Striking Contrasts Are Everywhere

As the evening draws to a close, and I listen to the waves and swat the bugs away from the computer screen, I am reflecting on the contrast all around me. There is so much personal contrast as this is my second trip to Haiti, the first being in 2013. The first time around, I didn’t know anyone or really anything about what I was getting into. I flew in from Denver to Miami with all the nerves of the first day of school – will they like me, will I know what I need to know, will I fall flat on my face? In contrast, this year I was eagerly awaiting the reunion to now some of my dearest friends and the only anxiety I was facing was hoping the time didn’t go too quickly. I am now the one who can answer (some) questions for those “newbies” and be a guide through this life altering experience.

Haiti presents many contrasts – breathtaking natural beauty around every corner, the same corners that still crumble with the weight of destruction. There are so many wonderful foods and flavors to expand one’s pallet, all while many hungry faces long for nourishment no matter how bland. Our patients come through the gate seeking care that may require pain, a lot of pain in some cases, but I have yet to send one off without a heartfelt “merci madame” or a kiss on the cheek.

My background is in Burn nursing. During my time in the FOTCOH clinic, I have seen a large amount of burns that I am grateful to have the knowledge to care for. Open fire cooking is commonly used across the country and motorcycles are a common form of transportation – both commonly leading to burns. My first trip two years ago presented me with a six month old baby boy who had boiling water spilled on him, burning over 15% of his body. With daily cleaning and dressing changes, the baby had clean, healing wounds at the end of the two weeks and followed up with Dr. Nelson here in Cyvadier. This was all done with nothing but Tylenol to give the baby for pain during his treatments. Back home, I would not dare touch a patient without an arsenal of medications consisting of pain medicine and antianxiety. That contrast is hard to bear.

This year, I have treated about 5 burns, all much smaller than that first little boy, but if you have ever had one, you know there is no small burn. Each patient is grateful for the ibuprofen or Tylenol I am able to provide, take big deep breathes, and permit me to scrub their raw, burned skin. All of the patients have come to us many days after the burn has occurred. This leads to more time scrubbing to remove the buildup that the body has produced in avaliant effort to fight off infection. If the buildup is not removed, devastating infections and scars could form. All this is to say, the patients burn looks bleak that first day. I have been given free license by these patients to do what I need to do, and while each treatment is specific to their circumstance, it always means causing them pain. They give me, a total stranger they cannot directly communicate with, the trust of a closest friend – a contrasting kindness I treasure.

On the close of day 4 of clinic, I have seen the most exciting contrast of all(for burn nurses at least) – from eschar to pink skin! After just a few dressing changes, I have seen progress in these burns that I could not have predicted. I believe them all to be over the most painful part of a burn, and on their way to recovery. My eternally agreeable patients are strong students that correct me when I do a step out of place. The student becomes a teacher and that is my most favorite contrast of all.

Laura Madsen