By Monica Grice
Overwhelmed. This is how Maria Hayes felt walking through the rain forest of Nicaragua.
It’s day three of the Texas State University nursing student’s trip, and they set out to complete census’ of a rural community located in the rain forest.
“Many of us went into this experience being very timid and unsure of what we have learned up to this point,” said nursing student Logan Smith. “However, once we got accustomed to conducting assessments and communicating with patients, the uncertainty melted away and confidence was built.”
Confidence is something Hayes exuberated without fault while abroad. Her adaptation to the Nicaraguan culture communicated her will to help people, and her love of nursing.
Next Stop Nicaragua
The Denison, Texas, native fell in love with healthcare when she was a student in high school.
Hayes spent 12 hours a day for a week shadowing doctors and nurses at her local hospital and experienced everything from surgeries to deliveries, which made her want to be a nurse midwife.
“The first delivery I saw, I cried; it was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen,” said Hayes. “That’s the moment I knew I wanted to be a nurse.”
Hayes went to Nicaragua with her nursing school colleagues in January hoping to see what it was like to practice global health as a travel nurse, and to brush up on her Spanish.
Hayes originally enrolled at Texas State University in San Marcos as an engineering major.
“I wasn’t really connected to that; I knew I would get a job and went with it for that reason,” said Hayes.
After talking with her father, she ended her engineering major and pursued a nursing career.
While in Nicaragua, the College of Health Professions students split into three groups and spent four days in three communities.
On the first day in the community, the teams were guided through the villages to interview community members and take a health census. The census would give them a better understanding of what illnesses were in the community, and how to prepare for them when clinic days arrived.
Hayes saw patients at a clinic located deep in the rainforest of Ticuantepe, Nicaragua.
“She just jumped right into whatever challenge was set before her,” said fellow nursing student Jessica Yehl. “She communicated well, assessed her patients with all the skill of an actual nurse, and was so prepared to help the team in whatever way she could.”
Hayes remembered meeting a young woman in her 20’s on the day they collected census. The woman was emotional because she had a lump in her breast that she believed to be cancerous. Since the team didn’t have any medical supplies on them that day, Hayes urged the woman to come to the clinic. She came on the first day, but became nervous and left, leaving Hayes worried for her health.
Day five was frustrating for Hayes. The woman still hadn’t shown, and another patient’s blood pressure was dangerously high. Hayes and other healthcare students urged the woman to go to the hospital, but never found out if she did. It left Hayes feeling like she wanted to do more, but she couldn’t.
“I think her ability to be realistic sets her apart,” said Yehl. “A lot of nurses can be tempted to sugar coat hard situations, but she just gives it straight.”
On the third, and last day of clinics, Hayes felt rewarded.
“I feel really proud of the team and how much work we accomplished,” said Hayes.
The Woman From The Rainforest
After the last day of clinics, the Texas State group returned to one of the clinics for a day of giving back. Games, balloons, and a piñata were brought for the children and triage stations were set up outside of the church for any remaining community members who hadn’t been assessed.
Hayes’ clinic was chosen.
The woman from the rainforest was there. Hayes helped assess her and found out the lump was mastitis.
“I’ve been worried all week,” said Hayes.
Mastitis is an inflammation of the breast most common during the first six months of breastfeeding. Although painful, it’s not serious and can be remedied easily.
The emotion Hayes expressed was pure joy. She got the reassurance she had been waiting days for. Her worries were alleviated.
“That was really good, it was so relieving,” said Hayes. “I told her ‘I was ready to climb back up the mountain and find you,’ she thought that was really funny.”
She made a warm compress for the woman and explained how to continue treating the inflammation.
Hayes recalls this day as being the best part of the trip.
“I feel like I don’t need to be home,” said Hayes.
After the clinics, the team had a few recreational days and went to the nursing home in Masaya.
The nursing home was a unique experience for Hayes. As a career, she loves working with children. She seemed a bit hesitant, the whole team did. However, she molded quickly to the environment and left happy.
“She was able to adapt to the different culture and conditions of Nicaragua and perform confident and competent assessments on patients,” said Smith.
The day before the team’s departure, Hayes didn’t want to leave.
“It’s a bitter feeling to leave,” she said. “I wish we could have a few extra days.”
The soon-to-be midwife gained a deeper knowledge of the people and the country during the trip. Fellow nursing students, Smith and Yehl, admired how Hayes was able to jump into any situation and tackle it.
In the 11 days the Texas State team was in Nicaragua, Hayes explored what it’s like to be a travel nurse and practice global health: she thinks she can do it.
“I definitely loved it and I definitely think I could see myself doing it long term,” she said.