The U.S. Navy hospital ship Comfort, currently en route to Haiti, has treated patients in the region before. Medical personnel who have personal connections to Haiti are preparing fellow shipmates for what is ahead.
There are more than 550 medical professionals on the hospital ship Comfort. One of them is Haitian neurologist Mill Etienne. He grew up in New York, and his parents spoke Creole around the house. Now he is on his way to Port-au-Prince, the now-devastated city where he was born.
For him, the mission is intensely personal. "Last I spoke to my mom was right before we left. She was just overjoyed about me going down there, crying on the phone," he said.
He said one of his nieces was missing for a day, and a cousin was found alive after two days buried beneath rubble. The discovery prompted excitement and another wave of concern for those not found.
That concern is shared by surgical-tech Hospital Corpsman Yves Henry on the Comfort. He grew up on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, where his grandmother still lives. "My mom, she finally got in contact with my grandma, and they told her that she is okay, so we are happy. No, the rest of my family we have not heard from yet, so we are just praying and hoping they are all okay," he said.
He found out about his grandmother while he was aboard the Comfort. He says his thoughts are with the many people in Haiti who cannot find their family members right now and what he can do to help them.
Henry says he is proud to be in the U.S. Navy and he praised it for its quick response to help the people of Haiti. "Whichever, whatever job necessary that they want me to do, translate or work as a surgical tech or whatnot. I am here to do whatever necessary to help," he said.
Translators will be boarding the ship once it arrives in the vicinity of Haiti. The Comfort's director of nursing, Commander Mark Marino, told medical staff that translators will be available 24 hours each day. "But even then, 100 translators amongst possibly 800, 900, even 1,000 patients, rotating shifts is going to be a super challenge. Just be prepared for that as well. You may have to wait to do something until you can get a translator," she said.
Doctor Etienne says there are about 15 people of Haitian-descent aboard the Comfort. They have been gathering in the mornings to discuss ways to teach the staff about Haitian culture and history.
"When you are delivering medical care, one of the most important things is to have appropriate communication and understanding. And that is what we are trying to do right now," she said.
Each day, a Creole phrase is printed on the ship's schedule so the staff can introduce themselves and communicate with the patients they are dedicated to helping.