In response to the earthquake that ravaged Haiti’s capital on January 12, 2010, Partners In Health helped to send hundreds of volunteer nurses, doctors, and other medical and logistics professionals from around the United States and Europe to help support our roughly 5,000 staff on the ground. The following essay is from one of those volunteers, and the second of a five part series.Read the previous post in this series.
Annie Lewis-O’Connor (in pink) working with a team of PIH volunteers in Haiti shortly after the January 12 earthquake.
On January 17, I received a phone call: “You have been chosen to go to Haiti.” So began my journey.
I will never forget my first day or my last day in Haiti. One of my first patients was Betty, a 31-year-old woman who walked into the Emergency Department at St. Nicolas Hospital in St. Marc with the most profound case of peri-orbital cellulitis—an inflammation and infection of the eyelid and portions of skin around the eye—I, or anyone else on the team, had ever seen. She presented with her right eye bulging, her pupil was non-reactive, her young-face was distorted, her right nostril and right cheek were one, and there was serous fluid dripping from her right nostril. The pictures are too disturbing to share.
Amazingly, she was articulate and her vital signs were rock stable. Her younger sister, Roseane, whose face was so sad, yet so beautiful, accompanied her. They traveled by bus over rocky terrain from 2 hours away, seeking help. Roseane’s attention to her sister was admirable, caring, and tender. Over the next 13 days, Roseanne would come find me on campus, lock her hand in mine, and lead me to her sisters’ side—Betty needed pain medication or her IV was dry or not dripping. On my last day at St. Nicolas, Betty died. She was one of the strongest women I’ve ever met. Those who cared for her will never forget her.
Also, on my first day a miracle occurred – a full-term mother seizing due to severe eclampsia birthed twins by emergency C-Section. Both newborns were blue and unresponsive. With teamwork, pediatric resuscitation equipment brought by Cheryl Groves and CPR by Deb Pitts and myself, both babies survived and went home 3 days later with their mother. This was nothing shy of a miracle, thanks to serendipity and teamwork.
Every day was a challenge, and no two days were the same. Each day we came to know our patients and their families a little better, and each day we strived to bridge the gap of cultural differences. It did not take long to form bonds that were strong and have sustained. While we laughed together, we also cried together, but mostly we shared an experience that would hold lasting memories.
I start my Haitian Creole classes in June. I will go back to Haiti. I must go back. I am a better person, my children’s lives have been enriched and impacted profoundly, and my life will be forever changed...I plan to “Stand with Haiti” for as long as I can, as long as it takes.
- Annie Lewis-O’Connor, NP, MPH, PhD
Brigham and Women's Hospital