Red Cross volunteer nurse shares experiences during global disasters

Rosalind Neis describes her time in the Red Cross during the Nepalese earthquake and the Rohingya crisis

Neis displays a universal body part chart used by volunteers to communicate with patients without having to speak the same language. (Juan Cabrejo/The Omega)

West-Kelowna registered operating room nurse Rosalind Neis, who volunteers for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, recounted her experience aiding the people devastated by the Nepal earthquake and the humanitarian situation in Myanmar and Bangladesh at TRU on Feb. 11.

“The Red Cross taught me so much about myself, about the world and about humanity,” she said. “Humanity is a word that I never fully understood until I joined the Red Cross.”

Neis was first inspired to work internationally by some of her fellow nursing peers doing work for Rotary International and other organizations. She began to look at opportunities with the Red Cross notably when the 2010 Haiti Earthquake occurred. She described how the extensive training and certification process opened her eyes to the lengths the organization goes to help improve the lives of people around the world through various services.

“I naively thought it was all doctors and nurses but there were technicians, there were pharmacists, there were engineers, people from all different fields taking the same training,” she said. “The things that they taught and the teamwork that came about that course was so amazing and interesting to me, that’s when I really got a sense of what the Red Cross is as an organization and how deeply they care about everyone that’s involved in the work that they do.”

Neis describes the field training as being put in a “hospital in a box,” accurately simulating how an emergency response unit (ERU) field hospital would operate in a real deployment. 

“It totally gets you set up for what you hope doesn’t happen, but if it does, you’re ready and in my case, my call to participate in an ERU first came with the earthquake in Nepal,” she said. “The call came out, they essentially ask you if you can be deployed in 48 hours, I was fortunate that I had that ability with my job and I said yes and I was off to Ottawa to get a briefing.”

Neis elaborates on the tremendous learning experience for herself and the local volunteers. One of the most valuable assets for a nurse practicing abroad is the sharing and adoption of treatment methods. Despite the dire conditions, Neis soon realized the capabilities of makeshift medical solutions. She shares the case of a patient with a broken limb, usually requiring traction equipment.

“When you’re on the field, you don’t have the luxury of what you might have at home here to deal with; we didn’t have traction equipment,” she said. “Thank God one of the seasoned people that had done many missions said, ‘Okay, tie heavy bottles of water with a towel, that’s our traction’ and it worked.”

In addition to being an incredible learning opportunity for Neis, she knew that eventually, she would be leaving the hospital behind along with her International Red Cross peers. With intentions of leaving a lasting impression on the Nepalese community, the volunteers trained and certified four Nepalese locals to continue running the hospital and hopefully leaving them with the possibility of securing better employment in the long run.

“What good is it unless there are remaining Nepalese locals who know how to run it,” she said. “As a Red Cross delegate, I’m learning every day but I also have the responsibility and the desire to teach every day.”