Episode: "Country Nurse"
Full name: Registered Nurse
Birthplace: Hicksville, New York, but was raised
Hobbies: Bodysurfing, running, downhill skiing,
horseback riding, hiking, parachuting.
How many years with MSF? 4
Missions for MSF? Nigeria, Uganda, Sri Lanka, Sierra
Leone, Tajikistan, and Mexico. Going to Liberia in August 2003.
What prepared you for MSF / sparked your interest in humanitarian
I have pediatric intensive care experience. I’ve worked in
almost every emergency room in the Los Angeles area, which prepares
you for long shifts, long hours, and who knows what is coming through
the door. You never know what the next case is going to be. I help
triage patients, make some quick assessments—your physical
assessments get really good. But in terms of your capacity for treatment,
you know that the patient who you would resuscitate “like
that” with the technological capacity of an American emergency
room you may not be able to resuscitate in the field.
My other experience in the States is dealing with terminally children
at home. I would see them come out of the unit and take care of
them at home and see them going through the dying process of cancer
or HIV. So being able to see that side also helped me to prepare
for patients that normally you could save in an emergency room but
in a situation like in Sierra Leone, you have to watch die. You’re
in the bush, you have a little emergency kit, you have some drugs
available, you can’t drive out that night, and what you do
is light the kerosene lamp and watch and wait and make the patient
comfortable and make the family comfortable. You think you can buck
up or you have to buck up but you never get used to it.
Most memorable moment with MSF?
I got malaria and the national staff took such good care of me.
I was in a clinic in the middle of nowhere and when you start getting
the fever and chills, you really don’t know what’s going
on. The national staff surrounded me with love, and cold towels,
and discussions and that kind of stuff. I really can’t imagine
being a five-year-old or a pregnant woman who would get that fever
every month. Every month they feel like that. You can’t [survive]
malaria without proper treatment. And they die. Those kids will
die. But that was the first and only time I got malaria.
In retrospect, what was your overall impression of your
mission in Sierra Leone? What made the mission special?
One of the things that made Sierra Leone special was bonding with
my national counterpart, John, and the more homey things we did
which were sharing food with people in the community, meeting with
the village chief who supplied us with a chicken and a bag of rice
that we cooked up that night. Being part of the neighborhood. Just
knowing that I’m taken care of. I was there 13 months although
my initial contract was six months. I jumped at the opportunity
to stay longer. And MSF doctor Toshi Yamamoto was one of the most
committed physicians I’ve ever seen. All he wanted to do was
give the training back to the local people. He really loved his
patients and the nurses he trained.
What do you feel was the role you were performing in Sierra
Our focus was community health care and reopening clinics. We saw
a lot of obstetric emergencies, we saw a lot of pregnant women late
in presenting or with difficult labors or deliveries actually happening.
We saw a lot of critically ill children because of the underlying
tropical diseases, like malaria, parasites, and skin diseases. The
children were compromised severely when they did get sick because
of anemia and nutritional deficits they had had for years. So when
they got a little cold, a little respiratory thing going on, and
because they were so severely anemic, the anemia is what pushed
them over the edge to severe illness. If they had a little bit of
reserve, a little bit of blood in them that was well oxygenated,
they could have handled that respiratory problem. The malaria was
I came in just as the thought of peace was coming round the corner.
There were still road blocks and checkpoints where you had an RUF
guy named Alligator with a big Uzi and then the next checkpoint
was a government checkpoint a mile down the road. This was on the
road to get further north. We were in Mile 91 which was a safe area
that everyone ran to. I never actually heard any guns go off. We
didn’t see any war injuries. We saw more emotional trauma
cases. Some people hadn’t had medical attention in twenty
years so they were way behind the 8-ball so to speak and sometimes
in really bad shape. In spite of the safety, we did see some ex-child
soldiers and we did initial assessments to make sure they were physically
well. But it was one of the safer environments I’ve been in.
I felt very safe and very comfortable.
What are your hopes for the population you were serving
in Sierra Leone?
I hope that the optimism that often comes after a peace settlement
sticks and holds. And I’m hoping that some of our interventions
showed they are of value, of worth, and that their own people take
on the responsibility of caring for their own.