Gwen Mayhew, in her own words


While Gwen was in Haiti, Cedar Crest asked her to write a blog about her experiences for the college website. At first she thought that she wouldn’t have time, and she was correct. She couldn’t write every day, but she found writing the blog a comfort, a kind of catharsis. Here is a small sample. You can read the whole blog, including the stories of some of her patients and the ordinary frustrations of military life, at

January 27

The injuries we see constantly flowing from Haiti are gut-wrenching. Almost all of my patients have at least one amputation. One of my patients is a 24-year-old woman who lost both arms after being trapped in a collapsed building for three days. She is an amazing person, incredibly intelligent (speaks English and Spanish in addition to her native French Creole), and determined to begin to walk soon, though she is too weak currently.

We’re incredibly short-staffed, although we have more people working than we have beds. Some people have to “hot rack”—share the same bed when they work different shifts, rotating the use of it. We have an enormous patient to nurse ratio, and everyone is working 14-hour days every single day of the week without a break. This will be my 15th day in a row of 12-14 hours of work.

January 30

Today was a difficult one. Many of the staff (including myself) are reaching their breaking point. I never knew I could be this physically and emotionally exhausted! The morning was particularly hectic — everyone needed wound dressings changed, labs drawn, help getting on and off of bed pans, antibiotics hung, etc., all at the same time. Meanwhile, patients are going to and returning from the OR. On the plus side, however, I’m getting quite good at wound care.

January 31

I had quite a scare today. One of my patients spiked a high fever and I had to draw blood cultures. While I was removing the needle from her arm, the patient moved and bumped my hand. . .and the needle stuck me. . . .

I had to go to sick bay to report the incident, and they drew blood from both the patient and myself to test…. I cried. Luckily, I just received my results — all negative. But it was a nerve-wracking day and a clear reminder of the dangers the health-care workers here face each day.

February 2

One patient, a 26-year-old woman who was in nursing school when the earthquake happened, sustained bilaterally lower leg crush injuries. She was almost dead when she came aboard the Comfort and she was in renal failure. She is now sitting up in bed, her kidneys are regaining function, and she will walk again. She is an amazing case, and an excellent example of how our mission has truly made an impact for people. She is also one of the crabbiest patients I have ever dealt with.

February 4

It’s funny. I’ve complained for so long that I’ve had no time off, and when I finally get some I’m bored out of my mind! I’m now so used to going going going, always moving, always busy…that when I have time to sit, it feels uncomfortable.

February 11

Seeing our patients starting to get better is wonderful. Especially knowing they are being discharged to rehabilitation facilities or the Air Force field hospital rather than plunked back down on the shores of Haiti. Looking around at a ward filled with mostly smiling faces and positive attitudes fills me with pride for my coworkers, the Navy, our military as a whole, and the United States. The chief of police for the entire police force in Haiti (his son is Marine corpsman on the ship) came onto our ward today, shook our hands and personally thanked us. “You are America,” he told us.

March 9

We were in our own private floating war zone here, battling death, disease, fatigue, and hopelessness. Each person went above and beyond what they thought themselves capable of, all for a common purpose — to save as many lives as possible. We came together and did our utmost, and I’m proud to say I was a part of it.