Susana Ferreira 0000-00-00 00:00:00
“We need some victims!” Professor Patrick René bellowed over the chatter of his 100-plus classroom of first-year nursing students—all female, but for the lone male looking on from the back. It was just past 3 on a recent afternoon, and the students had changed from the formal navy uniforms they normally wear on campus into jeans and comfortable tops. René clapped his hands for order while a group of volunteers spread several blankets in the center of the classroom. “What are the three parameters of life?” René asked. On cue, the students responded in unison: “Consciousness! Respiration! Circulation!” René nodded with approval and outlined the day’s training scenario: it was the scene of a terrible traffic accident. Six “victims” took their places, laying face up, on the blankets. Six first responders approached, assessing the scenario. First-year nursing student Indji Tadgrin knelt over her victim, a slim girl wearing bright blue plastic earrings, and began clapping and shouting, “Madame! Madame! How are you? Can you hear me?” Her victim was unresponsive. She passed a hand over the woman’s face to check breathing, reaching for the victim’s pulse with her other hand. Tadgrin moved her hands quickly from the victim’s face to the rest of her body, looking for bleeding and injuries, then turned her carefully over to her side—taking care to keep her spine straight and her airway open. “Good!” said René. “Now you can see that the victim has blood on her back. What do you do?” René looked on as his young nursing students treated their patients for broken bones, head injuries, shock and hypothermia—scenarios they are likely to encounter on a regular basis, considering the high number of tragic collisions in Haiti every day. In a country that suffers from rampant malnutrition, high maternal mortality, tuberculosis, skin disorders and a cholera epidemic that has killed more than 7,000 people, these future nurses will certainly have a lot of work to do. *** One of Haiti’s few nursing schools, the École Nationale d’Infirmières de Port-au-Prince collapsed in the devastating earthquake in 2010 that killed more than 300,000 people. “We lost 90 people that day,” said Marie Yolande Nazaire, the school’s director. “Eighty-nine students and one professor. ” Picking up the pieces of the devastated school in the long, difficult months that followed was a test of Nazaire’s—and the students’—will. Though they were grieving their profound losses, they knew that their work—caring for Haiti’s sick and injured— was important. At first they made do with tents they pitched near the Faculty of Science. They sat for lectures and held makeshift labs in the heat, the rain and the mud. Earlier this year, two years after the earthquake destroyed their building, the nursing school finally moved into its new home on the grounds of the General Hospital. Here, some 350 first-, second- and third-year students take classes and attend lab and practicum sessions. The prefabricated buildings are hurricane-proof, neatly arranged around a broad square that is nearly always bustling with nursing students dashing to a course, to a practicum session in the practice room or off to change into their crisp white frocks for shifts at the hospital. One building houses a library and archive, where the few salvaged copies of medical texts and records now sit. Other books, sporting smooth new covers, have been donated: pediatric nursing, ophthalmological surgery, tuberculosis and a dictionary of therapeutic medicine. Rumors of a potential future dormitory elicit cheers from the student body. Classes and internships are held six days a week, and students who stay as late as midnight often try to catch a few hours of sleep in empty classrooms. This campus was built in partnership with Humaniterra International, a non-governmental organization (NGO) founded by a group of French Lions. Lions Club International Foundation (LCIF) contributed $381,421 of the total $1.36 million project cost. Across the square is Nazaire’s office, abuzz with activity. Just outside of her door, a copy of the Nurse’s Prayer is pinned to a bulletin board. “My God,” it begins, “make it so that I may see you in the person of my patient”—a call for patience, humility and compassion, even under duress. It’s been her creed since she first attended nursing school in the 1960s, and today it is taught to young would-be nurses at the school. Fabienne Desilieu and Johanne Jean Charles, two third-year students, smile broadly when asked why they want to be nurses. It’s not an easy job, they explain, but it’s a calling. “It’s a noble profession,” Desilieu says warmly, her voice soft. “It’s a chance to help people, to care for them.” Jean Charles nods. “We help people reconnect with a sense of esteem that may be lost when they’re ill,” she says. There is a major human component to their work. Beyond simply dressing wounds or administering medication, they try to engage with each of their patients, and take care not to get discouraged if a patient reacts negatively or presents difficulties. Sometimes, they say, taking close care of someone who is in pain can present other sorts of emotional strains. “I’m looking after a patient who has sores all over her body,” says Jean Charles. “When I go to change her bandages, it’s hard! When you’re trying to care for someone, and you’re still not able to ease their suffering, that really hurts.” When they graduate at the end of this year, both Jean Charles and Desilieu say they hope to be placed in a setting where there is the greatest need. “I would go to the provinces, to places that are really isolated,” Jean Charles says. “There’s a lack of medicines, a lack of material. There’s an enormous need there, even just on the level of health education.” Prevention, says Desilieu, is the most important cure. “If you can keep someone from getting sick, that’s far more effective than any treatment.” Haiti has roughly two nurses for every 1,000 people, with most personnel concentrated in the capital, Port-au- Prince. (The United States has more than four times as many nurses with 8.5 registered nurses for every 1,000 people.) The nursing school tries to remedy this by dispatching mobile clinics to the provinces. One clinic trip, planned for Hinche later this year, already has 74 students signed up. *** Pierre Richard Duchemin, a consultant and member of the Haitian Lions’ reconstruction committee, has watched the nursing school program come together from day one. “And we’re not finished yet,” says Duchemin, citing plans by Humaniterra to have several leaky roofs repaired ahead of the storm season. “As a Haitian, I want to see that Haiti’s nurses can find at least the minimum conditions to study.” Duchemin is still working closely with the school administration and the Ministry of Health to oversee the management of the school’s curriculum, its administration, and timely communication with other Haitian health bodies. The number of Lions clubs in Haiti has more than doubled since 2010, and Lions are involved in projects throughout the country. Apart from the nursing school, LCIF and German Lions from Multiple District 111 worked with HELP, an international NGO, to build homes for 600 Haitian families. More homes, as well as latrines, will be built through HELP. Another 400 homes are being built in partnership with Food for the Poor, along with a community center to provide vocational training. Lions are helping to rebuild not only vital facilities in Haiti but also its sense of community. “I believe there is a sense of connection, an ethic, that can be re-established in this country,” says Duchemin. “A sense of civic duty can be found again, and with that, we can build a new environment, a new reality.”
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