Saturday, February 6, 2010

Life and Death in the ICU

"Hi there, I am Lisa," says Project HOPE volunteer Lisa Boatright to a patient who slowly awakes from surgery in the intensive care unit on the USNS Comfort. U.S. Navy nurse Megan Day stands by, monitoring carefully vital signs of the patient who finally begins to open her eyes.

Lisa's patient is a 36-year-old woman whose left leg was just amputated in one of the operation rooms on the Comfort. "There was no other treatment left to save her life," says Lisa. "For the last two weeks she refused an amputation causing a sepsis to develop."

The 31-year-old nurse from Summit Medical Center in Frisco, Colorado, says she understands that some patients disagree with the doctors’ recommendations to amputate. "Many of them rarely understand what a sepsis is and what it means to their health. They don't always trust us either," she explains.

It's a week since Lisa arrived on the hospital ship. From day one she has worked 12-hour-shifts from 6am to 6pm in the ICU, seven days a week. "When I first came into the unit one of the Navy nurses walked straight at me and hugged me. She was just happy to realize they were getting some help."

Over the last week Lisa has seen much devastation, severe injuries from head traumas to open fractures on legs and limbs. Three weeks after the earthquake the situation in the ICU has not much changed much. The patients keep coming in.

A mother of an 8-year-old boy who was admitted the day before after being severely injured during a car accident, rests her hand on her son's forehead while praying.

Next to her a Haitian mother, with the help of a nurse, cares for her baby. In another bed a young girl sits up, her face badly injured and swollen, her tiny arms and hands hidden in bandages.

"A few days ago we discharged a patient, a man in his 50's, a local minister, whose hip replacement was infected and had spread out into his femur," Lisa says. "The surgeon had to remove the entire femur. What was left was an open leg without a femur. I have never seen such a case. It took four nurses to change the dressing. The good news is he has been flown to Miami where he will receive a new bone."

When asked what the biggest challenge is for her, she answers, "It's the people with brain injuries who I worry about the most."

"It's very expensive to care for them and I am not sure whether there are enough hospitals that can provide the care they need."

Lisa tries to stay upbeat. It's tough occasionally though, especially when she needs a short break and wants to lie down for a moment. "I am hot-wracking, which means I have to share my bed with another nurse. When I work my bed is used by the other nurse," she says.

"Whenever I can I spend some time outside on deck to get some fresh air and a change of scenery," she says. "This helps a lot."

Help HOPE provide long-term medical relief efforts in Haiti.

Story and photos by HOPE volunteer and photojournalist Astrid Riecken

1 comment:

  1. Thanks a lot to Astrid for writing these stories. Very well written..They best stories from Hope that i have read .Keep up the good work! Also I would like to say Hi to Lisa! Judi Knickerbocker