January 21, 2010
We arrived at Miami International Airport at 7:30 pm. While waiting to check-in, we met several volunteer ministers who had just flown in from other parts of the US. Channel 41 TV Univision, interviewed some of the ministers. There was much comradery as the groups socialized and got to know each other. Once everyone checked in, the small groups that eventually became one large group, went through security and to the boarding area. Everyone got served pizza and soda. Different groups gathered to take photos.
The group of over 100 people, including doctors, nurses, and paramedics, boarded on vision airlines without any problems. The plane departed at approximately 11:00 pm. Everything seemed orderly. Once we got to Haiti’s airspace, we could not land. Our airplane had to wait in the air for quite some time. There were four airplanes waiting ahead of us to land. I became very nervous, but I tried not to show it. Thank goodness, we eventually landed. The space from the airplane to the board was very wide. Also, the step to the ground was very steep, but we all managed. There were men in Scientology volunteer ministers clothing waiting to assist us down onto the ground. They assisted us with our hand luggage. It was night time with no light. So people were scrounging around the numerous bags and suitcases with flashlights, trying to find their own belongings. Some people did not find their luggage right away.
It was past midnight, and now January 22nd. It felt as though I was on a military base, or on the movie set. People were climbing up into the back of green military trucks. The trucks had been organized by the Scientology Volunteer Ministers and now were being filled up one by one, then disappearing with the people wearing yellow T-shirts or yellow jackets. Those trucks were guarded by US soldiers.
The small group I was travelling with was AHME (Association of Hospital Medical Education). The doctor-in-charge of the group had informed us to stay together and that we were not to go onto the military trucks, like the other groups. Instead, our AHME group got on a bus that was going to a different location. There was some tension. Members of our AHME group requested going to our designated location via the military trucks. The doctor-in-charge told us that going on the bus was the better option. Members of the AHME group then requested that the bus be guarded by US military. Those members were assured that they would be safe because, a US military truck with US soldiers would be driving ahead and just in front of the bus, while another military truck would drive behind. It didn’t turn out that way.
We got to the compound that we would be staying. There was a huge concrete area with crowds of homeless-like individuals asleep on the ground. We stepped over them, and worked our way into a building, where some chose a spot on the floor to sleep. It was not until then, we realized that the sleeping homeless people outside were the doctors and nurses from previous flights. Most of us had to go back outside to join the homeless.
22 January 2010
We took out our sleeping bags, comforters, pillows, tents, and went off to sleep. At 8:00 am, we were awake, dressed, and ready. We were to get on the 8:30 a.m. bus outside that would take us to the hospital. I had thirty minutes to spare. I remembered that in my luggage, I had canned beans, canned mixed corn and red beans, a sardine with oil, a box of crackers, a can of condensed milk, dried oatmeal, and candies. I had nothing to drink in my luggage. I had just remembered the three bottles of water that I took from home in my hand luggage, I had to remove for security reasons before boarding. I suddenly went into a hunting mode. I saw other people chewing. I walked around to scrounge for water. Other members in my group told me to search the cupboards. I did just that. I found a walk-in closet in the kitchen with cases of bottled water. Cupboards in the kitchen were stocked with protein bars and Vienna sausages. I helped myself to one of each. There, I drank a bottle of water, and ate a can of Vienna sausages. I took a peanut butter bar along in my white scrub jacket pocket.
It was now 8:30 am and we were told to gather outside. The Chief paramedic introduced himself as being in charge of the entire operation.
The bus left after 8:30 am. It took a long time to get to the hospital. When we finally got off the bus, we were eager to put our stuff down and get to work. We were faced with patients laying along the sidewalk. While most people from the AHME group walked into the hospital, some of us could not bare the thought of leaving those patients on the sidewalk unattended. So, we stayed behind, to see if we could be of some assistance to those patients. We had brought suitcases and supplies with us, so we opened up the boxes and suitcases and got to work. The sun was boiling hot and the patients were sweating profusely. There were tarpaulins thrown over sticks to shade them from the sun. We toured the sidewalk to see which of the patients needed us the most. Many of the patients were groaning with pain. Others were grimacing. The leg stumps, head, and general body wounds were too many to count. The wound dressings appeared old, and smelled from the heat of the sun. The flies that swarmed the sidewalk did not make things any better. There were no pain medications immediately on hand. We soon had to find other available medical and pharmacy supplies. We removed the old and stale dressings,, cleaned the wounds, then applied new dressings.
Still in the boiling sun, our team knew that we had to keep going. One of the doctors prescribed PO and IV antibiotics. Another physician gave us pain medications from his own stock that he was carrying. The antibiotics prescribed were the ones that were already available and accessible on the sidewalk among our supplies. We gave out the pain and antibiotic tablets. We then inserted IVs and gave IV fluids. Towards the end of the day, some medical personnel looked overwhelmed and confused. One of the nurses had dizzy spells and began to faint. By that time, we started to feel hungry, exhausted, and a little weak. We had to find food, water, and get some rest. We took turns in doing that.
At around 5 pm, our bus came to take us back to the compound where we were staying.
23 January 2010
8:30 a.m. Before our bus left for the hospital, the AHME group was again called together to discuss work strategies for that day. Not long after that, a group of nurses, doctors, and paramedics had ran down the narrow dusty street to attend to a young man who had wounds with sutures that was bleeding and needed attention. The earthquake traumatized young man who had previously been seen at the hospital, did not follow-up at a hospital or clinic because he had no way of getting there. He had no transportation, he said. Our AHME group finally got on the bus and headed for the hospital.
This day, just one more day since we had been in the hospital, it seemed like things were falling more into place. New tents were being put up on the hospital ground. Patients were being removed from the sidewalk and placed into the tents. Each tent became a specialized area attending to different types of injuries or illnesses. Again, we were fired up to work. We fell into a routine.
Our mission was to save as many lives, and prevent fatalities from wound infections. Towards the end of our trip, we felt that we had accomplished that mission. The lives that we touched were precious. We wish that we had the opportunity to do more.
So, we would like to encourage our American and International healthcare colleagues to do more - volunteer in Haiti and touch a life.
(Jennifer Townsend, http://healthmanagementventures.com/2.html).