Think Out Loud

Oregon volunteer nurse treats hundreds in Gaza

By Sheraz Sadiq (OPB) and Allison Frost (OPB)
March 20, 2024 3:54 p.m. Updated: March 20, 2024 8:14 p.m.

Broadcast: Wednesday, March 20

Keizer nurse who is a volunteer emergency response nurse for International Medical Corps pictured at the Emergency Field Hospital Tal Al- Sultan area, Rafah, Gaza Strip.

Keizer nurse who is a volunteer emergency response nurse for International Medical Corps pictured at the Emergency Field Hospital Tal Al- Sultan area, Rafah, Gaza Strip.

Courtesy International Medical Corps


Keizer-based nurse Yvonne Groenhout has decades of experience as an intensive care unit nurse. She’s officially retired, but fills in at a local hospital in Southern Oregon when the need arises. Groenhout has also volunteered her medical expertise in Chicago, Los Angeles, Ukraine and, most recently, Gaza. As reported in the Salem Reporter, she recently spent five weeks in Rafah in a demilitarized area where she and her fellow volunteers with the nonprofit International Medical Corps had set up a field hospital. She joins us to share more about what she saw there, and what drives her to donate her time and professional expertise in this way.

The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer:

Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB. I’m Dave Miller. Yvonne Groenhout who lives in Keizer spent more than two decades as an ICU nurse. She says she is semi-retired these days, but semi-retirement looks very different for her than it might for many people. Four years ago she began volunteering with the nonprofit International Medical Corps. That took her to a Chicago Hospital in the early days of the COVID pandemic, and to Ukraine last year. Then came Gaza. She recently spent five weeks there helping to set up and then working in a field hospital in Rafah. She joins us now to talk about all of this. Welcome to the show.

Yvonne Groenhout: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.

Miller: I understand that when you arrived in Rafah there wasn’t really a field hospital that was set up yet. So what were your first days there like?

Groenhout: So our first days there were just getting acclimated to the area. We were in what they call a deconflicted zone. So all the important people know that we’re there: the IDF, the US. We were by a lot of other NGOs. It was a designated safe space.

From there, once we got acclimated, then we were shown the area that had been also deconflicted where we could build our hospital and clinic. We planned how we were going to set up our tents, how we were going to manage the flow of patients.

Miller: So when you say “build the clinic and tents,” all of this is just fully temporary? It’s just canvas with pipes holding things up?

Groenhout: Basically, the clinic is fully just tents, canvas and poles. And then our hospital is a little bit different. It has some inflatable areas, because it also needs to have climate control, some places have to stay cold like our laboratory and pharmacy. Obviously, where patients are, it’s going to be warmer. Our operating rooms need to be cooler. So there’s a little bit more into the hospital part.

Miller: But you had to set up an entire small hospital from nothing?

Groenhout: Yes. The clinic part is pretty easy, I guess. International Medical Corps has set up clinics like this before. When I went to Haiti, we had set up the tents there for the clinic. So basically, you have a team of people - the volunteers, our doctors, our surgeons, our lab people, plus national personnel were there. They have crates and they have all the materials, and you set it up accordingly.

Miller: So first, all of these trained medical professionals, before you treat, you build.

Groenhout: Yes.

Miller: How long did that take?

Groenhout: It took a day to put up the clinic. The hospital was a little bit more complicated. The company that makes this field hospital normally would send their personnel to help put it up. But they did not want to send their personnel to Gaza.

Miller: Why not?

Groenhout: It was too dangerous, they felt. So International Medical Corp sent a group of people to Amsterdam. They were trained, then they came back. And they set up the hospital the way they were taught.

Miller: As you noted, this was officially a “deconflicted zone,” very bureaucratic language, based on a lot of, I imagine, tense negotiations. How close were you to rocket strikes or bomb blasts?

Groenhout: I’m not very good at distance, but you could hear them, you could feel them. You could see them sometimes closer, sometimes further. There were some close calls. One time, a building across the street was targeted. It happened once. I don’t know, was it an errant something? But you just kind of go on, see what you can do. We do have evacuation plans and how we would keep people safe. So we just follow the plans according to the security briefings and the security personnel that were there.

Miller: You could hear rocket blasts or bombs and feel them as well. How constant were they? How frequent were they?

Groenhout: They were all the time. All the time. When I first arrived in December, we got there late. It’s a long journey from Cairo to Rafah. And there always seems to be a hold up at the border, they’re double checking everything. So, we arrived in the evening close to six or seven pm. And then later that night, around 10 pm, I think, is when we started hearing the bombings. They sounded far enough away.

And then the next morning by six or seven, the bombing stopped. And that’s usually how our internet went. It would go off around 11 o’clock, we wouldn’t have access to the internet, and then it would come back on around nine o’clock. So you couldn’t try to find out what was going on either until later in the day. Not that there was much news reporting about that.

Anyway, the second day it started again at 10 o’clock at night. So I thought “OK, this is kind of the routine.” But the next day it didn’t let up. And then from then on it just seemed to be all night and all day. There was a period around the beginning of the year, the first or the second maybe, where I think there was a ceasefire that was negotiated. We had like two days of silence. It was eerie.

Miller: You’d gotten so used to the blasts that the silence itself was strange.

Groenhout: It was kind of strange. And then it started back up. It could be rocket fire. We were close to another area you might hear rifle fire. You could hear the drones going through. Just all kinds of noise.

Miller: Once the clinic was set up in the hospital eventually, was there such a thing for you as an average day?

Groenhout: Um… kind of, I guess. We would just have so many people coming. I had explained in a previous interview that when we were setting the tents up, people would walk by. You can’t really advertise like “we’re here and we’re going to be doing this.” We thought maybe, the first day that we were open, we might get 50 people who had just been walking by.


On the very first day that we opened, we had 200. Then the next day, 400. And It just went on like that, every day 400 or more. And I think now they’re seeing up to 700 people a day. The need is phenomenal.

Miller: What kinds of medical issues were people coming in with?

Groenhout: Everything. It’s not all bombings. We were situated close to Khan Yunis, and close to Rafah, kind of in the middle. And so you might have somebody that might have a wound, or been under rubble, or some kind of shrapnel. We had an ER tent set up, so they would go into the ER tent. But there were more people that just had no access to medical care. These are the people that have chronic diseases, people that just had babies that need a well child check. Somebody that can’t breathe, somebody that has an infection. It was just a myriad of diagnoses.

Miller: What kinds of conversations would you have with your patients? Did you even have time to have conversations with your patients?

Groenhout: Sometimes. After they would be seen by the physicians, they would go and wait by our pharmacy tent to get whatever medications. And you could take a second or two to talk to them there. Or sometimes in the triage tent because so many people would have to wait for long periods of time. Most people were just extremely grateful that we were there. Some wondering why we would risk our lives to come and help them.

Miller: They would ask you that?

Groenhout: Yeah. “I can’t believe that you would come here with us.”

Miller: What would you say in response?

Groenhout: “Do you need help? I’m here to help you. Of course I would come if I have the opportunity. You’re an important person.”

Miller: Let’s take a step back. How did you become a volunteer emergency nurse? As I noted in my brief intro, your first - maybe deployment seems like the wrong word - your first stint was in the early really scary weeks and months of COVID-19. How did you make the decision to do this?

Groenhout: Well, they do call it deployments. So that’s appropriate.

When COVID first started, and everybody could witness what was happening on the east coast, New York, you could see the long lines of ambulances, the people that were in hallways. On the west coast here, I work in a small hospital in Southern Oregon. And it just hadn’t hit us then. We’d had a few cases that we suspected. A lot of people had seen cases prior, we had seen them in December and January, but didn’t know what they were, they weren’t following the flu or the diagnoses that you would know.

Miller: And it wasn’t the kind of tidal wave that hit New York City first.

Groenhout: Exactly. So a friend of mine, I’m a night shift nurse, so I got off and she was coming in. And we were discussing how devastating it was, and how you feel helpless and you want to do something, but we didn’t know what to do. Maybe we should go back there and help? So I went home and went to sleep. And I woke up to a text saying “I’ve signed up. Go to this website.” And so I went to International Medical Corps, and there’s a tab that says “get involved.” And I was like “yes, exactly.”

It really hit home because, personally, we had lost our oldest daughter. She had died a few years before. And so my husband and I had always said “we’re going to go join the Peace Corps some day” or “we’re going to go help people.” He’s a physician. We had always said “the people that are underserved, the people that need it the most, we’re going to go.” Someday, right?

But after her death, we were like “You’re not guaranteed tomorrow. When are you going to do someday?” So we decided we’re gonna do things now.

But we were still like “what do we do?” And when COVID hit and that I saw that “get involved,” and that helpless feeling all came as like a perfect storm. This is what I need to do. This is how I can feel like I can help somebody that absolutely needs help, and have a purpose that I’ve always wanted to do.

Miller: I mentioned that not too long ago, you went to Ukraine to provide trauma care training, if I understand correctly, to nurses. What did that entail? What were you teaching these nurses?

Groenhout: We have a trauma program, that’s officially done through the Emergency Nurses Association, and it’s called trauma nursing certified credentialing. Most nurses that work in the ER or trauma will take this course and become certified nurses. We wanted to take that course to Ukraine to teach them. There was also a course for physicians and for a pre-hospital, paramedic type responders. So we took this course over there. We didn’t use it exactly, I think there were some licensing issues. So we made our own, according to what their biggest need was.

We taught them how to take care of somebody that might have a head injury, a spinal injury, respiratory issues, we did a blast lecture. And then we taught a bunch of stop the bleed courses, which are for anybody, laypeople also. And also we did mass casualty training for hospitals in case they were to be inundated with more than they can handle.

Miller: You’ve now responded to two very different kinds of situations. One in COVID, and whether that was Chicago or later doing mass vaccinations I think in Los Angeles, an international public health crisis brought about by just a virus, a virus we have a name for, but it’s not a human thing.

And then there’s war, which is a purely human action. Does the response feel different to you? Does being there, helping out feel different based on the larger circumstances of what caused it?

Groenhout: Yes. I did go to Haiti, where there was an earthquake. And even that response was a little different because… I don’t know how to explain it. Everybody had been affected. You could see it all around.

But in Ukraine and in Gaza, the thing that I noticed is that life has to go on. In Ukraine it was very strange because they have an alert system, an app on your phone, and you could also hear the alerts like bomb sirens throughout the city if there was an imminent threat. So when you would hear those alerts, most people have the options of going to shelter. Sometimes we even taught our courses in the bomb shelters when we went to certain places like Zaporizhzhia. But some people, it’s an everyday thing. They’ve gotten used to the sirens and they go about life until one is close. We did have a close call in Ukraine also. And then in Gaza it’s the same way. You hear these bombings all day long and you become accustomed to them. And it’s hard to see the children not paying any attention to what’s happening around them, like this is normal. It’s a little hard sometimes to see that kind of reaction when you know that the danger is there.

Miller: If International Medical Corps sent you an email when we finish this interview saying “when can you come back? Can you come back?” What would you say?

Groenhout: Of course. I would go back tomorrow if they needed me. I feel safe when I go with IMC places. I know that they’re looking out for us. They can’t guarantee anything either. But I feel very fortunate in what I’ve been able to do in my life. And if what I know and the services that I can provide for somebody make their life easier, less suffering, to me it’s not a choice. I think it’s pretty obvious. I think most people would want to go if they had the opportunity.

Miller: Yvonne Groenhout, thank you very much for coming in.

Groenhout: Thank you.

Miller: Yvonne Groenhout is an ICU nurse who lives in Keizer now. She is, now for the last four years, a volunteer emergency response nurse for International Medical Corps. She has worked in Gaza and Haiti and the Ukraine, and in the U.S.

Contact “Think Out Loud®”

If you’d like to comment on any of the topics in this show or suggest a topic of your own, please get in touch with us on Facebook, send an email to, or you can leave a voicemail for us at 503-293-1983. The call-in phone number during the noon hour is 888-665-5865.