Sister Patrice Coolick on Medical Mission in Haiti


Sister Patrice Coolick, CSJ, along with 15,000 nurses, recently journeyed to Haiti on a medical mission. Sister Patrice, currently an oncology nurse at O'Connor Hospital in San Jose, California, has spent over a decade in mission work in Peru, Southeast Asia and Africa.

The mission was in Milo, Haiti, about 20 miles from Cap-Hatien in the northern part of Haiti at a small hospital, Hopital Sacre Coeur, originally built as a clinic by a group of French Canadian Sacred Heart priest more than 30 years ago.

 The following is her reflection on the experience:

When the earthquake hit, Milo the small hospital was not damaged. They sent word to Port Au Prince that they were capable of doing surgeries etc. Seven large tents, holding 40 to 50 or more patients were set up and 450 victims of the earthquake were airlifted to Milo. The small operating rooms were functioning 24/7 mainly doing amputations. Someone has said that Haiti has become an island of amputees. The whole operation is amazing in what they have done and are still doing for so many years.

We landed in Milo, Haiti, at 8 a.m. on a prop plane from Fort Lauderdale and were in the camp by 10 a.m. working. Time was not wasted and that was good. As far as our living situation goes I kept saying, much to the dismay of my companions, "Wow, this is like Club Med." I have a bed in small room with three others and am not on the floor of a tent and we have a bathroom that usually has water, a shower and toilet. What more could a girl want? We had bottled water and that cut down on a lot of GI problems. It was many steps above my living conditions in Africa. It was a delightful surprise.

I worked in Tent 5 where there were 36 women, ages 18 to 62, all of which had amputations, both legs, or one leg and one arm etc. Many had external fixaters to stabilize and try and save the remaining limb and

Many had infected wounds that we changed daily or twice a day depending on depth and drainage etc. There were some with IV antibiotics. There were also the usual coexisting medical problems of diabetes, heart problems, epilepsy etc.

I was up by 6 a.m., to the camp by 7:30, lunch at 1, back to the camp by 2 until 6 p.m. dinner, a team meeting, and back to the camp by 8 to 10 p.m. Some days were shorter and others longer. It was a world in contrasts. Many people had cell phones but no land lines existed. Some had small computers and i.e. DVDs but they had no running water or electricity.

I met and worked with some of the most amazing, generous people in the world and some that I wondered were in the world they came from. I kept on saying they make it all interesting and add an extra challenge to all of us.

Two days before I left an orthopedic surgeon came from Jackson, Florida, with two friends, one an engineer and one in construction. The doctor had been coming to Hopital Sacre Coeur for a number of years. After the earthquake he arranged to have a complete prosthetic lab sent to Port-Au-Prince and then to Milo. He came several months prior and had a cement pad built.

The lab arrived on the most pathetic truck (no fenders and rust everywhere) but it had a great motor and was capable of pulling and delivering the lab. A huge crane lifted it and set it on its pad. It was the entertainment for several days. Several prosthetic makers from Florida will be coming in turn and then teaching the Haitians how to make the prosthetics. It takes about a week to make a limb that fits and functions well. They are only going to do the lower limbs for now and hopefully will eventually be able to do the upper limbs. It is quite amazing.

There are many individual stories but his will have to do for now. As I said before I am grateful that I was able to go and yes I would and hope to return in the future.


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