Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Project HOPE Volunteers Take Care of Children on USNS Mercy

Diane Speranza, a nurse from Florida, recently returned from her third volunteer mission for Project HOPE, serving on the USNS Mercy as a medical surgical nurse. Here are a few excerpts from her emails while on her most recent mission in Timor Leste. --Melanie

We have been busy on the pediatrics ward...day 7 already and 7 more to go!! I am getting tired. Doing 14 days in a row of 12 plus hours a day is tough. But there is an end in sight!

We have seen a lot of hydrocephalic kids. Unfortunately we can not do any surgery on them as we do not have the capability on the ship. So all we do is CT's. It gives them a chance to spend a night or 2 on the ship, get some good food for themselves, sleep on a bed rather than floor or hammock, get their child some formula, pampers, toys and clothes. They all leave smiling and happy even if we could not' fix' their child. This goes for all the ones that we bring on the ship. I am amazed at how they all clean their plates at every meal except for Brussels sprouts. I have never seen chicken bones so cleaned off. It is sad to think that they don't have much money and there for not much food. They are all so skinny and short. I am so glad that I sent a head of time boxes of baby and kids clothes. I try to give everyone an outfit, as they seem to have nothing. When I give it to them they immediately put it on their baby or child.

I will try to describe how the process works here. Patients are screened on shore at the MedDenCaps (medical,dental civil action program) the clinics that we set up where they are seen for their problems. If those assigned to go ashore feel there is something we can do for them IE: surgery or diagnostics or PT etc then they get a hold of the ship and see if there is a bed, OR time and a physician able to take the patient Once given the ok they get them to the ship via boat or helo(copter). Each patient is allowed an escort to come with them. If it is a child both parents can come and sometimes it means bringing another of their children with them. Most families here have 6 or more kids and are young mothers......teens. So we try to encourage one parent to stay home.

We have 22 beds on each ward plus we put up cots if needed. There are the same number on top of the ones we use but because they are so high and you would need a ladder to get up we do not use them. If the children are small the escort usually sleeps with them. Otherwise we put a cot up or mattress on the floor next to them. The beds or 'racks' as they call them are only about 12 inches off the floor. That with the fact that they are very close together makes it hard to work on the patients. You either have to bend over, not good on the back or get on your knees.

The patients are usually admitted the day before their surgery and usually go home one or 2 days after depending on the type of procedure they had done. The children all get 'de-wormed' most all have worms and by doing this it gives them a few months of good nutrition. The shift I have is 0630 to 1900 but we always end up staying later. So when I get up it is dark and when I get done it is dark. When the patients are discharged they get copies of all their records, CT's etc. so that if they do get to follow up with a doctor or clinic they can pass them on.

The E. Timor people are very poor and we forget that all the comforts we are used to they have never heard of and it is all new to them. For example: All are amazed at TV, we play DVD's for them all the time. Even the parents love the children’s movies...Shrek, Little Mermaid, Indiana Jones etc. I asked a translator once if the child wanted apple or grape juice and he said it doesn't matter they have never had it! When they come in we hand out toys usually stuffed animals which they seem to know what to do with them. But we have to explain and show them what to do with coloring books and crayons. It is touching to watch all the adults sit on the beds and color. In fact I think they seem to enjoy it more than the kids.
Some come with their own food, not knowing that we will feed them. They either wear Flip Flops or come barefoot. We have a playroom set up for the kids (adults have just as much fun) but you have to show them how a lot of them work. Everyone loves to have their picture taken and then you show them in the camera after and they all just giggle. Wish there was more I could do for them.

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