My Journey to Haiti
I've been en route to Haiti, in some fashion, for almost four days, and it's been four days since the earthquake. I’m in the Wilderness Fellowship Program in Emergency Medicine and can't attend many faculty meetings, but I did go to the monthly meeting on Wednesday. I gave a talk on wilderness survival, and reflected on the earthquake and the rescue effort in Haiti. I thought about volunteering, and just at that moment Dr. Bob Norris, our Emergency Department Director, expressed his need for volunteers to go with the International Medical Corps. I was quick to answer. The few pictures I saw were heart breaking, but I did go into medicine to be of service. Schedules and commitments had to be adjusted. Although I was scheduled to complete a tour of duty with the Air National Guard at Kingsley Field in February, the command of the 173rd Fighter Wing made it easy for me to move the tour back and to volunteer.
This global consciousness and goodwill was also shown by my unit, and became apparent as more Stanford doctors and nurses volunteered. From well wishes on Facebook, to support through e-mails and phone calls, it made a difficult journey much easier. Stanford donated 20 thousand dollars of medications. Residents, pharmacists, and hospital staff from every sector packed supplies and materials. We were ready to go almost immediately. In fact, I was impressed by the number of people who wanted to go. Unfortunately, it was a struggle for even a small team like ours to get there and provide needed medical care.
Though Villa Creole, a hotel in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, served as a make-shift hospital since the earthquake, there is no secure space to place a team, no support structure to harness our skills, and no gauranteed transport into the country. Our possible Wednesday/Thursday departure became Friday. We did make it into Santa Domingo and waited for the call to piggy-back on a military transport to Port Au Prince.
In the meantime, I used my Spanish to cope with the lightning-fast Dominican accent to purchase more supplies—casting materials, cotton rolls, a bone saw for amputation, pedialyte, antibiotics, suture material, antiseptic for reusing our disposable tools, needles,syringes, and the elusive pain medications. Surely there is a lot of pain, but ketamine and morphine are difficult to get locally. We did bring some.
The departure was bumpy. The call came for us to leave. As we packed, we learned that only 7 of our group of 8 could leave. Having spent a year alone in India, I volunteered to stay back and depart at the next opportunity. As much as I wanted to see the city of Santa Domingo or at least a cafe that sold good arroz con frijoles, I quickly fell asleep. That didn't last long. I learned my team was turned back. I started texting them from the room. Then they thought they still might make it. They called again and said they were returning to collect everything, including me. I'm waiting for them now. I've flown with the Marines in Afghanistan and know they are origanized and efficient. But it's sometimes a function of avialable space.
I'm more apprehensive of this trip than Afghanistan. I was alway protected by the hope that our soldiers would not get hurt. But in Haiti, the bodies are already stacked in the street. Though danger was unpredictable in Afghanistan, there was also security and relief in working with trained soldiers. Dr Norris is a tough guy but we are banking on our benign nature and good intent to serve as a strong shield from the chaos.
This wouldn't be possible without the outpouring of support from everyone. I hope it continues to sustain us and I really wish we could maintain it beyond our memory of this disaster.
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