- Publisher: Testimony Magazine
- Editor: Stephen Kennedy
Joany McDougall may not be Major Margaret Houlihan, but she knows a thing or two about working in a modern-day M.A.S.H. unit. With her experience in ICU critical care, post-surgical ICU, and burn units, her skills are valuable in medical disaster relief situations.
Joany has been to Haiti twice on medical missions, and deployed twice with medical Disaster Assistance Response Teams (DART) with Samaritan’s Purse after the earthquakes in Haiti and Ecuador. She was nearly deployed to Africa during the Ebola crisis and to the Philippines after the most recent typhoon.
Joany McDougall, who attends The Summit Community Church in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, has felt called into medical missions for a very long time but only in the last six years has she been able to act on that desire.
Why rush into disaster zones when you can help people here with less risk? “God prepared me for this. I always knew I wanted to do nursing mission work,” Joany says. “Any nurse is capable to go, but I’m called to do this. That’s a spiritual thing.”
Joany admits that working in a field hospital is very different than anything we’ll see in Canada. She compares it to the M.A.S.H. field hospital made iconic by the 70s television program of the same name. Many luxuries are forsaken such as IV pumps, dedicated ICU space, blanket warmers…blankets. Joany says she’s learned to do a lot more with fewer resources. She recalls a bundle of fifty blankets arriving in Haiti and all of them being distributed in four minutes.
Workers have to learn to compartmentalize their emotions and learn to do things differently in resource-poor situations. “What do we have for equipment? What can we tape to this to create suction?” Joany recalls of her recent trip to Ecuador. “In a disaster situation you have to be fast with what you have…You have to realize that you’re not going to save everybody. Here, we think we can save everybody.”
One patient Joany says she’ll never forget from her trip to Ecuador was a woman who arrived with a case of flesh-eating disease. The only cure is amputation which poses serious post-surgical complications even in a fully-resourced hospital. Joany’s specialized experience in ICU critical care/surgical ICU was likely the reason that patient survived such severe surgery. “We always felt that God put the right people [in place] at the right time for the patients we were presented with,” Joany said.
Knowing that God had placed each of the workers in that field hospital there at that time in order to minister to unique and specialized needs of patients, brought a sense of peace. “It was amazing to see the number of times a need came through the door and we, just at that moment, had the right person to deal with it.” There’s no hesitation in Joany’s voice as she shares about her experiences. “It was my experience in plastics [skin grafting] that was needed in Ecuador, and in Haiti I looked after wounds and burn patients that none of the other staff had dealt with.”
Being able to lean on her faith publicly was a major factor in choosing a faith-based organization to volunteer with. When doctors were presented with a challenging case, they paused for a moment to pray for guidance. Workers could offer to pray for their patients and for one another. Joany admits she doesn’t have that freedom in Canada in a professional setting.
In disaster situations, medical trauma is often what brings people into the field hospital, but they are also suffering from psychological and emotional trauma. About a week and a half into her three week DART trip in Ecuador, another earthquake struck at 2:30AM. The tents were quiet and calm but the earthquake sent everyone into a panic. They were in a field so there was little danger, but no one came back inside the tents until the sun came up.
“The amount of fear these people go through,” Joany leans back in her chair and shakes her head. “They all have PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder] and I can’t help them…But they don’t complain. They turn to God. It’s not that they don’t ask God why, but they rely on their faith so much more. It’s contagious.”
Her experience with patients in Haiti was a little different. Joany remembers one night working at the cholera clinic, her second trip to Haiti, and hearing clapping and chanting outside the tents in the middle of the night. Once staff heard the drums, they knew there was a voodoo ceremony taking place just off the property. The staff took turns walking around the hospital and praying.
“The oppression and the evil, you could feel it. It was making the patients and the staff agitated.” Joany isn’t one to mince words and taps the table with a fingertip. “You’re always battling. You’ve got the physical battle, but you’ve got the spiritual battle there all the time.”
Joany would likely challenge anyone who says God doesn’t give us more than we can handle. She’s been overwhelmed and exhausted and kept working. She’s seen patients survive and overcome unimaginable odds. She’s seen patients come in near death and been able to revive them and see encouraging responses, only to learn later they died anyway.
How does doing medical missions change her faith? Joany sees God’s hand in the disaster zones in a variety of ways and that helps her see that God isn’t idle here either. In the sterile and science-based medical systems here, sometimes the chaos and urgency can make us blind to God’s presence. In Ecuador, many questioned how God could let this happen. Joany acknowledges that’s a normal response, but “the people could see that God sent us to help them. The earthquake was horrific, but God sent them help and they were just so thankful. They saw both sides.”