Ann Taylor’s flight from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, to Port Au Prince, Haiti, took 17 hours. Her previous employment with the National Marrow Donor Program delivering bone marrow to transplant units throughout the United States had taught her to sleep well on airplanes. However this time around, she was traveling as a volunteer nurse through the University of Miami’s Project Medishare, a nonprofit organization dedicated to sharing its human and technical resources with its Haitian partners.
Taylor’s 17-hour flight was merely a precursor for the 17-hour workdays to come.
After the news of the devastating earthquake in Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010, Taylor knew there would be a tremendous need for help. Even though she was still unpacking boxes from her recent move to Hawaii to take a nursing teaching position with the University of Hawaii Community College, she immediately signed up with Project Medishare to fly to Haiti during her first opportunity for a break in March. Her plan was to use her years of nursing experience to assist where needed, but no planning could prepare her for what she saw in the week she spent attempting to save countless lives.
Upon arriving in Port Au Prince, Taylor expected to use her medical-surgical nursing skills, as this was her expertise. “Instead I became an OR nurse, something I had only done for six weeks as a student nurse in 1968,” she said. In a world full of chaos, injuries, and lack of help, Taylor pushed aside her worries and assisted with the severe medical needs of a country that had crumbled to the ground. “I sang a lot of “Frere Jacques” to the children and did my best in French to comfort the patients. We did lots of amputations and saw many severely injured patients who had waited many days or even weeks to receive treatment,” she said.
Though she could not save every life she touched, Taylor could at least help ease the pain. Through the use of Healing Touch — an energy therapy in which practitioners consciously use their hands to support and facilitate physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health — Taylor was able to control patients’ pain associated with severe burns and de-stress children as they were given anesthesia prior to surgery. Taylor is experienced in Healing Touch and owns her own practice in Hawaii.
At USD, where Taylor received her MSN in 1995 and PhD in 2009, she completed classes on culture and nursing in Third World countries under the direction of Dianne Hatton and Ann Mayo. In 2005, Taylor was honored with the Bishop Buddy Humanitarian Award for her volunteer work in Tijuana, Mexico, serving those with HIV/AIDS.
Though she has countless years of schooling and experience, nothing could quite prepare her for what she saw in Haiti. But perhaps it was the contradictions, the balance of hope with suffering, that kept her on her feet.
“I had a strong sense of God’s presence. I saw deaths, I saw births, I saw stark suffering and I saw great love. The suffering, misery and devastation I observed were much greater than I expected to see; however, the hope, resilience and concern for each other that was evident in the hospital between patients, families and workers was amazing.”
Her times of hope and resilience are remembered through the Christian church members from the community who sang hymns in Creole throughout the camp to the patients and their families. She remembers being awakened each day by the prayers sung by Moslems in the US Air Force camp across the street from her own tent. For her, God was present. God was everywhere.
Taylor knows such an experience will marinate in her mind for years to come. But even more importantly, Taylor recognizes Haiti’s need for help for months and even years down the road. She plans on returning this summer to provide direct nursing care through Project Medishare in Port Au Prince. Her hopes are to teach nursing students at the Bachelor level to replace those who have been killed along with the nursing school that was destroyed. It will be another 17-hour flight, with perhaps even 17-hour workdays and with perhaps expectations she won’t be able to expect, but it is one flight Taylor knows she will make.
— Kelly Machleit