It's a Jungle Out There

By Judith Green

One of Moravian’s senior nursing students studied for a month in Australia last May. But in many ways, the hospital in rural Honduras where she and three classmates worked for 21/2 weeks during winter break was much, much farther away.

In 18 days, their field training took them from birth to death. They dispensed standard medications and scrubbed in for surgery. They taught children to use a toothbrush and adults to resuscitate a baby. Their patients ranged from a lobster diver with the bends (decompression sickness) to a woman dying of AIDS.

Lauren Spencer, Sara Walkiewicz, Jennifer Wagner, and Allen Smith III, are members of the first class that will graduate from St. Luke’s Hospital Commemorative School of Nursing at Moravian College in May. And, as the school’s first seniors, they were the pilot group for Nursing 320, “Nursing of Populations at High Risk for Health Problems,” which offers international placement as part of the course experience.

So, after studying intensive Spanish, they went to Ahuas, Honduras, where the Moravian Board of World Mission has maintained a mission since 1930 and a hospital since 1940. Accompanying them were Marianne Adam, assistant professor of nursing; her husband, Kurt, assistant principal of the Berks Career and Technology Center in Oley; and their children, Taylor, 9, and Jared, who celebrated his 6th birthday there.

Ahuas (Ah-wass) is a tiny town of 2,000 souls on the Rio Patuco in the northeast section of the country, which is known as the Mosquito Coast. It has neither more nor fewer mosquitoes than anywhere else in this Central American nation; the name comes from the indigenous Miskito Indians, who are most of the patients at the Hospital Evangélico Moravo.

According to an online U.S. government fact-book, Honduras is one of the poorest countries in the world; and the nursing students found ample confirmation of this everywhere. The complex was dotted with cisterns to collect rainwater, which is used for showering. Some of the medicines they found in a storeroom were outdated, but sometimes in emergencies they were all that were to be had.

“Maybe one out of three or four autoclaves [which sterilize instruments used in high-risk diseases such as AIDS] really worked,” Lauren said. “Instead they use chemicals to clean the instruments.” Chemical sterilization is a practice used less frequently in the United States.

“Nothing is thrown away,” Allen said. “We take so much for granted in the U.S. We throw everything in the trash [after one use]. There they save gloves, needles, hearing aids. They’re cleaned and sterilized and used again.”

“It really makes you appreciate what you have here,” Jen Wagner said, “when you watch them recapping needles and reusing them. We didn’t want to be rude and say, ‘Don’t do that.’ ” Marianne Adam, the supervising professor, emphasized that needles used on HIV-positive patients were never reused.

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Above, the Moravian nursing expedition sets out from the Lehigh Valley International Airport. Jared and Taylor Adam, with their parents, Kurt and Marianne, are on the left (and in the photo at left). To the Adam family’s right are Allen Smith, Jennifer Wagner, Lauren Spencer, and Sara Walkiewicz.

Photos: Marianne Adam and
Allen Smith III