By Maureen Regan, ’17
Setting foot in a place like Léogâne, the epicenter of the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti, means coming face to face with the reality of injustice in our world. Being there and speaking with people who seem to survive on air alone brings up a tidal wave of emotions, out of which emerge countless questions, all of which can be summed up in one: “what can I do?”
In wading through my own questions, the beginning of an answer lies in learning about the root causes of poverty, and doing my best not to be complacent in a society that perpetuates such disparity. How will my behaviors and decisions change after getting to know people who are trapped under poverty’s thumb? Now that I’m back in Chestnut Hill, sitting in our CSON student lounge, I hope that the very visceral reactions I had when witnessing such suffering will not fade from my memory. I hope instead that these feelings will lead to my own growth in compassion, and I will continue to learn, throughout my life, about suffering from those who know it best—the poor.
My fellow students and I understand that in the grand scheme of things, we did little to lift out of poverty the five communities we visited, or wipe out the illnesses they suffer because of poverty. Our interventions focused on health education, treating whatever ailments we could, and identifying acute cases that needed immediate attention at our hosting hospital. We funded these hospital visits, and followed up with the patients together with a supportive network of Haitian friends and contacts. Regardless of how much our work could have positively affected another person’s life, I have more in common with all of the other visitors to Haiti than I do with any patient I saw. In the Port Au Prince airport, most of our group looked the same as the other non-Haitian travelers, who were on either business or mission trips. I hope that we entered, moved through, and left Haiti with enough grace to honor the hospitality we were given.
What I am sure about is how priceless that week is to me, and how it will inform the rest of my life, particularly in my role as an FNP. Rather than abstaining from something that I know is imperfect, I hope to do what I can to work towards universal health promotion. As nurses, we appreciate that healing is not only about outcomes; the power of communicating genuine concern with eye contact, touch, an attentive ear, cannot be overstated. These mutually transformative interactions, however short, are what make the immersion trip indispensable. By sitting and listening to people’s symptoms and stories, the things that bother them, and how they make a life for themselves and their families, we are challenged to play a part in resisting the apathy that contributes to structural inequity on a global level. Because of this, I hope to approach all of my patient visits as sacred.
It is undeniably clear to me that there are some people in the world who deserve our attention more than others. We already know that disease, natural disasters, and lack of infrastructure disproportionately burden the poor. A major part of being “inclusive,” as our group’s name promises, means being attentive to these inequities— some blatant, and some more nuanced. We must respond accordingly by focusing our energies on making the oppressed the protagonists in our shared story.
CSON and KILN encourage us to be lifelong learners and critical thinkers. Going to Haiti halfway through my last year in nursing school has firmly grounded my education in the conviction that truly caring for patients requires more than being up with the latest evidence, even more than earnest curiosity about my patient’s context. Caring requires an unconditional respect and concern for my patient simply because they are human.
In our personal and professional lives, I hope that we as CSON students (soon to be alumni/ae) can contribute to the transformation of exclusive, elitist, and unjust systems. We can choose for whom we work, whom we serve, how we interact with our patients, what professional groups we join. We have seen what personal and social suffering looks like. How will we respond?