Monday, April 30, 2012

Doing More with Less

The exam room in our makeshift clinic in Haiti

I'm a hospital nurse. If you come to my ER with a cough, I can check your white blood cell counts, x-ray your chest and culture your throat The doctor can send you home with an antibiotic, an expectorant, and an inhaler to help you breathe better.

It's great to have so many resources at our disposal, and when there's a true emergency we really need them. But sometimes I think that all of the diagnostic technology can make me a lazy nurse.  I don't need to listen to lungs if I have a chest x-ray. What does it matter what heart sounds the patient has when I have an EKG and cardiac enzymes? I really only need to hear enough of your symptoms in triage to figure out what labs to order.

So I really benefit by being involved in health care organizations where resources are limited. If I don't have a chest xray, I actually have to put my stethoscope on the patient and listen to his lungs.

Here in Gainesville, I volunteer at Helping Hands, a clinic for the homeless and people who have limited incomes and health care resources.  It was founded in 1989, and provides primary, psychiatric, and urgent care to clients. 

Image courtesy Helping Hands Clinic (
Helping Hands operates out of a church building. The space is clean and comfortable, but there is no x-ray, no lab, no EKG machine. If these services are needed, the patient must be referred to the Health Department.  The patient has to leave the clinic, obtain the diagnostics, and return the following week for treatment. It's necessary in many cases, but whenever possible, the providers at the clinic attempt to treat the patient based on what they see and hear.

Last November I was blessed to be included in a mission trip to Haiti. We worked with Aid for Haiti and traveled to the mountain village of Sankeyum (near Petit Goave) to set up a clinic. We were blessed with a well stocked pharmacy and translators, but little diagnostic equipment. We were left with our hands, our ears, and our stethoscopes to help us treat patients.

Michael, the field director for Aid for Haiti, setting up supplies
Despite our limited equipment (or maybe because of it), we treated over 400 patients in four days. This included two dental extractions and two minor surgeries on the dining room table.

Wade performing surgery, Billy assisting, Pastor Wilmont holding the flashlight and translating
I read a lot of Minimalist blogs, but I'm still not a minimalist- anyone who's seen the inside of my closet can attest to this. However, I've really benefited by getting involved with organizations that accomplish a lot with limited resources.  It's truly an inspiration to see the level of dedication and organization required to make it work. People don't say, "We can't do that." They say, "Let's see if we can make it work."

That positive, can-do attitude is contagious. If complaints could generate electricity, the entire hospital could be run off the words of the staff (mine included, sad to say). But out in the mountains of Haiti, where the surgeon is operating with the wrong size gloves and someone has to hold the flashlight because the generator stopped working, we all finish the day by giving thanks for what we could accomplish.

Do I think poor people in America deserve to have the same level of health care as everyone else? Absolutely. Do temporary clinics in the remote villages of Haiti adequately meet the medical needs of the people there? Not at all. But until these problems can be solved on a larger scale, I want to keep getting involved at the ground level. Because I want to help others have better lives, but also because it forces me to be a better nurse.

By the way, if you want to learn more about Helping Hands clinic, click here. And if you want to learn more about Aid for Haiti, click here. I can't say enough about these amazing organizations. I have been proud to donate time and money to both and would love to hear if you have been inspired to do the same.

So long for now, KISS (keep it simple stupid). Do you have any examples of times when you benefited from having less?

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