Almost every time I tell another nurse about a medical mission I’ve been on, the response I get is, “Oh, I’ve always wanted to do that!” Thanks to One Nurse At A Time, I have the ability to help make those dreams a reality.
In early 2016, I invited the nurses on the busy labor and delivery floor where I work to join me on a medical mission to Haiti. One Nurse At A Time’s program for first-mission nurses (called Jo’s Nurses after the generous donor who sponsored it) allowed me to act as a mentor for a team of nurses on their first ever international service trip. Each of the four women who joined me expressed that they had felt a calling to do this work for years, but had put it off for the same reasons most of us do: It’s expensive, it means time away from work and family, and simply, put it’s scary.
I often think the hardest part about going on a mission is getting on the plane. That moment of no-turning-back, embracing the unknown, really going for it. (Especially for my volunteer Tiffany, who mentioned at a planning meeting that she had just gotten her first passport – Haiti would be her first trip outside of America!) Looking back on this mission, I think my most important role as mentor might have been getting everyone on that plane – helping them to face whatever fears and leap whatever hurdles they had to in order to make this dream happen.
Once we were on the ground in Haiti, I never doubted my Jo’s Nurses for a moment. They were AMAZING, from day one. Each came with a sense of openness to the experience, and a willingness to help in any way that they could. We volunteered with a fantastic organization called Midwives for Haiti, helping to bring excellent obstetric care to women throughout the poorest country in the western hemisphere.
Our first week was spent at a birth center in a remote rural area (our driver encouraged us to count the 23 rivers and streams we had to cross in order to reach it). To the credit of Midwives for Haiti, the facility was very well-run and the local staff were outstanding. We had a fairly quiet week there, settling into the norms of Haitian life and helping the midwives with prenatal and postpartum checkups. Though I kept a close eye on my volunteers, they truly didn’t need my help. I loved seeing them build friendships with the local staff, do their best to pick up enough Haitian Creole to greet their patients, and play with the students at the primary school next door after classes let out each day. On her third day ever spent outside of the United States, Tiffany labored with a Haitian mother and helped deliver the first baby of our mission!
Our second week was spent in Hinche, a larger city where Midwives for Haiti runs mobile clinics and partners with the local government hospital. In contrast to the birth center, the hospital was more like facilities I’ve seen in other developing countries. It was chaotic, with nurses so over-worked and poorly trained that patient care would horrify most American nurses. Again, I was impressed to see my nurses take it all in stride.
On our first day there, my coworker Jessica and I spent ten hours running from one emergency to another. We helped deliver a baby to an HIV-positive mother who should have had a c-section, but the doctor never showed up; we stumbled upon an extremely jaundiced newborn in the postpartum ward and spent hours trying to get her transferred to pediatrics and treated; we discovered the jaundiced baby’s mother was severely pre-eclamptic and ensured she was also treated; we delivered surprise twins, one of whom needed to be resuscitated, and then we managed the mother’s postpartum hemorrhage. By the end of the day, we were drenched in sweat and various bodily fluids from our patients, feeling completely exhausted but happy. We had done what Jessica told me she came to Haiti to do: Make a difference, even if it was just in one person’s life.
Personally, I had come to Haiti with the hope of making four first-mission nurses into humanitarian addicts. For the right type of person, one mission is enough to launch a lifelong love of volunteering. That’s what Jo’s Nurses is for. To my great pleasure, we had only been in Haiti for a few days before the others started talking about what their next missions would be. I feel honored that this group of exceptional women trusted me to lead them on their first mission, and I’m happy to say they have outgrown their need for me! I can’t wait to see where in the world these awesome nurses end up next – and I hope they invite me along.