Hell exists and its address is Port-au-Prince, Haiti. It is not a place populated by sinners. No, it is filled with a millions of beautiful souls, who's only crime was the bad luck of being born in a place of such abject poverty and filth. A place where starvation abounds. A place where people live in hovels. A place where a newborn child has a good chance of contracting typhoid, or malaria, or polio. A place that, until now, had no medical care available for its millions of impoverished people.
Add to those conditions a devastating earthquake that destroyed what little the people did have.
This is the face of Haiti.
This is the image that touched our souls as we entered this place of disease, despair, and devastation.
Port-au-Prince has no sanitation department as far as I could tell. Words cannot describe the amount of trash that has filled that city. These pictures are an accurate description, however....
There is a system of canals that traverse the city. These canals are filled with trash... styrofoam food containers, soda bottles...more trash than I have ever seen. Just having to look at so much trash was depressing. I can hardly imagine what it must be like to live amongst the rubbish.
Invariably, in these canals, you would also see sights like this....
I thought I would share my pictures of the hospital with you. We were stationed at the Adventist Hospital in Carrefour, which is a part of Port-au-Prince and one of the hardest hit areas by the earthquake. The hospital suffered no damage.
Ordinarily this is a hospital for paying patients. Most of the people of Port-au-Prince cannot afford to pay for healthcare and there is no government subsidized healthcare in Haiti. So, until the earthquake, the common person had no access to care. After the quake, the government mandated that care be free for 6 months. That meant that none of the medical staff would be paid. Most of the Haitian doctors left the country and went to the Dominican Republic. Some of the nurses stayed and volunteer their time. The hospital relies upon volunteer staff to care for the huge numbers of patients that have flocked there since the earthquake.
Here is a little tour of the facility....
The pre-op ward:
The post-op ward:
Overflow into the halls:
The medical/surgical floor:
(also overflows into the hall)
Hospital tents....house more patients on the grounds:
The hospital laundry facility:
Insect control in the OR:
The pediatric ward:
This facility is as nice as it gets in Haiti. What you don't see in these pictures are the leaks in the roof when it rains, the many brown-outs during the day when electricity fails, and the obvious lack of equipment, like wheelchairs, transport litters, IV poles etc.
Thanks to generous donations of medical supplies from all around the world, however, we did have the supplies we needed to get the job done....a little ingenuity and imagination helped when we didn't have exactly what we needed.
What I find saddest, though, is that this free healthcare will eventually end. The hospital will have to go back to its "fee for services" status. I cannot help but wonder what will happen to these poor people at that point.
Each morning we rose early and started our day with granola bars, peanut butter, and bottled water that we had brought from home. A couple more granola bars were packed in a bag to get us through the day. We boarded the "tap-tap"
which took us a mile or so to the Adventist Hospital.
My mornings were spent running the Orthopedic Clinic. Patients would line up at 8 o'clock, take a number, and wait to be seen.
Here we would follow up with previous surgeries, take off casts and external fixation devices, change dressings and evaluate symptoms for people that had never had access to health care before. Several people we saw ended up having surgery the next day....infections were a big problem.
While I was in the clinic, Jack would be in the Operating Room.
Between cases, he would come to clinic and see patients there.
By two o'clock each day, the clinic line would be gone and I would head to the O.R. to help out in whatever capacity I could.
Assisting with surgery was a treat for me. When asked how he liked scrubbing with his wife, Jack replied, "It's great! It's the only time I get to be completely in charge."
Then when surgeries were complete, we did some organizational tasks in the operating room...dealing with the large volume of medical supplies that have come in from all over the world.
Then, back on the "tap-tap",
and we headed back to our hotel accommodations...complete with running water (albeit mostly cold water) (We brought a mosquito net along with us.) This hotel was the only one I saw in all of the city. It had suffered no damage in the earthquake. And although the rooms were relatively stark, it was quite luxurious compared to what was just over the wall from us. This whole hotel was full of relief workers.
Security around the hotel was tight...
Dinner (a very limited menu of Haitian pizza, spaghetti, or chicken) never tasted so good to us. By 8PM we were famished and exhausted. Notice most of us holding ourselves up with our elbows on the table!
Then off to bed for a good night's sleep....another busy day ahead of us.
PS: We had the option of staying at the hospital or the hotel. If we had chosen the hospital these would have been our quarters.....
April 9, 2010 a group of 7 doctors, nurses and volunteers left central Pennsylvania and flew to Haiti... a joint medical mission through Cure International and World Surgical Foundation. I was fortunate enough to be a part of that group. Our mission was to bring free medical care to the earthquake victims and poor of that most unfortunate country. Join me as I chronicle that trip.....
Many thanks for the encouraging words before our trip. It helped to sustain us during this heart wrenching experience.
Helping to Bring Medical Care to the World
Bringing healthcare to children all over the world