Martin’s Point Nurse Finds Joy Amidst Hardship in Honduras
Bernadette Fox, R.N., had never been out of the United States when she signed up to go to Honduras on a medical mission. She didn’t speak Spanish. And her attempt to make the trip in 2018 was crushed when violence at the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa forced organizers to cancel. None of this made her hesitate.
“I didn’t think twice,” said Bernadette, a Care Coordinator at the Martin’s Point Health Care Center in Portland. Now that her own children are adults, she has time and ability to give back. So when her niece and sister-in-law asked her to join them for a week with Carolina Honduras Health Foundation, she was all in.
“I’ve always wanted to do work where it’s needed,” says Bernadette, who covered her own airfare, lodging and meals to make this happen.
585 patients in under five days
CHHF regularly sends teams to Honduras to staff a medical clinic in Limon and provide care at a tiny, remote clinic, 4.5 hours away. Many Hondurans live hours from health care, and travel dirt roads on foot or by bus. Few have proper shoes.
Bernadette’s team included two nurses, two pharmacists, a retired teacher/EMT, and two Spanish-speaking doctors from Honduras. In four and half days, the CHHF team helped 585 patients, dispensed 2,542 prescriptions, referred six patients to hospitals, and performed one surgery. They also handed out 159 pairs of reading glasses, 58 pair of flip flops, and scads of crayons.
The heat was intense – and so were the mosquitoes. Because of concern of Dengue fever, Zika virus, and other mosquito-borne illnesses, clinic windows and doors are closed tight at sundown, trapping stifling air inside. The team slept under netting they’d brought from home – Bernadette left hers behind with a grandfather who worried about his infant grandchild’s vulnerability to mosquitoes.
On the way to far-flung hamlets, the team passed through military checks points. “Fatigues, guns, the works,” says Bernadette. Even the crudest homes were surrounded by fences – sometimes with barbed wire or broken glass – to thwart theft.
From coordinating care to providing care
In Honduras, Bernadette’s work was very different from her role in Portland, which involves coordinating care for patients with diabetes, COPD, heart disease, and other conditions and helping them manage their health. In Limon, it was “old-fashioned, hands-on, down in the dirt nursing,” as she says. “Someone comes in with a problem and you rely on all your knowledge and skills to solve it.”
She performed pregnancy tests, administered IVs, calculated insulin, and cared for a young woman with Dengue fever. The “lab” was a table with a few supplies and bare bones equipment. The blood pressure cuff was one-size-fits-all. (“I’m used to having three options – it helps you get the most accurate reading,” explained Bernadette.) They communicated by relying on the two docs, both native speakers, and a translator.
Bright spots every day
A local housekeeper kept the team well fed. “Fresh fruit at every meal – and the most delicious breakfast I’ve ever had – tortillas, refried beans, eggs, salsa and cheese,” Bernadette recalls. Local coffee, pure vanilla, and coconut candies were also specialties.
But the people she met made the biggest impression. “The children are so joyful – even though they have next to nothing,” explains Bernadette. “Getting six broken crayons in a Ziploc bag or an Oreo cookie is like Christmas to them. I kept saying ‘no habla espanol,’ but the kids swarm to us like flies.”
Bernadette particularly connected with a 12-year-old girl called Marianetta. “She saw my stethoscope and pointed to her heart. I put the instrument to her ears – and her face just lit up.” For the rest of the day, she was at Bernadette’s side. “I saw a lot of kids, but there was a special connection with her.”
Before she left, Bernadette asked an interpreter to give Marianetta a message of hope. “Tell her I want to come back and hear that she’s happy and she’s a nurse or a teacher.”
Giving – and getting back
A giving person by nature, Bernadette has volunteered in many capacities, reading to school children, visiting nursing homes, joining coastal clean ups with other Martin’s Pointers. This experience was for sure the most powerful.
“I’ve always felt you have to understand the journey that the other person is taking,” she says. “But now I can see that it’s even more important. I’m more aware and empathetic. You never know what the other person doesn’t know. You have to meet them where they are.”
Bernadette encourages others to the experience a try.
“If you’re thinking about something like this, do it. You won’t regret it.”