Thursday, April 29, 2010

Haiti Mission#2: Days 4 & 5

There is creativity, spontaneity, flexibility, enthusiasm and inspiration on Haiti Team #2. We are an educator/ translator, a psychologist and two psychiatrists. We are a Haitian, a Brit, and two Americans (one resides in Port at Prince). We are four women.

We see patients and sweat. We teach students and sweat. We learn from students and sweat. We provide healing exercises for students and sweat. We collaborate and collectively create a teaching curriculum and sweat. We sleep and sweat. We walk/ run with the Haitian children and sweat. We eat one meal a day (dinner) while sitting on the roof that has a mild (repeat mild) breeze and sweat.

We are a team contributing in unique ways to the teaching, learning and healing of nursing students at FSIL, and to the provision of mental health care at Hospital Saint Croix in Leogane. Leogane has no mental health care providers. A Haitian mental health literature review dated February 2010 states there are 10 psychiatrists and 4 psychiatric nurses (all of whom are in Port au Prince) for the approximately 9.7 million people living in Haiti.

Creativity and flexibility are essential in every moment and in every encounter. We collectively share our thoughts and ideas while we create a teaching plan (and alternative plans). The sparse Haitian mental health literature offers little insight. We are dealing with language and cultural barriers. We have on our team a Haitian psychologist whose perspective, insight and intuition are invaluable. Even so, we all make a lot of guesses.

Collaborative consultation with teaching and seeing patients incites:

What do you think of…..?

What about this…?

How about if we…..?

Or how about…..?

This might work….. or maybe this might work….

As a team, how are we contributing?

Assessing needs: The nursing students are grieving multiple losses including the loss of their peers, their children, their siblings, their parents, their best friends and their homes. They are especially eager to learn to live with stress. They are curious about PTSD. They want to understand how to care for patients with mental health problems. They want to know what mental health disorders “look like”. Some of them want to know how to overcome phobia, in this case the phobia of concrete and being inside a building made of concrete.

Healing loss: The nursing students draw pictures, tell stories, cry and share their physical, emotional and behavioral experiences of stress at different phases post-disaster.

Our collaborative, creative teaching includes:

Learning to live with stress and fear… The nursing students learn about and practice relaxation exercises, guided visualizations, grounding exercises and expressive art therapy. They practice changing negative thoughts into positive thoughts.

Self-care and living with stress….The students participate with curiosity in exercises for self-care. They identify (with smiles and laughter) what ‘fun’ activities offer them pleasure, freedom and lightness. They sing, dance, listen to music, talk to their friends and tell jokes.

Empathic listening, mental health history taking, assessment and education: The nursing students participate with enthusiasm in role plays that focus on enhancing their capacity to identify/ assess and offer support to patients with mental health concerns. They have opportunities to practice empathic interviewing, make assessments and provide psycho-education with each role play

This is just a sliver of the journey…a sliver.

Tomorrow afternoon there is a memorial service for three nursing students who lives were lost in the January 12 earthquake. Many students also lost family members and loved ones in the earthquake. We plan on attending, and will be available for support.

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