby’s parents in to the unit. The doctor turned to me with this forlorn look and said: “he is all alone, there is no one”. He’s an orphan? I couldn’t believe it. Everything stopped. My heart nearly burst out of my chest. This little boy, so cute, so innocent…crying for his “Mama”, was all alone in this world. In this horrible dirty place, this little guy was totally alone. I couldn’t help myself. He was reaching out to me and I just scooped him out of that big hospital bed and held him close. I cried like I haven’t cried before. My heart broke for him. I wanted him. I wanted to take him home to my nice clean house in my nice clean world. I thought to myself, I can leave right now. I’ll call Colin and tell him I have to come home with this little boy and we are going to adopt him and give him everything that we’ve given Andrew and MaryKate. It seemed so logical! He touched my face and stroked my straight, smooth hair…something he’d never felt before. He looked at my white skin quizzically and tried touching my light eyes. He was examining this pale creature that was tightly hugging him.
The family members of the other patients in the ICU came over to me. One lady put her arm around me and was comforting me. In spite of our language differences I knew what her eyes were saying. She had that Haitian resilience and hope that would impress me over and over again during my stay in her country. Then, a man came over to me. He was the husband of one of my ICU patients. He took the boy from me and spoke through the interpreter. He said “I’ll hold the child for you sister, so you can get your work done.” I wiped my tears away and shook my head in thanks. You are right, I thought…get a grip Regina, you have alot of work here and you are all alone with all these sick patients. I handed over the child and went back to nursing the ICU patients.
The boy was later transferred over to the Pediatric Unit. Every night I went over to put him to bed. I couldn’t help myself. I needed to visit with him and know that he was okay. It was a task I looked forward to and I think Ray Ray also enjoyed seeing me. He’d stretch out his good arm and nestled his little head into my neck as I rocked him to sleep. He giggled when I whispered in his ears and simply loved my rendition of American lullabies. A bright light for me leaving Ray Ray behind, is the man, named Tomas, who took him from me that day in the ICU. He was also captivated by the little boy. Tomas has become a surrogate Dad for Ray, and has spent much of his time with him in the Pedi Ctr. Tomas told me that he lost his 2 little girls in the quake and if he is allowed, he would like to give Ray Ray a home. That would be so wonderful. I know that Tomas loves him and would be good to him. If the child advocates doing investigations on behalf of the orphans at the hospital do not find any living relatives, then Ray will be placed for adoption. I was in close contact with the advocate assigned to Ray and I left a letter recommending Tomas be considered as an adoptive parent. If there is no family left, then I truly believe Tomas and his wife, who is healing from her injuries and doing well, would be loving parents for this beautiful child Please pray that it works out for Tomas and Ray Ray. I really believe they need each other and truly see the hand of God at work.
In closing, I want to thank you all for your thoughts and kind prayers for me. I honestly believe that it was the power of prayer and strength from those at home, that got me through the journey. It will take some time for me to process all that was experienced. I have many, many stories and memories…some haunting, some sad, some hopeful, some funny. I met so many amazing people…the volunteers – so selfless and living examples of God’s infinite love and compassion, the victims – so injured and sick, yet so full of hope and determination, the families of victims – so generous of their meager belongings; offering support, guidance and motivation to every one of the victims, not just their own. The unselfish concern for humanity was so moving and inspiring. Thank you all for your interest. Please don’t forget. Continue to pray for the people of Haiti and do whatever you can to support the earthquake relief efforts.
I hope to see you all and share my pictures and stories of the experience. Tonight I look forward to reuniting with my Haiti collegues for a debriefing. There is so much to sort out in my mind and heart. I’ve had so many personal experiences in my lifetime that have changed me, but there are none that even come close in comparison to this journey.
Again, my heartfelt gratitude to all.