A&E nurse swaps day job for role in 'most dangerous capital in the world'
She has seen a lot in her career as an A&E nurse, but nothing could prepare Berna Breen for the constant parade of casualties suffering from gunshot and stab wounds when she worked for a week in one of the most violent places on Earth.
The mother-of-one from Co Wexford took temporary leave from her job as an Advanced Nurse Practitioner at the emergency department at University Hospital Waterford to work at the A&E in the Escuela Hospital in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
Ms Breen (50) went from treating sprains or breaks to treating young men sliced with machetes or shot during the ongoing feuds between rival drug gangs.
Tegucigalpa is now considered the most dangerous capital city in the world, with frequent murders that are no longer reported in the media. And the casualties from the ensuing turf wars between the cocaine drug lords come streaming through the A&E every few minutes.
"I saw maybe one gunshot (victim) or stabbing in six months when at St James's or Connolly Hospital," she said. "But I'd never seen one every few minutes before. The worst were the machete attacks."
The hospital, which was jammed with patients and visitors lying on mattresses, in many ways resembled a prison, with soldiers patrolling the corridors, armed with machine guns.
"There were massive queues of people lining up to get into the hospital who had to be searched (for weapons)," she said. "There were gates at the front, gates at the A&E and gates into the wards."
Ms Breen said the hospital was woefully stocked with supplies such as antibiotics and painkillers. Her story will air tonight in the documentary 'Toughest Place To Be... An A&E Nurse' on RTÉ One at 9.35pm.