On January 12, Johanne Jocelyn, operating room surgical technologist at Children’s Hospital Boston, was sitting in nursing school when she first heard news of the devastating earthquake in Haiti that claimed about 150,000 lives.
Jocelyn was in shock—she was born and raised in the small, Caribbean country and most of her family still lived there. Feeling stunned, her first thought was how she could help her people. Miles and miles away from the humanitarian crisis, she felt helpless.
But soon she was asked to be a part of a Children’s disaster response team that was assembled in the wake of the tragedy. As 40 percent of Haiti’s population are children, pediatric medical and surgical care was urgently needed. And a week after the earthquake, Jocelyn found herself nervously waiting for departure at Hanscom Air Force Base, along with a number of Children’s doctors and nurses. “There were no words to express the joy and honor I felt in being picked for the mission,” says Jocelyn, who would be assisting in the many urgent surgeries needed for trauma victims. It was only her second return to Haiti in the nearly 20 years since she left at the age of 18, searching for a new life in a country without political turmoil.
When she arrived in Port-au-Prince, Jocelyn didn’t recognize the city; the destruction had rendered the streets unidentifiable. “I was in such shock,” she says. “I tried to close my eyes and put my head down during our first drive through the city.” While her family’s home was flattened, her relatives fortunately escaped unharmed. To cope with devastating scenes she saw all around her, she turned to Pam Gorgone, RN, for moral support. The women made a pact to postpone their mourning until they returned home: They were on a mission and would save their tears for later. “I didn’t want my emotions to block the focus of my work,” says Jocelyn.
Her presence had an immeasurable impact on the medical team. In addition to translating, “she explained Haitian traditions and customs which resulted in more culturally competent care,” says Gorgone. After 10 days, the team returned home, mentally and physically exhausted. Jocelyn’s first week back was filled with anxiety and unease. “Every night, my mind was racing like I was still at work in Haiti,” she says. “I felt like I had left and there was so much more to be done.”
In March, Jocelyn was thankful to return to Haiti, this time with Children’s Global Surgical team. Led by John Meara, MD, DMD, the hospital’s plastic-surgeon-in-chief, the trip was planned before the earthquake in hopes of helping expand Haiti’s capacity for surgical care. The team traveled to a hospital in Cange to work with local clinicians and perform surgeries. After the earthquake, the hospital was inundated with people suffering from fractures, crushed limbs, spine and pelvic injuries and deep cuts and abrasions. Now, almost two months later, the wards were home to patients in various stages of recovery.
For Jocelyn, it was an important part of her own healing process to return to Haiti under more hopeful circumstances. The energy in Cange stood in contrast to the hectic, desperate experience of Port-au-Prince after the quake. In Cange, life was continuing. Students were attending school, lilting laughter was heard throughout the wards, people were eating and chatting. “People were trying to get back to their normal lives, which was a comfort for me,” she says. During a crowded church service on a Sunday in Cange, Jocelyn looked around her and felt finally a little peace. “It was very uplifting, all the joyous smiles and the singing,” she says. “I saw hope in their faces.”
Read more articles and see photos of Children’s staff in Haiti at www. childrenshospitalblog.org/haiti.