Local nurse talks of Haiti experience

Published 1:44 am Sunday, February 28, 2010

Lifestyles & Features Editor

(Editor’s note: This is part one in a two-part series about a Beaufort County Medical Center nurse’s mission of mercy to Haiti.)
Chocowinity native Joyce Baker is back home and working in the safe, clean environment of Beaufort County Medical Center, but she said she’ll never look at life the same way again.
Baker, BCMC’s nurse manager for women’s services, has returned from a week-long medical mission trip to the earthquake-stricken country of Haiti.
“The devastation, it was just … it was emotional,” Baker said as she dabbed at tears in her eyes. “But if I found out there was a need for me to be there again, I’d go tomorrow.”
After the earthquake struck on Jan. 12 and news of its devastation spread around the world, Baker was moved to volunteer for an emergency mission trip sponsored by Gateway Free Will Baptist Church in Virginia Beach.
Baker flew on a flight sponsored by Hendrick Motorsports; the racing organization offered the use of its planes and drivers donated the fuel, the nurse said.
“We took 36 large plastic containers and seven suitcases full of medical supplies,” Baker said. “Actually, it’s a miracle we got all the containers on the plane with us.”
News reports did little to prepare Baker for what awaited her in Port-au-Prince, the capital and largest city in Haiti.
“From the air we could see everything crumbled, and smoke from the rubble,” she said, her voice breaking. “We could even start to smell the odor of death as the plane circled, before we landed.”
Once on the ground, Baker saw trucks and tents from various countries loaded with supplies of water and food. But she didn’t see signs of what was especially concerning to her loved ones back home in Beaufort County.
“I saw no evidence of rioting as reported on TV,” Baker said. “I saw people just dazed and standing in the streets, but they had nowhere else to go.”
Baker and her fellow volunteers then began to make the journey to the compound where they would eat and sleep for the duration of their stay.
“The road conditions were terrible,” she said. “Buildings had fallen into the roads, but they had been cleared just enough for vehicles to get through.”
Before reaching the compound, the group made a pit stop at an Israeli hospital, which was donating fuel for the missionaries’ vehicles in exchange for them transporting patients from the medical facility.
“Then we immediately started helping to see patients and we worked several hours before going ‘home’ to the compound,” Baker recalled. “The compound was about two city blocks from the church where our clinic was located.”
After eating very little since leaving the United States, Baker was greeted with a meal prepared by a Haitian woman who worked in the compound. It was simple, but filling.
“There was a lot of rice, beans and cabbage at the compound. It was tasty,” she said. “But we had little time for meals since everyone worked all day long at the clinic.”
After a night’s rest, Baker rose early the next morning. She was sitting outside when a dog housed in a pen in the compound began to bark.
“I turned to say something to him, and all of a sudden the earth began to shake,” Baker said. “It was a 6.1 earthquake. I later said I now know, like the song says, what it’s like to ‘feel the earth move under my feet.’”
Aftershocks from the quakes continued throughout Baker’s stay in Haiti. For solace, she constantly prayed and sometimes found herself looking at mountains in the distance.
A Bible verse, Psalm 121, gave her strength.
“It says, ‘I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help,’” Baker said. “I saw God’s hand in it every minute of every day.”
*In a future edition of the Daily News, Baker talks about the challenges of offering medical treatment in less-than-ideal conditions and with limited supplies.