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U.S. Navy Brings Comfort to Haiti

Lieutenant Lyla Law Lt. Lyla Law, from Wolf Point, Montana, is currently supporting relief efforts in Haiti with Operation Unified Response as an assistant patient discharge administrator and as a nurse providing direct patient care. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Matthew Jackson/Released)

How long have you been in the Navy?

What was the first thing you saw when you got to Haiti?

I’ve been in the Navy as a commissioned officer for 2 years, but I served in the public health service and as an enlisted for 8 years, active and reserve. I was a deck mechanic. And then I did my bachelor’s and master’s in health services in 2002-2008.

When we finally stopped moving, I’d thought it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, when I started seeing patients my heart turned, because I was saddened by the amount of people we were dealing with. You could see the devastation in their eyes and you could tell that everyone was hurt, physically. But there was more to it than that—it was the loss that they felt. I had the opportunity to work in Causality Regulation in the receiving area and I think we brought in over 80 people the first day. Just the human touch meant more to them than anything—just to know that we were there. It was overwhelming, the amount of people that we saw.

Could you take us through a typical day in Haiti?

A day here is 12 or 13 hours. I get up pretty early. I go for a run about 0430, then go to work down on the new patient ward, getting the reports on patients. We have to work through translators to get the answers to some questions, so some days we are working twice as hard, visiting with the patients, giving medication, and of course, translating. We finally end our day around 1900-1930. But it’s been very rewarding, even with the extra effort it takes to communicate. Did you have specific training to prepare for Haiti?

No. But one of the reasons I think I was selected to do this was that I used to work in the public health service, and also worked through the hurricanes and had been on some teams with FEMA out there. I enjoy the organized chaos, the fast pace, and adrenaline of it, but I think that starting with something from the beginning like this—I was excited to come. I knew it would be hard work, but I knew it would be very rewarding too. We were told on Thursday and we were on the ship Friday and pulled out Saturday morning. But I think that the training that we’ve had taught us the ability to work with less, and get more done. You’re always like that when you work on reservations, it’s easier to adapt when you have a little bit, but to come down here was something that—I know they needed help—I thought I was more ready because of what I’ve seen in the past. Because of where I’ve been and I thought that I brought that to the table for them.

Did you find yourself doing anything differently in Haiti than you would do stateside?

We’ve gotten really creative. As a nurse, we don’t have some of the supplies that we’re accustomed to stateside. On one patient, we didn’t have the wound vacuum that we needed, so we rigged up a suction machine out of a Serac machine and we’ve seen tremendous results with that. Every day we improvise— all the way from paperwork to translating to the equipment that we have to use. Have you seen your shipmates take on their own sense of leadership due to the crisis?

Oh yes, absolutely. As many patients as we were taking on, we had to spread ourselves pretty thin, but the junior officers, JGs, and ensigns have taken on their role to work with the corpsman, and the corpsmen have also stepped up with their roles. Most of them came out of admin, but were now taking vitals and assessments. We had to do a lot of quick teaching. They’ve all stepped up and done wonderfully.

When you were bringing patients onto the ship, did the corpsmen help in triage?

There were quite a few corpsmen stationed in the different areas of triage. They did step up and were very well-versed in their assessments and getting the patients where they needed to be. A lot of experience on the ship was from the corpsmen. They are very organized in their thoughts and actions out here. Without them, I probably couldn’t have done my job as well as I am doing right now. How has this mission changed your life?

I think it has reminded me of where I came from. It brought me back to the core of who I am. This population is very similar to the population that I was born and raised in, and I think that it renews the spirit of helping and made me appreciate my life more. Anything that you want our readers to know?

Being in the Navy has given me the opportunity to do this. It’s true that whatever you bring to the table is what you make out of yourself. Everyone must always believe in themselves. During the first week here, the days and nights went by so fast, that if you didn’t believe that you were going to make it, you may not have. I look back now and thank God we made it through. You just have to believe in yourself. PDJ

P ro f i l e s i n D i v e r s i t y J o u r n a l

March/April 2010

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Diversity Journal - Mar/Apr 2010  
Diversity Journal - Mar/Apr 2010  

U.S. Navy Brings Comfort to Haiti