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 - Northwestern Memorial Hospital - Chicago

Labor & Delivery Nurse Tells Her Haiti Story

Anne Marie Colby, a Labor & Delivery nurse at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, recently returned from a medical relief trip to Haiti. She wants to share her powerful experience with others so they might understand what it is like in the country – how many people are affected, how great the devastation really is, and how wonderful the people are, despite their personal tragedies.

Below is an excerpt from Anne Marie’s journal during her trip. The journal gives a little insight into what the Haitian people are experiencing and what the medical and relief teams are able to do to help.

In Her Words

I just returned from an unforgettable trip overseas to help with the medical relief efforts in Haiti. I was part of one of the first medical professional teams organized by Cure International to provide emergency aid relief. I am opening my diary, which is “my story,” to express my love, desire and hope for Haiti.

January 20, 2010

Right now I am sitting in the airplane on my way to Haiti. It was only this morning at 10 a.m. that I was called by Cure International to go to Haiti, and now only eight hours later I am on a plane!! I am excited, nervous and scared. I wanted to help, but how? I signed up with various organizations online, but the opportunity to go seemed impossible because no one was sending in help. However, on Friday, January 15th, I was sitting at work and I received an e-mail from my church. The e-mail asked for medical professionals wanting to go to Haiti. I immediately contacted them. Something in my heart was pounding, telling me to go and help!

I pray continually for safety. I see people on the news, the looting in the streets, fires being set and people starving in front of the camera, not to mention there are no police. I am scared of what might happen.

January 21, 2010

Wow is all I can say!! It took 13 hours to get to Haiti. We arrived around 8 a.m. and unloaded our airplane full of supplies to four trucks. From there we traveled to the hospital. We pulled onto the long road to the hospital, and it was a disaster zone. People were everywhere, surrounding the grounds in tents, on beds, and under sheets connected to trees. There were people screaming in pain, metal rods were protruding from legs and arms, people were missing limbs and medical workers were scurrying about running from tent to tent. This was the first vivid picture of what the next days entailed. As we stopped the truck, a crowd of people started surrounding us. We proceeded to unload our things; however, we had to be cautious because of the rise in theft.

I am overwhelmed by the sheer fact that the Haitian people are broken, hungry and are doing everything possible to stay alive. I don’t blame them for doing what they are doing. I have been awake for the last 42 hours and could probably stay up longer if needed. The only things that really hurt are my feet. I still feel the adrenaline throughout my body. There is so much that needs to be done, and I feel guilty going to bed and closing my eyes for a couple of hours. I am so tired, but I am committed to write in this diary every night to document this experience, to remember that it was all real. I started to get anxious about things today, and I told myself, just take it one hour at a time - a much more manageable goal compared to everything going on here.

I was brought on this trip as a nurse to work in the OR, but I ended up working in the ICU, which is where I would rather be. It is funny how things work themselves out. A woman came into ER/triage today. She had just delivered her baby in the street, and she came into the hospital two hours later because she could not stop bleeding. My friend Tiffany came and got me because of my labor and delivery experience. I took her to the one private “room” and evaluated her. The baby looked okay, better than what I would expect of a baby delivered on the street of an earthquake-destroyed city. I eventually found the OB/GYN physician and told him this woman’s story. I told him what I thought needed to be done and he said “sure, do it.” I took charge, and it felt good—like I had a responsibility, a purpose, something to distract me from the insurmountable devastation. I figured everything out and stopped the bleeding. Saving one person’s life for now, there are so many more.

There are relief workers from all around the world (Korea, Sweden, New York, etc.). Most of the patients have some sort of trauma, crush injuries, amputations, gangrene, infection. There is a mixture of adults and children. One of the saddest things is the sound of people crying (especially the children).

January 22, 2010

I just want to sleep. We worked 18 hours straight today. What we desperately need here are more nurses!! We have enough physicians, surgeons and anesthesiologists, but we really need critical care nurses. The surgeons can do all the surgeries they want, but if we do not have the nursing staff to take care of the patients, they will die. Two people died today. We tried to resuscitate one woman; however, when we went to plug in the AED, there was no electricity. Another patient was a young boy of 16 years of age. His hemoglobin was 2.8 (very low) before surgery. Blood is so hard to come by. It is the simple things I take for granted in the States that we do not have here, so we make do with whatever works.

Today, we are trying to discharge people home or to the streets. However, people will not leave the hospital; they are surrounding it on the outside and inside. We need people to go home to make room for others, but they don’t have a home and don’t want to leave. I walked outside the hospital today and flies were surrounding people’s wounds. Not to mention the smells: smells of infection, feces and death. These people are hungry, thirsty and sad. Their faces tell a story of fear and uncertainty of what the future may bring. I want to feed them, clothe them and hug them. They need love too.

January 23, 2010

It is 2:20 in the morning; I have been up for 19 hours straight. Some of the teams leave the hospital at 6 p.m. and think they are done for the day. However, the patients still need to be taken care of. I have become close with a couple of the children. Before I go to bed at night I have to make a round in their rooms to see if they are OK and not in too much pain. One girl named Daniella would sing when she was in pain. Other children had different needs, and I became so close to them that I learned what they needed instinctually and gave it to them. Daniel, a 10 year old boy, was playing outside his home when the 7.0 earthquake rumbled beneath the earth. He started running towards his house and tripped on an opening of the disheveled ground and broke his leg. Needless to say, the next hours and days, unsure of medical help, radically increased his possible loss of a limb and ensured horrific pain. He will not smile and barely talks. He just lies in his bed, watching others around him. I was overwhelmed with compassion for him, and I am starting to work on his heart.

Dr. Anne Marie Colby in Haiti

Today we left the hospital for a couple of hours to go to a local house that we made into a clinic. We performed dressing changes, ran IV’s, and triaged people who we sent to the hospital (but we were unsure if they would be able to even make it there). We drove through the streets and were silenced by the devastation. Today was also the first day the banks opened since the earthquake, and the lines were outrageous. The local street markets opened up as well, with women lining the streets with buckets of fresh produce from the hills lined up right next to small mountains of trash.

January 24, 2010

Another long day - we woke up to the sunlight and heat beating down on us from the roof. Tonight was my first shower in five days (it was like heaven). I am so thankful that I had baby wipes for the rest of the days to wash down my body. My legs and feet are so swollen from standing all day. Two patients were transferred to the medical boat today (one person with tetanus and the other a GI bleed, gangrene and contusion). Kellogg’s dropped off this ridiculous amount of strawberry pop-tarts. I tried to give one to Daniel, and he told me that it was too sweet (he is used to eating rice and beans). I just laughed. Today, Daniel actually smiled and laughed too. There is something about this boy that I am drawn to—he needs love and smiles and someone who cares about him. With all the children here, I believe I was chosen to interact with this young boy.

Dr. Anne Marie Colby in Haiti

This morning I was awakened by a blood curdling scream. A mother who just delivered a baby a couple of days prior brought in her baby and was told that it was dead. It was a sound I will never forget…

January 25, 2010

It’s 2:30 a.m., and I can’t keep my days straight. I believe today was our 5th day, which has just flown by. I am falling in love with these kids, and the sadness is setting in. Some kids are orphans and have no one to take care of them. Their lives are forever turned upside down. The traumatic memory of seeing family members die or the pain they have had to personally endure will never leave them.

Today I buttered up Daniel with food, juice and cookies. All he was asking for was “bons bons” which is French for cookies. It took me a while to find them, but I finally did in one of the storage boxes. He called me over to his bed and patted the mattress, because he wanted me to sit down and talk with him. He speaks in French and I speak English, and when there is a translator in the room, we can understand each other, but if not, we just hang out. I wish I could just sit there for at least 10 minutes, but there is no time, and I am off to my next task. Daniel had to go back to the OR today to get some more work done on his leg. About an hour later, I went into the OR to make sure our Cure team was taking good care of him—I wouldn’t expect anything else. Our team members were amazing. Although we really don’t have that much time to interact with one another, we are connected by this experience. These are people I can call my friends.

January 26, 2010

This morning was rough in the ICU. A young woman died from what we believed to be possible TB or pneumonia. It was very sad, and it was the first time on the entire trip that I broke down. I had to leave for a little while, to catch my breath. Then a man asked if I wanted to go to the orphanage for a couple of hours. Yes! That was what I needed, just a quick break, and it was so worth it. The children at the orphanage just wanted to hug you, hold you and grab onto you. They were so happy, smiling and not really phased by the earthquake despite the fact that they were all sleeping and living outside, like all of the Haitians, for fear of another earthquake.

Today at 5 p.m., we were told that we had to leave tomorrow at 6 a.m. I was shocked because I was planning on that extra day and leaving on Thursday night. It is going to break my heart to say goodbye to Daniel tomorrow. His face lights up when I see him, and he asks for me often. When I am working in the ICU he watches me and says “Madame” and speaks in French. Today he asked me for a paper and pencil and continued to write down his name, number and address. The translator started laughing and told me that he wants my information too. “You have yourself a boyfriend here!” the translator said. I just laughed.

I am dreading waking up tomorrow. I feel like my work here is not done. I want to stay longer, but at the same time, I am emotionally and physically drained. Lack of sleep and food and my growing connection with these kids is a stark contrast.

January 27, 2010

As I sit on the airplane going back to the States, I am sad. I woke up this morning and started crying before I even reached Daniel’s room. I was not sure how he would react. What would he say or do? I walked into the ICU, and he was sleeping. I sat next to him and held his hand while he slept. I think the most amazing feeling was when, after about 15 minutes, he woke up!! His facial expression was priceless. He opened his big eyes and mouth. It was the happiest I have ever seen him, and he grabbed my arms and neck to give me a big hug. I broke down. I could not hold back the tears. He wanted me to sit on his bed, so I did and we just sat together, him wanting to hold my hand. I made him a pack (with food, my blanket and my pillow). He loved it and took everything out so he could see it. I found his mother in the hallway. I had a translator tell her I was leaving today. She looked sad and told the translator that I was her angel who came here to take care of her son. She would never forget me and thanked me. Next was Daniel. I was dreading this, but I had to tell him I was leaving. The translator, his mother and I walked into the ICU, and I could just tell on Daniel’s face that he knew something was wrong. I couldn’t hold back the tears anymore. I was crying and told the translator to tell him that I was leaving to go home. He burst out crying and put his head into the pillow, he couldn’t stop. I said some more things to the translator and gave him a hug (now both of us crying). One of the Cure team members came running in the room, the bus was here and they almost forgot me. I said goodbye and looked one last time into his deep, dark eyes. I hope he will not be sad, but will continue to grow up and be a nice young boy. I hope that I will be able to keep in contact with him and his family. This boy will forever be in my heart. I sit here on the plane, crying while I write this last entry. Everything happens for a reason. I was brought to Haiti for a specific purpose, and I believe it was fulfilled. However I feel like I need to go back and help these people who forever captured my heart. 

What You Can Do to Help

Although the Haiti earthquake is no longer the center of media attention, the people of Haiti still need help. All of the Northwestern Memorial Haiti volunteers have come back with one message – the devastation will continue, and there is still a great need. Learn more about how you can help by giving donations to the American Red Cross.

Last UpdateMarch 25, 2011