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Disaster Relief Nursing 101

Disaster Relief Nursing 101

Marijke Durning | NursingLink

We like to control our surroundings, whether it be at home or at work. We could argue that nurses can’t control their work environment because of the unknown patient or event that may lie right around the corner, but uncertainty and the unknown is nothing compared to a nurse working in a disaster zone.

Disasters come in many forms, from those that affect just one family to those that affect whole communities. And when a tornado, fire, or other disaster occurs, nurses are there to help, putting their lives on hold to wade into the situation – into the unknown – and do what must be done.

There are two types of disaster nurse volunteers, those who work through aid organizations, such as the American Red Cross, and those who go at it alone, finding ways to help when and where they’re needed.

The Solo Volunteer

Patty V. Nogueda, RN, BSN, ONCB (ortho), in Los Angeles, is a disaster relief nurse who helps when she can, through local connections. For several years, she has worked outside her comfort zone of the hospital, participating in annual medical missions in Mexico. So when the devastating earthquake hit Haiti in early 2010, Patty seized the opportunity and packed up her kit, joining up with some colleagues to spend a week in the damaged country.

Preparation for such a trip is intense. There’s not much time to get medical clearance, and travel plans have to be made. The nurses also must ensure they have with them all their necessities, because if they’re not brought with them, they don’t have them. “Each of us checked in with extra large military duffle bags that weighed about 75 to 100 pounds," Patty said. "We took so many supplies, IVs, medications (pain and vitamins), surgical supplies, equipment for surgical cases and more medications.” Bringing necessities to a disaster area is very important, since what you don’t bring, you don’t have.

The days in Haiti were long, because there was so much to do. If Patty wanted a shower, it had to be first thing in the morning (early!) when water was still available. Breakfast consisted of protein bars and instant coffee or tea, which they were asked to provide themselves. “[They] never tasted better than in Haiti,” said Patty.

When it came time to get to work, the team was divided up and assigned their work for the day. Some stayed on the campsite, while other volunteers went to various tent cities or wherever they were needed. Tasks varied according to the needs for the day. "At times I played ‘pharmacist,’ other times I went to the OR and helped with amputations,” said Patty. “Sometimes I triaged the patients in our ‘clinic.’ Some team members were able to go to clinics in the communities or with the U.S. military.”

Next: Volunteer Through an Organization >>

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