Weigers relies on nursing education to ‘make it work’ during volunteer service in Haitian hospital
Degaje:[day-gah-zhay] (v.) Creole term meaning to go with it, make it work.
In Haitian culture degaje is not as much a word as it is a way of life, something Kristen Weigers ’12 knows all too well. Led by a heavy heart for overseas missions, Weigers, a graduate of the Texas A&M Health Science Center (TAMHSC) College of Nursing, spent her first three months as a newly licensed nurse volunteering in Haiti.
Following graduation, Weigers volunteered as a pediatric nurse at Bernard Mevs Project Medishare in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, one of the only hospitals to provide critical care and trauma services in the country. The hospital has two operating rooms, an intensive care unit, emergency department and pediatric unit. It also houses the country’s only ventilators and one of its only two CAT scan machines. Although the hospital is primarily staffed by Haitians, short-term volunteers from the United States and Canada come weekly to volunteer in Haiti.
Working in the pediatric unit, Weigers spent 40-60 hour weeks at the hospital. In those long hours, Weigers recalls many memorable experiences that will forever leave an impression on her nursing career.
“The last week I was there, we had a 10-year-old girl who needed multiple surgeries after an infection caused a rupture in her large intestine,” Weigers said. “It was the most frustrated I have ever been by a language barrier, because I could not explain much to her without the help of a translator. I sat with her during her daily abdominal wound care and comforted her in every way I knew possible. It was a reminder of how powerful a smile and a hand hold can be.”
During her time in Haiti, Weigers quickly learned the importance of doing the best you can with what little resources you have. This was especially true in the hospital, where Weigers says she and other volunteers learned how to modify or repurpose what they had into what they needed.
An empty IV bottle becomes a urinal, a water-filled glove is frozen into an ice pack, a cardboard box is doctored into an arm board to protect an infant’s IV site.
“I found out quickly I knew more than I would have ever thought I did and was equipped to handle really challenging situations,” she said. “My ability to think critically was especially important given the limited resources we had at our disposal.”
For Weigers, the experience was rewarding in more ways than she can possibly count.
“I saw more death than I would have ever imagined in my first few months as a new nurse, but found that living in a close proximity to death and suffering made life seem more deeply rich and beautiful,” she said.
Weigers returned to Haiti for another three-month stint this summer and will leave for her third trip in early October. Long term, she would like to become a nurse educator in a country where women do not have access to the opportunities she has enjoyed and been empowered to achieve.
No matter where life takes Weigers next, one thing is certain: she will be able to roll with the punches, whatever they may be.
“Being in Haiti made me really love being a nurse and feel excited about what I was doing. It showed me what an amazing opportunity I have as a nurse to bless people through serving them.”