In Septemeber 2008, I traveled 6000 miles to Haiti's Kenscoff mountains. My mission: to care for some of the orphaned and abandoned, the sick, malnourished and premature infants of this beautiful but beleagured Caribbean nation.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

I Grieve For The Living

On Monday morning, my Haitian colleagues expressed the belief that I was in shock. They said that I had invested too much into caring for Sophie, to be coping as well as I seemed to be in the days following her death. I told the ladies I was ok, because I knew we had done everything that we could for Sophie, and I told them that I was rejoicing for her, because I was absolutely convinced that she had gone to a place where there was no more pain, and no more suffering.

Today, I am in shock, but I greve for the living and not the dead. On Thursday evening, 3 critically ill babies were admitted to GLA from an Orphanage in a nearby town, located high in the mountains. The missionary who brought them told us that an outbreak of gastroenteritis at that orphanage, had all ready claimed the lives of two infants, earlier that day.

Frandline was the last to arrive, deathly pale, gasping for breath, and so cold that her temperature would not register on a thermometer. The medical team who has been with her had been unable to get an IV line in. Frandline had a large, distended abdomen and she was comatose. While Dixie worked for almost two hours to try to find a vein, I started Frandline on oxygen, and pushed large volumes of fluid through a needle that a Dr had placed into her thigh bone. After boluses of saline and dextrose to bring her blood pressure and blood sugar up, we were relieved to see Frandline regain consciousness.

Was she out of the woods, one of the missionaries who brought her asked? I was sorry to have to tell the lady that Frandline's condition was still critical. Her pulse oxygen levels were low on oxygen, as was her blood pressure, and she was vomiting altered blood and faeces. We had to place an NG tube down, and aspirate Frandline's stomach contents to prevent her from aspirating. We suspected that the baby had a perforated intestine, or an intestinal obstruction. She needed a surgeon but there was rioting in Port-au-Prince and in Petion-ville, so it was not safe to travel. We poured ice water down the NG tube. It was the only thing that might stop the bleeding. I was struggling to replace the fluid she was losing. The baby was profoundly anaemic and needed a blood transfusion. She couldn't have one tonight.....

Dixie eventually got a working IV line into Frandline's scalp. It was close to midnight when I left the nursery. Frandline was re-hydrated but her body was still in shock. Her temperature was in the normal range and she was awake, but glassy eyed. Her oxygen levels were fair, and her breathing was only slightly laboured.

At 7:30 the next morning, Frandline stopped breathing, and her heart stopped beating. We were unable to resucitate her.

In the next room, 9 month old Geraldine, who had also been admitted the previous night, was lying listlessly in her crib. The emaciated baby was lethargic and her body temperature was dropping. She needed to eat but was unable to tolerate even small volumes of oral medications. I was very concerned about this little one. Hypothermia is a very worrying sign in a severely malnourished child. Hypothermia can cause their organs to shut down and this can lead to death. I dressed Geraldine in extra layers of clothing. I drew blood, and changed her IV fluids, based on the results of the tests I ran, using our portable blood analyser. I gave her IV antibiotics, medications for vomiting and vitamins. I put ointment in her eyes, which, were swollen and oozing puss.

I held a bony hand in mine. The baby was so cold. I looked over at Woodly, a 9 month old boy, from the same orphanage. His body was swollen from malnutrition, and his eyes were gummy. He had profuse, watery diarrhoea but his condition was not critical, so we were rehydrating him orally. He had a searching gaze. He whimpered and extended his arms towards me. I couldn't help thinking, that maybe Frandline was the lucky one. Hers was a horrible death, but it was over.

When these children are well enough, they will go back to an underfunded, and under-resourced orphanage, where the water is contaminated, where there isn't enough food to go around, where there are few medicines, and even oral rehydration solution is in short supply. Their suffering is not over.

It is the living I grieve for, not the dead.


patricew said...

God bless you for all your hard work. I am a NICU nurse in the USA, and it is a hard job. I can't imagine doing it in Haiti. I am now working with one of those under resourced orphanages, just got home from there. Fortunately "my" orphanage at least has food.

Brittnei said...

Thinking about you and those precious babes. Please let us know how we can support you from afar. You have my prayers and thousands others. Love <3

nicnacpaddywac said...

Oh Susan, thinking of you so much.

Hope said...

Thinking of you Susan and all the hard work you and the staff put into caring for these precious little ones! One day I hope to be back and to be doing just what you are! My prayers are with you

Genevieve Thul said...

I am a nurse in the U.S. but a former avid missionary. Once my husband and I had children we stopped going. However, I am in school to get my PhD so I can teach someday - from home probably. Our dream is to come to a 3rd world country (our specific call so far - internally - has been to Central America) to start a satellite nursing school of a U.S. school there so we can train more health care staff to serve in country. You are adding fuel to the fire with every post. You write beautifully. Thank you for documenting the lives...and deaths...of these beautiful children. We love you for doing so - thank you so much.

In His grip,
Gen Thul
(friend of Susie Schuelke's)