Compassion and safety

I have read that medical staff in Haiti were told by their superiors (or the UN, depending on which article you read) to evacuate their field hospital because of risk of violence from nearby rioters and looters, and that they complied. This left 25 or so patients unattended for the night.

Sanjay Gupta from CNN, a doctor, jumped in and confirmed that all 25 were stable, then stabilized three more critical patients that came in. He passed judgement on the medical staff, saying that it was unbelievable that the staff would abandon their patients.

A general in the military said that the staff should just suck it up and go back to work, and that their leaving the patients was ‘unforgivable.’

The general public has been taught (mostly by Johnson & Johnson) that we only become nurses and doctors because we’re compassionate and loving and warm and fuzzy and we just want to take care of people. They don’t see that we are highly-trained and educated professionals with an exclusive set of skills that we work proudly to hone. And that we jump at the chance to use these skills, and yes, these skills help people.

As a nurse, I have a different view. The first thing that all first-responders are taught is to make sure that we look out for our own safety. We are not allowed to enter a scene where we would be in danger, no matter what the condition of the victims inside.

The rationale for this is that we are no good to anyone if we are dead.

So, although I’m sure it must have been extremely difficult for the medical and nursing staff to do (will we ever hear their story?), they left their patients. On orders from their superiors. To preserve their own lives and prevent physical harm to themselves.

Nobody says whether the medical and nursing staff had families waiting for them at home far away, or if they were completely burnt out and frustrated and scared and exhausted.

Is what they did wrong? Not according to what I’ve been taught. But I understand desperation, and I know Haiti is living on desperation right now.

Nobody wins.

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