She left this morning from Lansing, the first Michigan nurse to deploy to Haiti through the Rapid Nurse Response Network (RNRN), a part of the National Nurses United (NNU). One of our own, a med/surg nurse from Sparrow Hospital; she was both thrilled and scared. “I’ve never done anything like this before,” she told me. “It’s an adventure as well as something good. I am ecstatic to be going.”
On Saturday morning she was out shopping specifically for laundry tape (“you have to put your last name and the last four digits of your Social Security number on everything”) and a red filter flashlight (“at night when they say ‘lights out’ on the ship, it means ‘lights out!’ You have to carry a red flashlight.”) She talked about some of the other items she’d been told to pack – only what she could comfortably carry – stethoscope, flip flops, toiletries, three sets of scrubs, sunblock, bug repellant with Deet, high efficiency laundry detergent. “Apparently the ship’s washing machines only function with high efficiency laundry detergent.”
The ship would be the USNS Comfort, a converted oil tanker that is serving as a floating hospital off the shore in Haiti. “It’s a 10th the size of an aircraft carrier,” she said, “and has 900 medical staff plus the crew of the ship.”
“We’ll be joining a team from Johns Hopkins,” she grinned at the thought of working with physicians and staff from that esteemed hospital.
“I don’t know what shifts I’ll be working,” she explained. “I’ve been told it’s 12 hours on and 12 hours off but I’ll have to see when I get there for sure. It will be different than working at Sparrow because it will be every day for two weeks straight.”
We met at the MNA 0ffice and raided the storage room for MNA badge clips, lanyards, hand sanitizers and band-aid holders. “I’m going to leave Michigan all over the ship,” she said with a smile.
As we left, she confided in me. “I never had much use for the union before. But when I was having trouble getting the time off to go to Haiti, the union stepped in and fought for me. I’ve completely switched around. To have a union that backs and supports me – I am just thrilled.”
She is worried, however. “It’s been four weeks and Haiti is becoming ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ The people of Haiti are going to need ongoing care for a long time, both physical and mental. We can’t just patch it up and put a Band-aid on it.”
The monsoon season will be starting soon and she worries about water contamination and the spread of typhoid and malaria. “Haiti is a whole different thought culture,” she said. “Everything I do must be on a critical path that helps me determine, ‘Can I do this?'”
I wanted to run after her in the parking lot as she honked and waved on her way out. I wanted to give her something else, something that would say, “I’m proud of you beyond belief, you and everyone from Michigan who follows in your footsteps. You are so brave. Thank you for what you’re doing.”
“Go knowing that you have the full support of MNA behind you,” I told her. “We wish you all the best. Come home safely.”
I smiled for the rest of the day.