i know a lot of you have been or were praying for my sister while she was in haiti. i just wanted to say thanks and give you a quick update... she's home! the experiences that she had in haiti definitely have already changed her life and perspectives and i wanted to share an article with you that she wrote after returning. thanks so much for caring for steph in this way and for loving me as well. caring and loving each other is SO what this life should be all about and i am blessed to be surrounded by people here in chicago and around the world that care about my life and the lives of those who are important to me. THANK YOU! :)
here's her article...
Operation Unified Response: Practicing Physical Therapy in Primitive Conditions
“So, are your bags packed?” These were not the words I was expecting to hear in the midst of seeing patients on the morning of January 13th at Womack Army Medical Facility on Fort Bragg. I received news that the GRF, Global Response Force, was being activated due to the earthquake which had devastated Haiti just the day before. Within hours I was preparing and four days later deployed with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division. Assigned to serve as their physical therapist in Port-au-Prince, the physical therapy team was completed with the addition of SGT Valerie Ramirez, physical therapy technician from Fort Drum, NY. Upon arrival we quickly discovered the primitive conditions and I was suddenly grateful for past camping and field training experiences. No shelters, showers, work space, equipment, nor computers or phones were available. Language barriers added to the significant challenges we encountered each day. Our daily patient load consisted of outpatient orthopedic injuries of Army, Air force, Navy, and foreign military Soldiers along with local nationals. All military were treated at our “tent clinic” located near the main airfield in Port-au-Prince. Diagnoses for these military personnel were representative of our environment and mission, mostly lower extremity sprains and neck and back pain. Our equipment was rudimentary: braces, crutches, theraband, splint materials, and lots of athletic tape. Thankfully for manual therapy all you need is your hands! Things we needed but didn’t have we created, if possible (ice wasn’t available anywhere!). Our PT mat table was fashioned from a folding table and an air force sleeping mat, and served its purpose. Every week we treated approximately 30 military patients at our tent.
Due to the city’s immense need for rehabilitative care, we were both challenged and surprisingly blessed to make several trips into city hospitals. Our experiences at University (General) Hospital were eye-opening; the devastating effects of the earthquake on the hospital grounds were unavoidable. The nursing education building had collapsed and all patient pre- and post-operative care was transferred from the remaining hard standing buildings to the temporary tents thrown up on the grounds. Filling the tents were row upon row of patients lying on hospital beds, cots and all available surfaces. It was overwhelming to see such a great need, but lingering wasn’t going to help anyone and doctors were sporadically present, at best. So we dove in. The majority of those we treated had crush injuries, externally fixed broken bones, or amputated limbs although we also provided care for patients with gunshot wounds, burns and even a patient who had had a breast mastectomy. Patient charts, when present, consisted of a piecemeal collection of papers with scribbled words in English, Creole, or French at the foot of the bed or cot. Pain medication for patients was sparse and in spite of this they performed transfers, exercises, and ambulation with nothing except ibuprofen. “Beki,” crutches in Creole, became a very popular item and brought constant smiles to the Haitian faces, no matter the age. I believe bekis were just one of the little ways we helped Haitians to get back on their feet and to continue on with life.
Amidst immense suffering that Haitian determination to live another day with a smile was tangible and contagious. Daily I walked away from the hospital amazed and humbled by their strength and hopeful spirits. We have since packed our bags and returned home to our redeployment briefings. As I continue to process all I encountered these last three months, I am realizing this experience will truly have a lifelong impact. Practicing physical therapy in Haiti was an amazing opportunity in learning how to overcome challenges. A few of lessons learned I’ll share with you,
A smile goes a thousand miles, especially when you don’t have a translator.
On a humanitarian aid mission you can never have enough crutches and post-op shoes.
Alternating treatment days of local nationals and Soldiers helps prevent burnout and fatigue.
Books and hard copies are priceless when computer, internet, and your peers aren’t accessible. What book or two would you grab in a moment’s notice?
Make every patient session count. You may only have one opportunity at treatment.
Make friends with everyone, especially the Air Force.
All of this being said, in the end I am so grateful to have been a part of Operation Unified Response.
1LT Stephanie Pauls, PT
2BCT, 82nd ABN DIV