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“I didn't expect the spirit to go out of people”: Salem nurse manager recalls Ukrainian relief trip - FlagSpin

“I didn’t expect the spirit to go out of people”: Salem nurse manager recalls Ukrainian relief trip

Marty Crittenden, a nurse manager at Willamette Vital Health, recently returned to Salem from Warsaw where she spent two weeks treating Ukrainian refugees. (Courtesy/Marty Crittenden)

Marty Crittenden rarely saw her patients cry during the two weeks she spent in Warsaw providing medication and mental health support for Ukrainian refugees.

The people who cried were her, the other health providers on her mission trip to Poland and their interpreters, said Crittenden, a nurse manager at Willamette Vital Health in Salem.

She described the Ukrainian refugees’ emotions as “flat.”

“They’re numb. It’s like the lights went out in their eyes,” she said.

Crittenden, 61, flew to Warsaw April 18 to provide aid through International Medical Relief. She said the best support they could give refugees was interacting with their children and making them laugh.

“That brought a little bit of joy to the adults, just for a moment,” she said.

Crittenden spent two weeks in Warsaw with medical professionals, including doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, a women’s health care provider and a dentist from across the U.S. They operated a clinic, provided mental health support and food for Ukrainian refugees.

She has been at Willamette Vital Health – formerly Willamette Valley Hospice – since 2019. She got the greenlight from her boss to go to Warsaw after learning about the trip two weeks prior to her flight and at the time was barred from revealing to anyone where in eastern Europe she was going. 

Crittenden met with some people who had just left a war zone in Ukraine that same day, most of them women and children with men staying home to fight.

She met a nine-year-old girl with shrapnel wounds, as well as a woman who had been held hostage and raped by Russian soldiers. The woman had a two-year-old daughter, she said.

She said there was also a couple who was thrilled to have just found out they were pregnant. In the same conversation, they showed the nurse practitioner a picture of their house that had been destroyed. 

“They have nowhere to go, so it’s these two opposites. They have both that joy and that sorrow at the same time,” she said.

The crew also provided relief for local care providers who were working 24 hours a day treating refugees in clinics.

She said it wasn’t unusual for them to have medication available one day then have to figure out a substitute the next day when they ran out.

 “We couldn’t treat things optimally,” she said. “We could only do our best in that timeframe.”

Crittenden said the emergency medical technicians in Warsaw were strict about what they would give to patients and were only providing a day’s worth of medications when she and the others first arrived.

That meant patients had to return to the clinic for every dose of medication they needed. “We got to a place where we could give three days at a time,” she said.

Crittenden said she was glad everybody who came to the clinic got seen, and added that she will never forget the kindness and humanity she saw among refugees in the midst of a crisis.

“The love of their kids, that sticks in my mind. In spite of everything being so hard, they’re incredibly loving and kind with their children and caring,” she said.

What surprised her was the numbness she saw in their patients. 

“Maybe I should have expected this, but I didn’t expect the spirit to go out of people like that, to that point,” she said. “That was pretty heartbreaking, and even with some of the kids it’s just like they’ve given up.”

People can donate to International Medical Relief on the nonprofit’s website.

Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

JUST THE FACTS, FOR SALEM – We report on your community with care and depth, fairness and accuracy. Get local news that matters to you. Subscribe to Salem Reporter starting at $5 a month. Click I want to subscribe!

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Travis Burnett

Travis Burnett

A pioneer in the flag football community, Travis helped co-found the Flag Football World Championship Tour, FlagSpin and USA Flag. Featuring 15+ years of content creation for the sport of flag football, creating and managing the largest flag football tournaments on the planet, coaching experience at the youth and adult level as well as an active player with National and World Championship level experience.

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