Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Friday, August 31, 2012

Ciudad Juarez: Toughest Place to be a Nurse

Borderland Beat

The Mexican border town of Ciudad Juarez was labeled Mexico's deadliest city, at the center of a war on drug cartels. While murder rates have slowed, death is still a daily fact of life for nurses there, who have also found themselves to be targets.
Maria speaks with her patient, an Azteca gang member treated for stab wounds.
Previously on two other occasions he had been shot..
British emergency nurse Maria Connolly leaves the A&E department of the Royal Preston Hospital to work in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico - the center of a violent drug war. In Preston, Maria has never seen a murder victim or anyone with a gunshot injury, but Juarez is the murder capital of the world and the nurses in the General Hospital deal with the victims of shootings, stabbings and torture on a daily basis.
For Maria this is a journey into the lives of a dedicated team of nurses who are themselves targets for kidnappers and killers, often having to conceal their identities and change their routes to work. In recent years Ciudad Juarez has had more violent deaths than Baghdad - since 2008 more than 10,000 people have died on the streets, victims of a vicious turf war between the drug cartels battling to control the lucrative marijuana and cocaine trade over the border into America.
Maria's host for her stay is local nurse Pablo Vasquez who has witnessed gun battles in the hospital itself. Now heavily-armed guards patrol the corridors. She also meets one of Pablo's neighbours, whose daughter is one of the hundreds of young women who have simply disappeared from the streets of the city.
During her stay Maria treats patients with a terrifying variety of violent injuries. She sees gunshot injuries, stabbings, beatings and even a father and son who were put through a mock execution. But the nurses of Juarez General work through the mayhem with dedication and humour, in the face of the world's most notorious drug war.
Entire neighborhoods are rendered ghost towns as people, including many medical personnel, flee the violence
"Every day I change my route to avoid unwanted attention. If they see us in our uniforms it make us targets of violence and kidnapping."
Auxiliary nurse Pablo Vasquez has been working the night shift in A&E at Juarez General for six years.
Working nights means leaving the house in darkness, the most dangerous time in the city. "A year and a half ago a fellow nurse was kidnapped so now I'm always extra careful," he says.
"When we park at the hospital we have to check all around before we leave the car."
Doctors and nurses are seen as wealthy and are a prime target for kidnappers in Juarez. Many have been held for ransom and even murdered.
Since the war on the drug cartels was launched by President Calderon in 2006, hundreds of medical staff have fled the city, leaving more than a third of the clinics and hospitals abandoned.
Thousands of troops and Federal police have attempted to crush the cartels, but violence erupted along the border and in Juarez it led to a three-way war between rival cartels and the authorities.
 More than 8,000 men, women, and children have been killed in drug-related violence since the crackdown began.
Pablo admits it is not just his own safety he has to worry about - he lives in constant fear for his children. A family picnic means constantly monitoring who is around them.
And he is particularly worried about his daughters.
Over the past two decades, hundreds of women have gone missing in the city - some murdered, others never found.
"Almost everyone is touched by this situation," says Pablo. "Maybe not in your own family but your neighbours or someone you know has been affected."
A daughter of his neighbour went out to find work and never came back.
"They're women who work - students, prostitutes, factory workers, shop workers. Anybody," he says.
 They say they are investigating - but how come no one is ever arrested?"
It is estimated that 96% of all murders in Juarez go unsolved.
Head Sister Trine De La Cruz, who works with Vasquez, was so concerned about her family's safety that she moved them to the US where they have dual nationality.
They made the decision when their upmarket neighbourhood was taken over by gangs and they were caught in a gunfight.
Trine's husband, son and daughter now live with relatives just over the border on the outskirts of El Paso, one of the safest places to live in the US. In 2010 there were five murders in El Paso - and 3,075 in Juarez.But Trine admits she feels guilty about staying behind to work.
"I have thought about leaving but this is my job. I've been a nurse for 21 years and to leave my job because of what is happening here, I don't think that's the right thing to do."
She also protects her identity at work, wearing a mask and covering her name badge when she treats patients brought in by police to their prison ward.
Medical transport is no garantee against violence. 
Gumen attacked this abulance and killed everyone inside
The hospital is patrolled 24 hours a day by heavily armed guards, after violence spilled over into the wards.
"When the violence started, some gunmen came in to take a patient away," says Pablo. "There were six of them, with pistols and rifles. I just ran away, I hid under the desk."
British emergency nurse Maria Connolly was astounded when he told her this story. She visited the hospital for a BBC documentary, spending two weeks experiencing life as a nurse.
It seemed like another world to Maria and the A&E department of the Royal Preston Hospital where she works.
"I think we'd be offered counselling if someone shouted in our face, but that? We'd shut the department you know, people wouldn't come back to work."
The first patient she helped treat was typical of many - he had no identification and had been found on the street unconscious. They were unable to save him, but with the hospital morgue full and another emergency arriving, the dead man had to be moved out of the hospital's only resuscitation bed.
In her two weeks in the hospital, she encountered patients with a range of violent injuries.
One teenage girl was shot through the neck for refusing to join a gang. Her friend was killed.
Pablo and Maria
Maria spoke to one man who was kidnapped with his son and set on fire - all due to mistaken identity. "If that happened in our department it would have been news - it would have been the first thing someone had said... this is normal I guess, it's crazy.
"I've been shocked by what I've seen. The numbers of people coming in who have been involved in violent attacks and there are so many that don't come to A&E as well - the people who are killed every night."
But after returning to the UK, it was the dedication of the nurses that stayed with her the most.
"When I was in Juarez if someone said 'would you stay or would you want to move out?' I remember thinking there's no way I'd stay. And since I've come home, I've just reflected on how dedicated they are.
"It renewed my belief in nursing and how important it is - I'd forgotten a bit of that."


  1. I lived in the UK for a long time. The police don't have guns, just a stick. We would joke about them because all they could do is yell "Stop! Or I'll yell louder!". Not only are guns illegal there (bad guys still have them by the way), when I was there they were trying to ban all knives that were longer than 4 inches. "Ban the Blade" billboards were all over. That poor nurse. She may have not seen gun shot wounds, but the hospitals in the UK aren't much cleaner and advanced as they are in Mexico. Welcome to Obamacare and state run healthcare. You get operated on when your name comes up, and if your old and don't have many years left, they will drag it out so you die and they don't have to pay for it. And because the Dr's don't get paid crap, you have crap Dr.s . Imagine the DMV and the IRS now running the hospitals the same fucked up way. If you have money in the UK you go to Harley Street, a section of London where the rich and those who buy insurance can go for real medical operations and care.

    1. You were doing so well with your post until you brought obomacare into that. To bad to.

  2. Even paramedics get shot damn.. what a shame-david

  3. I commend Maria, shows you don't have to have a gun to be tough.

  4. Wherever there is a presence of the USA then that country becomes a failed state but there are plenty lot of Americans who do good humanitarian work inspite of personal danger and these are the common citizens (God Bless Them) and rot in hell the bastard US goverment.

  5. Tougher place to be a paramadic!

  6. Good on you Maria Connolly.Be some big difference seeing young bucks from Mexico as apposed to UK.
    No comparison in terms of,,,oh oh,i don't know what to say now?I don't want to cause static amongst some of our readers?

    1. Very few lift a finger to help Mexico. Not all that do do very much. But when someone does even something tiny it should never be discouraged. Praise them for at least trying.

      Just my humble view.

  7. Is it me or is Mexico starting to resemble the really terrible parts of Africa more and more. It seems like when things like art and literature die, violence and sociopathy thrive

  8. "If you have money in the UK you go to Harley Street, a section of London where the rich and those who buy insurance can go for real medical operations and care"
    Misinformation and political bullshit.Take no notice of this clown,everyone in the UK uses the National Health Service,anyone.If you have the money,or feel the need to go private,you can.I am a UK resident,this guy is talking shit for political purposes.In the UK,we have immigrants coming to the UK just to use the NHS,it makes no distinctions whether or not you have money.We wouldn't want to change it.Stop spreading misinformation.We don't have guns cause we don't need them,and the"bad guys"yes you would know a lot about them wouldn't you?
    What an asshole,middle class idiot talking out of his ass,about a country he visited?Did you get mugged?No,thought not.

  9. "but the hospitals in the UK aren't much cleaner and advanced as they are in Mexico"

    1. Everyone gets treated in the USA too. The problem I have with the new healthcare plan "Obamacare" is there is no public option to drive down prices of private insurance. America is too big to run off public healthcare solely...and we are terrible at beaurocracy. I want to keep my health insurance, but with premiums going up exponentially, it's next to impossible to sustain. All Obama needed to do was include a public option and ram the bill through congress like Bush did with all of his insane policies. Obamacare is going to be a mess, and I hope I'm wrong.

  10. These nurses and doctors are heroic people. They are showing a tremendous amount of courage.

    It seems to me that the city authorities in CJ could increase the protective barriers around the hospitals - they could turn these places into heavily-walled compounds, and make it impossible to drive a car inside quickly. These are standard precautions against terrorists - and that is what the cartels are doing to the health system ... acting like terrorists. These extra precautions would discourage the cartel sicario's a lot.

  11. I had read an article of a cartel. They had found a way to transfer them selfs from another town to Juarez in ambulances. Maybe this is also a reason for this reaction

  12. Mexico is off my holiday list

  13. "You know shit about England"
    I have to second that,he doesn't know what he is talking about.
    August 31, 2012 2:44 PM
    Has a better grasp.Just telling the truth with no politics.

  14. "You were doing so well with your post until you brought obomacare into that. To bad to"?
    What has Obama got to do with the price of fish?
    Who mentioned Obama,,,,,oh you did.
    You were doing so shit with your post as well.

  15. Poor Obama,the dude trying to help people get a bit more of a break.And people think he's the anti-Christ?Don't you just love people?No,i prefer dogs any-day.No wonder i don't mind seeing fuckers gettin murked,,funny that.

  16. Marie be representing da Manchester-based Strong-arm of da English Zeta'z, Ciudad Juarez will soon be taken from el chaputo-believe?!

  17. That's my view too @3:51 PM. Mexico needs thousands of Marias to help out. She should be commended and not be compared to anyone just appreciated and held up as a role model. There is no need to speak about Obamacare here, it is off topic.

  18. Good journalism.

  19. I predict a nurse strike shortly for Payrise.

  20. why are people mad about obamacare... the u.s.a. is suppose to be some great nation but can't have free healthcare what kind of shit is that

  21. Wen will this violence end man we Need A REVOLUTION WHOS WIT ME? We need to change our government its to corrupt theres no way of changing it unless we all take arms and demand a new government who cares for there country!

  22. Doctors and Nurses are seen as rich so you Kidnap and Kill them"
    But hey if you get fucked up I bet your glad a few brave ones will try and save your worthless ass.

  23. Hey 7:28 PM, Aug. 31

    GREAT COMPLIMENT TO THE MEDICAL TEAM!! I'm sure they'd love to see what you just wrote when they are RISKING THEIR LIVES EVERY DAY.

  24. The irony is, many of these evil thugs, who shoot up ambulances, hospitals, kidnap medical staff and murder them, will depend on these people to try to save their life someday, when they themselves are badly wounded or mutilated by rivals.

  25. In the states the doctors rob us. Good luck to those brave caregivers down south.

  26. Does anyone know where that deserted neighborhood is in Juarez? Are there many neighborhoods like this?

  27. why do they put "ciudad" in front of juarez but mexico city is simply called mexico city??

  28. apx 25% of homes in Juarez are deserted.
    The photo is of Villas Residencia Colonia...paz, chivis

  29. Great photo of the abandoned neighborhood. Thanks.

  30. They are the heroes and heroines in Mexico.
    In its hour of need.
    They and all the honest, caring folks in the army, navy and police as well as the government who are not intimidated by the cartels.
    It's very fortunate that in its hour of dire need, Mexico still has such folks!!!


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