Martin’s Point Nurse Finds Joy Amidst Hardship in
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
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
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
“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.”