After the quake: Trip #1

According to the calendar in the Les Bours school classroom (see the picture by John Tulley of Midland Daily News JPT8435), the world stopped on January 12th. As the walls of the schools shook, some collapsed, knocking over the water filters, rendering them useless. The well became the only water source available to the Le Bours community and our friends in the area. Many of our Haitian friends watched their family members die in the rubble created by collapsing buildings. My dear friend, Dr. Jean Guy Honore, was trapped in his fallen office building for two days before they discovered that he was still alive. After his lengthy medical recovery, he has once again become an integral part of putting together a team of Haitian and American physicians to serve the needs of the survivors. One the OBGYN residents ran into Port Au Prince General Hospital to rescue the portable ultrasound machine I had given them. As the walls of the hospital shook, some of them fell to the ground with patients and medical personnel inside. Later the ultrasound donated to Dr. Honore was recovered from his collapsed office and was found to be functional. Almost one year later, most Haitians still choose to live in tents rather than inside buildings, even during hurricane season, because of the post-traumatic stress that resulted from the aftermath of the quakes.

In the midst of aftershocks the weeks after the quake, it was impossible to get in and out of PAP airport without the permission of the US military. The last week in January, Dr. Ader Benoit (from Synergy Medical Education Alliance in Saginaw, Michigan), nurses from Mid-Michigan Medical Center in Midland (Gail McGee, Tammy Courmier and Rob Kelch), Dr. Brian Mauch, a pediatrician from Midland, Angie Williamson, a CRNA from Detroit, and John Tully, a photographer from Midland Daily News accompanied me into Santa Domingo, in the Dominican Republic (a mountain away from Haiti). Drivers were hired to take us with our supplies on the seven hour trip to the border with Haiti to meet the HFAP team who had smuggled themselves into Haiti earlier in the week. You could write a book about the border itself, but suffice it to say that the emotional distress that you encounter seeing the political and cultural differences between island neighbors is indescribable. We spent two days at the school clinic and then took our supplies and personnel to the airport tent hospital set up by a phenomenal group of doctors and nurses from the University of Miami known as Project Medishare. The patients were almost all afflicted with orthopedic injuries of some kind, with many requiring limb amputations to save their lives. Blankets, sheets and clothes were scarce, but they had top of the line orthopedic equipment including wound pumps for every amputee, the likes of which are seen only in the top medical centers in the U.S. We slept very little during that trip because there were so many patients and very little staff. It was hot and muggy and the mosquitoes were …well fed. Gail and I left looking like we had a bad case of chicken pox. The exit from Haiti after that first trip, one week after our arrival, was an urgent departure with the Medishare organization. They had been given a “last minute” grant to use the airport one time that week… to bring in the next group of medical personnel and take anyone lucky enough to be in the vicinity, out of the country. “You either leave now-with our charter flight- or never,.…from the PAP airport” was the offer we got late that evening. We dropped everything in the midst of reviving a “code blue” post op orthopedic patient in order to avoid the long trip back home through Santa Domingo. We were accompanied to the plane with an IT executive who spent two weeks trying to rescue as many of the 300 guests staying at the Montana hotel with him. He described gruesome accounts that “no human should see of another human being”, only able to help 30 of the 300 victims inside the hotel. We also grabbed Dr. Benoit’s niece and nephew, who were so shell-shocked by the quake that they were still sleeping in their car at night until they left Haiti and came to live temporarily with family in North Carolina. Photos of that first January trip, by John Tully of the Midland Daily News, are in the first Photo gallery.