“I cannot change everything, but I can do the best that I possibly can”

Posted on 06/02/10

In response to the earthquake that ravaged Haiti’s capital on January 12, 2010, Partners In Health helped to send hundreds of volunteer nurses, doctors, and other medical and logistics professionals from around the United States and Europe to help support our roughly 5,000 staff on the ground. The following essay is from one of those volunteers, and the third of a five part series.Read the previous post in this series.

Karen Foley and her team during morning nursing rounds.


Our team arrived in Port-au-Prince on February 7. I was in disbelief. Our team drove to PIH’s hospital in St. Marc, a small city located north of the capital. Port-au-Prince’s devastation was oddly contrasted by the beauty of Haiti’s countryside. I kept thinking: How could something so natural do so much damage? How could it take so many lives? It is still unbelievable to me that so many people died in such a short period of time.

Upon arriving to the house where our team was to stay, it was clear that, like in America, precautions must be taken to prevent crime in large cities. High walls surrounded buildings; locked gates and guards secured entrances. Strangely enough, I felt very safe.

The hospital was very different than what I am used to. The wards we were stationed in did not have sufficient beds for the large number of people who came to seek care, thus some people had mats on the floors, frequently family members were lying around each one. The overcrowding meant that patients lacked privacy. Given the disruption caused by the earthquake, electricity and water were often limited, and supplies were scarce. The occasional rooster walked through the hospital; flies were everywhere.

Despite the overwhelming task, it was obvious to all of the Haitian doctors, nurses, and volunteers as well as the many medical staff from many other countries that work had to be done. I told myself, "I cannot change everything, but I can do the best that I possibly can."

Most of patients were people displaced by the earthquake, arriving at St. Marc in search of medical care. The team began organizing surgeries that first day. We worked hard to complete them and to care for everyone.  Other people had come to the hospital for various ailments, some having existed for years. This was the first time in years that there was such a large number of doctors and specialists available to see patients. However, even with the influx of doctors, the level of injury and illness was severe. In our first twenty-four hours, three infants passed away in my ward—that was the most difficult day for me.

The Haitian people are the most amazing and resilient people I have ever met. If a patient needed something and their family was not there, another family would step in and help. When we worked on a patient, local Haitian volunteers would hand us the various items we needed. Other people would help to locate supplies if we could not find them.

I am used to working hard but this is the hardest work I have ever done—both physically and emotionally. Still, I could go back to Haiti many times over. The patients that we cared for were extremely thankful and grateful. This experience has made me appreciate so much more, but also appreciate the Haitian people for what they have given me as a nurse and person.

- Karen Foley, RN
Brigham and Women's Hospital

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