Mission trips have always been something I wanted to do…but a medical mission trip?? Never thought I would have the chance to be a part of something so amazing – as a non-medical person. When my son and his colleagues were gearing up for their first trip to Haiti soon after the earthquake, I was just pleased to offer support in the form of our garage for the storage/staging area for the supplies they had gathered. Supporting their energy and passion for this trip was enough for me, I thought. But the idea kept surfacing: What if there was a place on one of the teams for a non-medical person? Would there be something for me to do? Would I just be in the way? Did I have skills that might be useful?
I told my son that if there was ever a place on a team for a non-medical person who was willing to do whatever was asked…I would love to go. Never thought that would happen. Then the word came that there was room on a team for me. I had no second thoughts, no reservations – I was going! Didn’t know what I would do, but knew that I could do something that would help.
My first trip to Bernard Mevs Trauma Hospital in Port-au-Prince showed me that my skills as a retired teacher and administrator could be used in this setting. I organized a shipping container full of donated medical supplies, helped inventory the pharmacy shipping container and organize the contents, kicked a soccer ball with a peds patient who desperately needed diversion, fed a hydrocephalic peds patient who had an NG tube, held a beautiful preemie girl until she died so that the time of death could be noted and she could have human contact – the list goes on. When needed, I took specimens to the lab, prescriptions to the pharmacy – and returned later to pick these up, etc. There WAS a way for a non-medical person to be useful and needed.
When I didn’t have a specific task to do, I interacted with patients and their families, learned more about the various services that the hospital provides, and tried to be a support for the medical team members (often something as simple as getting Coca Cola from outside the gates via the guards).
My second trip to the same facility was perhaps more productive, since I knew what to expect, and the staff knew that I wanted things to do! They were more prepared for me as a non-medical person; and had several tasks lined up ahead of time, such as defrosting the ER refrigerator. When I wasn’t occupied with a task, I learned so much from watching the volunteer medical team, the Haitian staff, and the incredible Haitian patients and families.
Every mission location is different, and not all locations would need or welcome non-medical personnel. I do hope that more locations will be open to this, since there is always something for everyone to do. I also hope that non-medical personnel will consider these kinds of trips, and have confidence that they can make a contribution no matter what their age, training or background.
My experiences in Haiti have made me eager for more opportunities to serve. I look forward to my next trip – wherever it might be.