Posted By: Kathryn Allen on May 10, 2011

Labels: Disaster and Health Crisis Missions, Jamaica, Peru , Volunteers

National Nurses Week

Roxana Hutchcroft, BS, BSN, is accustomed to the fast-paced, high stakes atmosphere of the pediatric ICU at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, where she worked for more than five years. She wanted to work internationally but found that getting a nursing license in other countries was a high hurdle. Then she found out about Project HOPE and applied to participate in the Continuing Promise 2011 mission throughout Central and South America and the Caribbean. When she was accepted for the full five-month tour, she gave notice that she was leaving her job.  

In both Jamaica and Peru, Roxana has worked off the ship at dusty, hot, and crowded medical sites and on the ship in the cool, calm, sterile atmosphere of the Intensive Care Unit. “The ICU here is more of an ICU step-down unit,” Roxana explains.  Nonetheless, she has seen a diversity of patients come through the ward.   

National Nurses Week

One recent night when I visited the ICU, Roxana worked the 7p.m. to 7a.m. shift.  Among her charges were a 3-year old boy recovering from cleft palate surgery, a ninety-pound woman who had just had a benign, ten-pound ovarian tumor removed, and a woman whose bed was surrounded by a chaplain, a nurse, and two translators. Alarmed, I asked if someone was dying.  “No,” explained Roxana. “She’s scheduled to have her fractured hip repaired, and is having second thoughts.  She thinks it’s God’s will that her hip was broken and she’s not sure it’s God’s will to get it fixed.”   

As the chaplain continued talking, Roxana and I approached the patient who had just had ten percent of her body weight removed that afternoon.  Through a translator, we learned she had been brought Paita by her daughter, a full day’s journey from their home near the border of Ecuador.  They’d heard on the radio about the American hospital ship, but didn’t know anyone in Paita to help them figure out how to get onto the ship. Desperate, they came anyway.  The mother’s abdomen was distended with an enormous mass that had been growing bigger and bigger over two years. She didn’t have anywhere near the $2,300 she needed to have the operation to remove it, and the pain was beginning to be crippling.  So on faith alone, they came to Paita, presented themselves at a local hospital and asked for help. An employee of the hospital took them home, fed them, and made sure they got to the site where the Comfort’s surgical team was screening patients. There was some uncertainty about whether the mass was cancerous and whether the ship had the appropriate team of surgeons to remove the mass. But ultimately it was determined that the mass was likely benign and the surgery was scheduled.   

The patient was smiling and ready to eat just hours after her surgery. The translator wasn’t right there when Roxana was trying to figure out what the patient would like, so she pulled a cup of Jello from the refrigerator. “Everyone loves Jello,” she said, and the patient seemed to agree. 

By this time, the theological discussion with the patient with the fractured hip was winding down. I asked one of the translators what the woman had decided.  “Well, we suggested to her that since it’s been six weeks since her hip was broken, she has probably learned whatever lesson it is that God wants her to learn. We offered our opinion that maybe God put the ship here right now because it is His will for her to be healed.” In the end, the patient decided she wanted the surgery, and two days later, she was taking a few tentative steps with a walker. 

National Nurses Week

As for the little boy?  His father patiently jiggled him that evening as Roxana checked the boy’s vitals and cleaned the area of the surgery. “It’s great when we have children on the unit,” says Roxana. “Kids are my first love.”

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