Ground Report from Haiti

Ground Report - Muse Ground report - Plumley
Photos by Cheryl Reed

: Nicole Muse, RN (left) and Gillian Morantz, MD, from Montreal, talked with Magana, a 16-year-old patient who is resisting efforts to contact her parents.

: Pediatric nurse Melanie Plumley, RN, cared for a patient's wound between tents because temperatures inside were stifling.

By Cheryl Reed

More than 1,000 patients have been treated at the field hospital in Fond Parisien, Haiti, since the Medical Center began deploying staff in February. Recently, the hospital has maintained between 230 and 270 patients daily, plus their family members. The third team of seven clinical volunteers returned Monday, March 8.

The pace was constant as the team of nurses, physicians and physical therapists often worked double shifts to treat new patients who arrived daily from the surrounding community. Many of them learned about the medical staff’s skills from other hospitals, including one in Jimini, Dominican Republic, that closed the last week in February and transferred 50 patients. Some patients with injuries too complex for the team’s limited equipment had been transported from the camp to surgeons on the U.S. Navy’s Comfort Hospital ship but were all returned by early March.

The stifling heat in the tents, where as many as four patients and their families stayed, forced some nurses to treat patients outside. Melanie Plumley, RN, a staff nurse at Comer Children’s Hospital, snipped at a patient’s splint in the 24-inch gap between tents for shade and breeze. “There’s never enough people,” Plumley said. “There’s always something to do, and two weeks is not enough. I can’t even get all the dressings done in time to see everyone. The reality of the wounds means this is going to be a generation of amputees.”

About half of the discharged patients choose to live in the Internally Displaced Persons camp about a mile down the road. The others opt to fend their way in Port-au-Prince.

Nicole Muse, RN, a nurse in Comer’s neonatal intensive care unit, who was a member of the Medical Center’s first team in Haiti, stifled her emotions after hearing stories from unaccompanied, pediatric patients. Milanda, a barefoot 5-year-old girl, whose cast was recently removed, asked Muse, if she had any underwear because she only had the pair she was wearing. Magana, 16, who had multiple fractures and whose right leg had to be amputated below the knee, was resisting any efforts by staff to contact her parents. “They don’t want me,” she told Muse. “This breaks my heart,” said Muse, who is originally from Haiti.

Despite the distressing accounts, the Medical Center team was able to garner more supplies to treat patients. On February 28, the team learned that the U.S. military planned to provide immediate supplies, such as 3,000 gallons of diesel and 200 more tents for the hospital camp, the largest of its kind in Haiti. The U.S. military also committed to set up a supply line from Port-au-Prince, about 15 miles away. Earlier that week, the United Nations approved the hospital’s application for a $4.98 million grant. The final amount will depend on what the U.N. is able to appropriate.

Several countries also have donated much needed medications, which Karen Arndt, RN, took charge of organizing in the team’s pharmacy. Arndt, who is the chief flight nurse at the Medical Center, arranged the mish-mash of boxes and updated the pharmacy shelves with new drugs that have come in since Dima Awad, PharmD, a Medical Center pharmacist, firrst set up the pharmacy in early February.

“I ’m not a pharmacist, but I play one in Haiti,” Arndt said laughing. She relied on a thick drug index, called the Pediatric Dosage Handbook International, that gave the names of drugs and their generics in multiple languages.

When she heard the helicopters thundering overhead, Arndt rushed out to lead her team of Haitian volunteers, whom she had trained to unload patients onto stretchers from the transport helicopters. “If you’re going to work here,” she said, “you need to be flexible.”
Ground report - Arndt
Karen Arndt, RN, trained a team of volunteers to help transport patients from helicopters.