EMS World contributor and advisory board member Kevin Collopy is volunteering this month with the first air ambulance service in Haiti. This is the last of his series of blog posts about the experience. Find earlier posts at the end of the article.
It should be no surprise that our final day flying together brought new trials. After our safe and relatively uneventful flight of an elderly female who’d suffered a massive stroke, we began our ground transport to her destination hospital. If I’d treated this patient at home, there is no question she’d have been intubated, as she was unresponsive after aspirating and developing pneumonia (in addition to her stroke). However, since it was unclear what our destination’s capabilities were, we withheld advanced airway management despite some snoring respirations. We risked the hospital refusing this patient if we arrived with an airway it was not prepared to continue to manage.
When we arrived, we were delayed while hospital staff contacted the patient’s family to secure payment before they’d accept her. After nearly an hour of delays, we were directed inside, and the patient got a bed. Considering we picked this woman up from a remote hospital whose stretchers compared to those of military MASH units and met her in a field surrounded by 400 villagers, we took solace that she was in more advanced care than where she began her day. It’s the endless cycle of critical care transport: While we can initiate wonderful and cutting-edge patient care, we always must transition it to another provider.
Today too brought my transition of care. I completed the last shift of my tenure on Haiti Air Ambulance, but it must be made clear that HAA’s work is far from complete. This afternoon the next volunteer arrived: Kelly, an old friend who is president of the International Association of Flight and Critical Care Paramedics’ board of directors. Kelly has spent nearly the past decade in air medical transportation, and like me, he is simply the next of the dedicated providers coming to help bring air medical transportation to the Haitian citizens.
Each time one of these volunteers transitions back to the States, their perspective, approach to patient care and passion for serving others have been altered. There’s no question mine have changed. We each come here for 7–14 days. However, when we leave there is a dedicated group of providers who remain here week in and week out. I can only offer my utmost respect and gratitude to the pilots, EMTs and medial flight crew who work so hard to improve patients’ care and outcomes here in Haiti. Fortune gave me the opportunity to spend so much time with the HAA family, and perhaps in the future will allow me to return. I’d implore all prehospital professionals to seek opportunities to spend some time helping those in another country. It changes the paradigm in which we work.
The work of HAA and other humanitarian medical groups in Haiti isn’t over. Haiti is still in the beginning stages of reconstruction following the devastating 2010 earthquake, and despite setbacks the work pushes forward. Tomorrow brings another new day for Haiti Air Ambulance, and its members will once again have opportunities to deliver high-quality medicine to their patients in need.
Kevin T. Collopy, BA, FP-C, CCEMT-P, NREMT-P, WEMT, is an educator, e-learning content developer and author of numerous articles and textbook chapters. He is also the clinical education coordinator for AirLink/VitaLink in Wilmington, NC, and a lead instructor for Wilderness Medical Associates. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.