Palingates and blogger friends,
Volunteering to go to Haiti as a nurse was not done lightly. While I have worked as a building contractor for the last 7 years I have kept my nurses license (RN) current. I attached myself to a volunteer medical group made up of one orthopedist, 8 medical students and 10 RNs.
In the past I have worked as a surgical nurse, ER nurse and NICU nurse. I also have experience in search and rescue (with trained dogs) and in 1985 went to Mexico city to do S&R and stay on as a nurse. I have gone in with family and friends to New Orleans after Katrina to bring in trailers full of bottled water (3 days before FEMA decided to show up) and brought out people in those same trailers. And have been to many smaller, more localized natural disasters over the years. I am also an experienced outdoorsman (woman??) including having been a guide in a wilderness area and winter camping (yes, people do winter camp). But all my previous experiences did not prepare me for Haiti.
Landed at Port Au Prince airport... circled an hour before landing, the airport is not designed for the amount of air traffic coming and going. The airport was organized chaos. The charity we were supposed to help had enough medical manpower since a team had been sent there the day before. So they split us into two groups to go to tent city hospitals set up by the UN and the Haitian government.
In the fading light the ride to the tent city was surreal, I don't think we saw any building of any size that was undamaged. We were introduced to the doctor in charge and given cots to sleep on, but we went right to work. This particular medical team was dealing with an unbelievable amount of patients including patients in very serious condition, though their critical patients had been moved to the Dominican Republic or the States. We worked 12 hour days and usually more, after our shifts we tried to spend extra time with patients, offering comfort and support or doing basics such as bed baths etc. Many "crush" injuries were from falling buildings at the time of the big quake and some of the aftershocks. Many amputee patients will need more surgeries--it is not uncommon for amputees to need more because of infection or nerve pain issues from having initial surgery under non ideal conditions. I assisted in over 15 ( I lost count) amputations because of infected injuries or previous amputations becoming infected. While there were medical supplies and medications available, on a couple of days, when supplies were low, patients had to get by with minimal pain meds--many volunteering to go with a little less (or saying they didn't need it) so we never had to "limit" the children in the tent hospital. Many of these patients would be in a critical care ward of a US hospital.
Most of the following days are a blur, cleaning out wounds, assisting with operations, assisting with a couple of births ( life does go on, and those were happy moments for us) handing out meds, and comforting patients.
Water is still in short supply and was used sparingly and carefully. Food supplies are at subsistance levels, most of our team had brought protein bars and "meal" substitute bars and some dehydrated meals, but we quickly added those to the community kitchen. We ate just enough to maintain our energy but tried not to take too much knowing that we would be back home shortly and that others had greater needs.
While they did dig a few more live victims out during my stay, there are many unaccounted for bodies in the rubble throughout populated areas and depending on how the wind was blowing the stench of death was still in the air. If any of you have ever smelled that stench you will know how it permeates everything, upon arriving back in the states my clothes, boots and even my favorite small backpack went into the garbage and never entered my home. An unpleasant reminder of the vast destruction and the biggest medical concerns of dysentary, cholera and other diseases.
People wandered in everyday to look at patients, to look for their missing relatives and to bring news of others survivals or deaths. Everyone rejoiced if someone got news that a relative was alive, but more often it was about who had died or how many out of a family had died.
Communication systems worked sporadically and the damage and destruction are so wide spread that any services (and Haiti did not have a whole lot to begin with) are almost paralyzed still. This is not a natural disaster where help and safety are a couple of hours drive away--there is nowhere to go when the whole country is affected. These tent cities, at least the one I was in, have poor or non-existent sanitary setups and I fear that when the rainy season comes it will be ripe for spreading of disease.
Are there problems in Haiti? Yes, many...
An ineffective, poor government to start with (Too bad the US abandoned helping Haiti in the 1960's--interesting history--look it up, I'll try and not politicize this)
A massive disaster that has damaged not a county, state, but a WHOLE country.
Looting of supply trucks (these looters are average citizens trying to feed their families)... I would loot to feed my family... would you?
Are supplies and services still "slow" getting to where they are needed?... yes, but by listening to others who had been there throughout the disaster it is improving daily. In an operation of this magnitude that is not unique for it to take time to put into place.
My personal feelings about Haiti...
They will need help for months , if not years. If you can find it in your heart and wallet, consider making more donations when you can. While I do not want to diss any charities or tell you who to give to, the UN's WFP (World Food Program) is setting up a long term plan of action and help. Any charity that will address housing and building issues in the coming months would also put any donations to good use, or charities that are sending in medical teams.
Try to skip one coffee or soda a week and send that amount if you can... any dollar amount will help and many donations are already responsible for people surviving.
We take so many things for granted... such as safe drinking water...that it is unreal to even imagine what it is like without such basics. It will take a long time for the images to leave my mind. The smell of death is still with me, in my head anyway. I sit here drinking a glass of ice water... just thinking how lucky I am...
(I did bring a camera, but never took the time to take pictures---sorry. All my time (except for the ride to and from) was in the Tent city and Tent city hospital tents... I didn't think it was right for medical personnel to take pics, somehow I thought it ran into that "gray area" of ethics, at least for me.)
Thank you so much for this report, CR46. The average public only come into contact with these events from watching TV and it's easy to become desensitized, unable to "feel" for our fellow human beings, almost as if what we see on the screen is some work of fiction. Your report takes us to a grim reality that cannot be ignored.
To help with the reconstruction, Architecture For Humanity has launched a campaign. Other organizations involved in long term projects:
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