NEW YORK NURSE: March 2010
by Mark Genovese
As this edition went to press, RNs from many areas of New York and New Jersey continued to join in the relief effort in Haiti. During the next several months, NYSNA will share their stories as they return home.
When Mireille Leroy, emergency room nurse at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center in the Bronx, first heard the news, she immediately thought of her family.
“As a native of Haiti, I was concerned about my relatives, my friends, and the people of my nation. I had to do whatever I could to help them.” She volunteered to join one of the first healthcare relief teams to respond to the disaster, a joint effort of the Haitian-American Nurses Association, the University of Miami, Partners in Health, and Project Medishare.
For seven days, they set up two hospital tents at the airport near Port-au-Prince. “When I first arrived, I was traumatized,” Leroy said. “I looked down a street and it was like a war zone. Houses were destroyed and I could hear people screaming. They were searching for their relatives. There was so much devastation, so many injuries and deaths.”
As the crew established its base, survivors were bringing their injured, some just clinging to life. “There were lacerations, broken limbs, seizures. Right away, we had to do amputations,” she said. “There were so many people who needed help, we couldn’t take the time we wanted to touch them, to hold them, to comfort them.” They had to improvise with the supplies they had on hand, using a clothes line to set up IV tubes. Without an X-ray machine – much less electricity – they did the best they could to determine injuries.
Perhaps the most difficult were the quick decisions that had to be made during triage. “One man was injured so seriously, it was determined that we wouldn’t use any of our medication on him,” she said. “A doctor told me he would most likely pass away in a few hours.”
Sadly, this proved to be true.
On her second day of the medical mission trip, she watched with sadness as a 12-year boy hopping on one foot came to the compound. “He was crying and screaming for help. The security guard at the gate refused to let him in.” The guard felt that the boy’s injury did not warrant assistance because, he was not actively bleeding and he was able to move around.
“I approached them and inquired what the matter was. I noticed the face of the little boy and realized that he was in severe pain. I told the security guard that he needed to be seen.” Leroy took the boy in and he was evaluated by the podiatry team.
He was diagnosed with a ruptured Achilles tendon, which is very painful. The boy was treated that night, his wound was cleaned and a cast was applied. They kept him overnight in the tent.
“Three days later he came back to thank us and in the process I found out that he was an orphan,” she said. “He had lost both parents in the earthquake and now he was living on the streets. We arranged to transfer him to a makeshift orphanage in the outskirts of Port-au-Prince.”
“Although I was able to help the boy I felt very sad knowing that there were many like him,” she added. “I wonder how and when these children can be helped, fed, rescued, and treated. This devastating earthquake had left thousands of orphans running in the streets of Haiti. They are one of the most vulnerable groups.”
Despite the emotional toll, Leroy will return at the end of this month because she is Haitian and she is a nurse.
“My basic instinct as a nurse is to reach out and help people,” she said. “It took only a second to make the decision. I knew right after seeing the first news report that I had to go. I didn’t think twice.”