Life at the hospital, to me, was one word-chaotic.
We arrived by van to the hospital and looked for our rooms. All of the rehabilitation staff was in one large room. There were 10 of us, cots mere inches apart, with no bathroom and no windows. Truthfully, the lack of bathroom turned out to be a blessing, as the other volunteer rooms had a breeding ground for mosquitos.
We walked into the pediatric wing for the first time after claiming our cot for the week. When we walked in, I thought it can’t always be like this. Is it? There were people everywhere. Parents, staff, food servers, people looking for sheets (a hot item there), it was like a mosh pit, only somehow I was supposed to work in there, too. The kids’ cots were less than a foot apart. Around the corner from the kids were the babies, 7-8 cribs in a space equivalent to my bathroom at home. In between here was the “nurses station” which consisted of one desk, one chair, and a shelf full of madness. There were diapers, formula, clothes, thermometers, all lining the shelves with no particular order. There was AC, but it was warm-the door to the unit was always being left open.
I looked around the unit a little more. There were bags of donated clothes in the corner. A sink full of bottles to be washed. One thing conspicuously missing, aside from organization, was a bathroom. Where did the kids go to the bathroom? The answer was 200 feet across the courtyard at a series of port-a-pots. And shower? Good old sponge bathing at your cot.
Our day started around 5:30am when we began waking up. I tried to stay in my sleeping bag until the last possible minute. Then it was up, eat breakfast (we supplied our own breakfast food) and then off to the pediatric wing around 7am. Gina and I would start by changing kids and feeding babies. This gave the nurses time to check the kids’ IVs before we got them out of bed. Once all the IVs were checked, we made a plan for the day. Who was ready to go? Who still needed to be bathed? Once we got the plan, we started running through the day.
Treatment was similar to what I may do in the states, but with so many different twists. For instance, when you are preparing someone in the US to go home, you assume there is a bed, bathroom, house. Here, we needed to prepare the kids for tents, squatting, and walking over uneven terrain with some type of assistive device. We began getting as many kids as we could off of their current devices, or altering them to the least cumbersome to negotiate the mess that is Port au Prince.
The therapy gym was an un-airconditioned building across the courtyard. The kids loved to go to the gym. Even after we were done with therapy, they wanted to sit in there, watch the other patients, talk. I think the gym was an escape from the crowded wing where many of them had spent their life since the earthquake.
We treated kids with wounds from the quake, kids with amputations, kids with rat bites, kids with internal injuries. Kids who were minding their own business on January 12, and had the rug completely pulled out from under them. Some of them had emotional issues, not surprisingly either.
Our day lasted until around 5pm. We usually missed dinner and ate an MRE instead. Rather than eating at 5pm, Gina and I tried to get the kids out into the courtyard at this time. The sun wasn’t as strong, and the hospital always seemed a little quieter then. Every night we would try to do something fun. Bubbles were a huge hit. We had spa night. We had gangsta rap night. We had glow stick night. Anything we could think of, for 7 days, to help these kids forget.
Around 7pm we would wrap up and go eat an MRE. Then back into the unit to do our notes and say goodnight to the kids, maybe feed some babies. My favorite little guy we nicknamed “Major” because his outfit said “Major Cutie” when we met him. I never saw a parent with him. Most of the kids though had a relative with them, and this relative was there all the time, even sleeping there. The kids would get 3 meals a day, and their relative would get 3 meals a day, too.
Motivation at times was tough, not only for the kids, but for the parents. Think about it-life is “good” in the hospital. Meals are provided, there is a roof, and accessible toilet. We would hunt down clothes, shoes, sheets, flip flops, whatever the patient needed we would try to find. And then imagine life “out there”. The other issue with motivation was how we (Western) view rehab and how they view rehab. Their thought is when you are sick, you rest until you feel better. Until then, someone will help you with what you need. In our version of rehab, you get up, whether you feel bad or not. This was really tough for me, but I tried to be as understanding as I could on these factors affecting motivation.
At the end of the week, Gina and I had instituted a toileting program with a bedside commode Gina found, discharged one kid, and got as many as we could on an increased weightbearing status and/or lesser assistive device. I think for one week, we did all we could.
And we sure gave it our best.
Last post, a look at the kids.
To make a tax deductible donation, please click here