An update to Dr. Hyman’s post from the day he left for Haiti.
I slept through the aftershock this morning. A small 6.1 earthquake that had no real impact because everything that could be destroyed, was already destroyed, but the aftershocks that will ripple through the lives of the Haitian people will last for decades.
They will for Mitch, who I met the first morning at the hospital grounds. He was laying in the back alley, unattended for four days except for a small bandage around his knee. He called out softly in English for me to stop, to help him. He had not eaten or drank water since the quake, but was still smiling at me. He lost his entire family — a wife and three children — and home. He was alone with no one to care for him, unlike some of the other patients who were being tended to by their less-wounded family members.
I kneeled down and opened his dressing. A quart of foul pus spilled out from his knee, which was shattered and crushed. Pier, my wife, is an orthopedic surgeon. She came over and said he needed to be the next surgery case.
But, the volume of trauma and mangled limbs is staggering.
I saw him a few days later, finally inside the make-shift pre-op area — still with almost no water, food, antibiotics nor pain medication. He smiled again when he saw me and grabbed my hand.
Later, one of the patients we operated on the first day — a woman with a beautiful smile, pony tail and an orange t-shirt — was septic and having seizures that wouldn’t stop. I ran over to the Norwegian team’s tent to find a bottle of seizure medication. The anesthesiologist gave me a bottle of phenobarbital. I looked down on the operating table and saw the surgeon cutting off a man’s leg above the knee. I realized it was Mitch, my friend from my first day, who now — seven days after the earthquake — was finally in the operating room.
My heart cracked and the tears came all day. Through the exhaustion and the lack of sleep and food, I had spent four days of getting to know these extraordinary people. Their spirit is indefatigable despite 200 years of natural and political disaster. With each story, the tears came: the young man asking for a job so he could bring food to his wife and children, who hadn’t eaten in a week; the well-known Haitian musician who, rather than escape a crumbing building, rushed up to the third floor to rescue a baby. He carried the baby in his arms, but lost most of his fingers as he protected the baby. George Boutin, my father-in-law, didn’t have the heart to remove his mangled fingers and hand. He reconstructed them so the musician could, perhaps, play music again. Maybe. Hopefully, one day.
Today, all the patients that we had moved into the hospital’s remaining buildings were outside – strewn all over the hospital grounds. The aftershock shook them and frightened them. Those who had just had their legs cut off jumped on one foot out of the buildings. Others had their families drag them out for fear of getting caught in another collapsed building. The trauma is so deep and vast that even after we had the buildings cleared by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and announced it to all the patients, most were still to afraid to enter the buildings. As a result, many died from dehydration in the heat and sun. After five days of trying to rebuild the hospital, we had to start all over again.
But we did, and the people kept smiling back at me as I walked by.