February 24th, 2010

I Prayed For Courage: An Iowan’s Compelling Firsthand Account Of Haiti Relief Efforts

peter tweaks (7)Peter Teahen recently traveled to Haiti for relief work.  The following is his unedited firsthand reflection from his personal journal after a night of providing care while in Haiti:

I Prayed For Courage

What an incredible experience last night.  I became a part of a three man team, consisting of an LPN nurse who is an angel to his patients, a funeral director, and a dentist, whose responsibility was for the primary care of patients in the Port du Prince largest hospital’s Critical Care Unit.  A 50-bed ward that was nightmarish to say the best.  If you can imagine operating a critical care unit in a building that has suffered significant earthquake damage, has no electricity, running water, bathroom facilities, and most importantly lacks the basic and advanced medical equipment and supplies needed for the CCU.

We were working at General Hospital which was hard hit by the earthquake.  Many of the medical staff fear being in the various bldgs of the hospital. Thus they do not always show up. Unlike hospital stays in the US it is traditional here for a family member to sleep on the floor next to the bed, and be responsible for obtaining the food, and cleaning the bed and the patient, I am told it is not unusual here for all the nurses and doctors to go home at 9pm and then return around 9 a.m., leaving the patients to fend for themselves.  The bldg we were in has lots of structural damage.  We treated the patients by flashlight.  There was no air movement, the air reeked of the smells beyond what you can imagine, and the families of patients slept on the floor.

The first couple of hours were really tough for me as I withered under the oppressive heat.  I finally ripped the sleeves off my shirt in an attempt to cool down.  As we worked in the dark we listened to cries of pain, begs for care, and adults crying for their mothers. I found my self several times trying to control my emotions when providing care.  The small children were reminding me of my own grandchildren.

We were caring individuals ranging from newborn twins to several very elderly patients in life crisis.  I never imagined I would be giving primary patient care since I have no medical training as a provider.  We did not have the basic needs such as a thermometer, gauze, pain medications, chucks, sheets for the beds, bed pans, and antibiotics.  I went to pick up morphine and IV bags for more than 25 patients.  I was informed they would give me four IV bags.  Decisions had to be made who would be hydrated and who would not be.  I cared for one very elderly woman who will probably die.  She is extremely dehydrated and I found her laying in a large pool of blood from a head wound nobody even tried to suture.

This morning I had to convince a 23 year old man and his family that they needed to authorize us to send him to the medical ship Comfort. If he stays on the ward he will most certainly loose his leg and possibly die.  If he transfers to the Comfort we may be able to save both.  Going to the Comfort meant he would be alone because family members are not allowed on board the hospital ship.  I stayed with them until he was on his way to the Comfort.  It was tough for all involved.

Around 6 a.m., the three care takers sat outside for a few minutes in an attempt to cool off and laugh about the fact that a nurse, a funeral director, and a dentist were doing primary care on a Critical Care Unit.  The break didn’t last long.  A family member of one of our patients came running out of the ward and informed me their father had become extremely ill.  The nurse, funeral director, and dentist raced into the ward to find a patient with a severe gastro intestinal bleeding.  The night was not over yet.  I needed more courage.

Peter Teahen

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photos by Peter Teahen
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About the Author

Dave Davidson is the TIR artjournalism storyteller photographer and founder of (polite) presidential paparazzi with manners. He is the author of gobs of books including "Sarah Palin Inspires Me", "Huckisms" and "You May Be A TEApublican".

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