Nurse: Haitian people remain in need of aid

Published 3:06 am Sunday, March 7, 2010

Lifestyles & Features Editor

Editor’s Note: The following article is the last part of a two-part series focusing on the experiences of a Beaufort County nurse who recently served as a volunteer in Haiti. The first installment was published Feb. 28.)
When Joyce Baker, the nurse manager for women’s services at Beaufort County Medical Center, volunteered for duty in earthquake-torn Haiti, she had little idea she’d end up experiencing a second quake herself.
That’s exactly what happened the morning after her arrival in the country. But, undaunted, Baker rolled up her sleeves and got to work, treating patients and doing what she could to ease the suffering she encountered.
Everybody worked all day at a clinic, with little time for meals, Baker recalled. She toiled alongside other volunteers, including Joel and April Hess, missionaries in Haiti, and John Bottoms, a Virginia resident who flew with Baker to Haiti. Joel Hess and Bottoms ran ambulance services in Despinos, transporting patients to and from the small clinic.
Following the earthquake shortly after Baker’s arrival, aftershocks continued during the week she was there. They became an expected part of the day, along with the routine of caring for victims with limited medical supplies at hand.
“One hospital had doctors, but no supplies,” Baker said. “The strongest pain medicine I had to give everybody was Motrin.”
Donations given to Baker by fellow Beaufort County residents before her departure were promptly converted into Haitian money.
“It immediately went to work,” she said. “Haitians were hired to repair the orphanage at the church and help people rebuild. That made me feel really good that I was able to be a part of providing those immediate needs.”
Baker shared a story about an elderly woman who, while attempting to aid others during the initial earthquake, was trapped when a wall fell on her leg.
“She stabilized her own leg with tree bark, and she used a paste taught to her by a voodoo doctor,” Baker said. “When she was finally able to get to the clinic for treatment, we found out she had broken both the tibia and the fibula.”
The work was unceasing, Baker said.
“We did lots of casts once an orthopedic doctor arrived, but I didn’t deliver any babies,” she said. “I did have a patient with broken bones who was five-months pregnant. She went into early contractions but they later stopped.”
A report of a missing 3-month-old infant tore at Baker’s heartstrings.
“The mother was injured, and they told her the baby was lost,” Baker said. “But she felt in her heart that her baby was still alive, and they found the child later on top of a building, with third-degree burns.”
Happily, both mother and child were transferred to a Philadelphia hospital for treatment, and both are recovering.
In an interview with the Daily News before she left for Haiti, Baker spoke about an infant who had just been found, its abdomen ripped open by falling debris. She’s grateful to report the child survived.
But there is still the other side of the coin, reports of children not knowing where their parents are and the other way around. Baker said she understands how parents could give up their children for adoption in order to ensure a better life for them.
Baker said the majority of the cases involved broken bones or amputations. When she asked her patients how they became injured, the usual answer — straight forward and to the point — was, “A brick fell.”
Then the day came for Baker to leave behind the oppressive heat, long hours and human suffering. It was time to come home and resume her life.
“It was heart-wrenching to do it,” she said, tears welling in her eyes. “A doctor said that when you leave, you leave a little of your heart in Haiti. And when you come back home, you bring a lot of Haiti in your heart.”
Baker said she has no patience with people who argue that the United States shouldn’t be providing aid to Haiti.
“As time goes by, I don’t want us to forget about Haiti, about the people of Haiti, because their needs are great,” she said. “It’s coming into the rainy season, so tents are being donated and set up so they’ll have a home.”
And those who are blessed, should share with others, Baker said, citing 1 John, chapter 3, verse 17.
“It says, ‘But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?’”