Haiti: A Year Later
We all remember the horrific news coverage of the earthquake that rocked Haiti on January 12th, 2010—millions left homeless, thousands injured or dead. As a healthcare professional, it is especially hard to sit back and watch the suffering when you know you can help.
In January 2011, on the anniversary of the earthquake, I went to Haiti to volunteer. I flew into Port-au-Prince with a group of other physicians, nurses and pharmacists through Project Medishare, a non-profit organization that aids Haiti in healthcare and development. We loaded into vans and traveled along the fractured roads lined by miles of colorless tent cities to arrive at Bernard Mevs Hospital. The hospital was a small, gated compound guarded by armed guards on a narrow dirt road congested with people and vendors of all manner of daily goods.
The hospital itself consisted of small, mostly non-air-conditioned buildings. We found the volunteer quarters and settled our gear into rooms with multiple sets of bunk beds and cold showers. The orientation to the tiny laboratory, large antiquated x-ray machine, surprisingly well-stocked pharmacy and the clean two-room operating suite, took only a few minutes. The patient “wards” consisted of only a few open rooms with up to ten old gurneys. No curtains, no privacy.
I spent my days in the emergency room where there were two beds and two chairs. With limited resources, such as the absence of a CT scanner, I relied on my clinical skills for most diagnoses. I treated everything from infectious diseases like cholera, malaria, and typhoid, to major traumas such as gunshot wounds to the chest, abdominal stab wounds, and even a patient with a screwdriver impaled in his head.
The shifts were busy and exciting. I was constantly challenged with mismatched medical supplies and diagnostic dilemmas. I was burdened by the harsh decision to turn critical patients away to other facilities when all of the beds were full. I was saddened by a woman, who tried to give me her baby, out of desperation.
Most of all, I was inspired. I was inspired by the children in the tent cities, who played in garbage-filled alleyways and who smiled as if it were Disney World. I was inspired by the patients who waited quietly, first to be seen and then hours for simple labs to return and dispositions to be made. They never complained, they just patiently waited, grateful to get any healthcare at all. Lastly, I was inspired by the volunteers and their selfless devotion to helping the people of Haiti.
Jaime T. Snarski, MD