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Chico nurse works on hospital ship off Haiti

Chico Enterprise Record, 3/14/10

By Larry Mitchell
Chico Enterprise Record
March 14, 2010

CHICO — Two weeks off Haiti aboard a Navy hospital ship left Darrell Daugherty, a nurse from Chico, with vivid memories and plenty of material for his diary.

It was the chance of a lifetime to work aboard the USNS Comfort, Daugherty said in an interview this week. "I met great people. I thought they were doing a very good job."

The opportunity to go to Haiti suited Daugherty, who said he loves traveling and has visited 35 countries. He and his wife and three sons plan to take off soon for a trip to Uzbekistan and other lands.

A veteran operating-room nurse at Enloe Medical Center, Daugherty said he has traveled to China, Burma and Bangladesh with an organization called Alliance for Smiles. It performs surgeries, especially for people with cleft palates and cleft lips, he said.

Daugherty's Haiti experience began with a mass e-mail sent out by the National Nurses Union (NNU), with which his union, the California Nurses Association, is affiliated. From the e-mail, he learned nurses were being recruited to work with Registered Nurse Response Network, a program under NNU that sends nurses to help in disasters around the globe.

After arranging to take a week's vacation and a week of leave, and getting the required shots, Daugherty flew to Florida. Then he flew to Port-au-Prince aboard a Navy transport plane with about 60 other volunteers, mostly nurses, but also some doctors.

On the ride from the airport to the port, Daugherty got a good look at the devastation in Haiti's capital.

"It was just rubble and throngs of people standing around," he said. "It didn't seem like they had any purpose."

Port-au-Prince is on an enormous cove that is many miles across, he said. He and other volunteers took a 45-person boat on a 30-minute ride to the Comfort, which was anchored out in the cove.

The ship itself is immense — just under 900 feet long with six or seven levels. It has room for 1,000 patients, he said.

Daugherty said he probably would have gotten lost continually, but luckily, the room he slept in was just below the operating room, and the mess hall was nearby.

The medical facilities were first-rate, he said, and the sailors and other personnel had things pretty good.

Nevertheless, by Chico standards, there were inconveniences, he said. While the food was tasty, it was somewhat the same each day. He slept in a room with six other men, and to shower, you doused yourself with water, then soaped up, then doused yourself again to rinse off.

Patients, whose ages ranged from 3 years old to 50 or 60, were brought to the ship by boat and by helicopter.

Daugherty helped with surgeries to clean out severe wounds and amputations to prevent infections.

A lot of the wounds apparently had been caused by falling pieces of concrete, he said. "People would have huge wounds, open to the bone."

Daugherty said he didn't interact much with the Haitians because of the language barrier. There were good interpreters able to translate from French to English, however.

The first month after the quake, the Navy doctors and nurses were extremely busy, he said. "When we got there, they had not had a break. We enabled them to take one or two days off."

Summing up his experience, Daugherty put it this way: "If you're agreeable to that kind of work, and you don't mind long hours and no pay, it's a good thing."

Also, he added, "it's always good story material later, as my father used to say."

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