“There is nothing wrong with your child!” Gladys laughs triumphantly, patting a worried woman reassuringly.
The mother stays concerned. “But she’s not sleeping through the night,” she gestures to her 4 month daughter. “Isn’t that a problem?” Gladys gives another smile and shakes her head.
“It’s perfectly normal.”
Nurse Gladys Charles is working triage at St. Damien Pediatric Hospital, a task that involves a 6am start time and requires a steady stream of patience, intellect, and observance. The nurse spent her formative years as both a nurse and animateur, providing entertainment to sick children and education to parents. The energy required for such work made her the perfect fit for St Damien triage, which involves directing and aiding the one hundred to two hundred patients a day who flood to the gates of the hospital.
“It can be a bit crazy,” the 34 year old acknowledges. “You take a place like Haiti, that has limited healthcare services coupled with minimal knowledge about even the most basic health conditions, and the result is this: a whole cadre of scared, worried, and panicked mothers, fathers and children. As a nurse, I am one of the lucky ones who has the knowledge of what is going on, of what is needed. We have three places-outpatient clinic, external clinic, and the emergency room. For each patient you need to make a quick but informed decision.”
It’s no easy task. Children come into St Damien’s from all over the country with conditions ranging from headaches to bone cancer. “About half the children who come in every day do not need to be in a hospital,” Gladys explains. “That being said, there often isn’t anywhere to go, so they come here. For those 50% we take them to an area separated from the hospital and give them individual consulations.”
“My favorite part is the education. We have a lot of patients here who are sick with preventable diseases-for example new mothers who have malnourished children because they don’t know how to breastfeed them. I like sitting with them and explaining clear solutions to fixable problems. Other times, the ‘illnesses’ are perfectly normal problems-but the families just don’t know it!” She gestures to the 4 month year old who doesn’t sleep through the night. “That girl over there? Her mom is worries, but there’s nothing to be worried about. Being able to tell the mothers that, being able to be the reassurance, and the bearer of good news, well, that’s one of the best things for someone in Haiti to be.”