Medicine for the Outdoors
Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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Haiti, January 24

My day began today just past midnite, when I was awakened with a notification that a media crew believed that they had located a group of children in the basement of a building, perhaps trapped by the earthquake. We mobilized a field triage and treatment team, which I sent out to find the kids. After a few hours they were not found, but we later learned that it was a false alarm. Children had indeed gathered in a building, but it was after the quake and they were fine. Still, it made for a disrupted night and I began the day without much sleep.

It was incredibly hot today on the grounds of the hospital. Fortunately, we have erected sufficient tents to accommodate all of the patients. We estimate that we have more than 600 patients on the grounds now, either in tents or living in a communal central area we call "the forest." While there has been considerable progress, we have a way to go with communications (no phones yet), sanitation, information distribution, acquisition of key equipment, and development of social services, mental health, etc.

We continue to have new patients enter the compound, including nearly 100 emergency patients today, many with injuries related to the earthquake. This is done in two new triage tents provided by the army. We are receiving patients referred from the countryside and other hospitals. The operating rooms are busy with orthopedic and wound care, skull fractures, hand surgery, facial reconstruction and the like. Neurosurgery is still not ready to go at this facility.

The Swiss have a pediatric surgery service next to our pediatric area. This is a part of the compound that breaks your heart. The tented ward is full of children with multiple amputations and severe injuries. There is no candy coating this - their lives will never be the same. A half a block away, when the wind shifts, it smells of death from bodies buried in the rubble of the nursing building. We have learned to adapt, to walk past this place and wrinkle our noses. We no longer need to wear facemasks.

To faciliate progress, we have selected a Chief of Surgery and a nursing director, and have begun to make the nights as well staffed as the daytime. I have to sneak away now from my organizational duties, which are grueling, to see patients and be a doctor. There are many doctors now to help and we are grateful to have them. The emphasis now is to quickly transition this medical center back to its rightful owners.

The city has been flattened, but the people are now picking up the pieces. We can notice a decrease in the amount of garbage in the streets, and vendors are springing up selling fresh foods. The food drops have been very successful.

I found someone willing to trade a hotel room shower for a medical consultation. Even though there was almost no water pressure and no hot water, it was the most wonderful shower I have ever taken.

Healthline blogger Dr. Anil Menon is also in Haiti. To read his updates, click here.
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About the Author

Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.