The U.S. Navy is no stranger to humanitarian missions. But with the emergence of “smart-power” doctrine, focused on building alliances and exporting stability, professional capacity and good governance to what Tom Barnett calls “the gap” of the developing world, Navy humanitarians have found themselves on the front lines of U.S. and world security, especially in Africa (via Africa Partnership Station) and Latin America (by way of Operation Continuing Promise). In April 2009, the Navy hospital ship Comfort set sail from Virginia on a four-month mission to deliver medical, engineering and training assistance to seven Latin American nations. David Axe interviews some of the key participants.
by DAVID AXE
Elie Malloy, pictured, is a volunteer Intensive Care Unit nurse from Salt Lake City, working with Project Hope, as part of Operation Continuing Promise.
Axe: What’s your job?
Malloy: The patients are elected before we come. They go through their surgery, through the post-anesthesia care unit, some go to the [inaudible] floor for an overnight stay, and if they have more high-risk surgeries, they come to the ICU, where I receive them, as a nurse, and keep an eye on them overnight. I get them up walking, eating and ready to go back home …
I also have been able to take a role, splitting my time going ashore, and from there moving patients where they need to go, assisting the doctors.
Axe: What’s the best part, and the hardest part, of your work?
Malloy: The best part of being out here is the patient interaction. One of our first patients in Haiti, I was able to see her pre-surgery. She had a huge fibroid uterine [benign tumor] and looked nine-months pregnant. She had been like that for two years. We were able to take that out with a hysterectomy. I was able to care for her for two days in the ICU, as well. And I saw her on shore, the day she went ashore. It was lucky for me to interact with her that way, and see her joy at being a relatively normal person again, not carrying around that fibroid any more. Her gratitude was amazing.
The hardest thing for me is probably communication. There’s so much I’d like to say and do, that I’m limited [in]. Even with a translator, they’re not saying exactly what you want to say, and you don’t know exactly what’s being portrayed. You can do a lot with sign language and smiling, but there’s a lot that gets lost.
It’s challenging as a patient, coming into such a surreal, uncomfortable environment. We’re doing all these random things to you, you can’t understand.
Axe: Are you taking time off your job to volunteer with Project Hope and the Navy?
Malloy: I was in middle of moving somewhere, so I still haven’t found a new job.
I didn’t necessarily know what I was getting into, coming out here. It’s been a great experience. It took a little while to understand how to get things done, what my role is as an NGO volunteer. Every hospital has their series of protocols and procedures. It’s the same here.