Images From Haiti Earthquake Relief
Dr. Paul Burke and his medical team worked out of a makeshift operating room during their recent relief effort in Haiti. (Courtesy of Dr. Paul Burke)
First things first. Roosters do not crow only at dawn. Those suckers go all night long. Talk about a cacophony! Dogs, cows, roosters, goats nonstop.
Beef jerky for breakfast.
Hot and muggy.
Rode through town on the way to our clinic. The devastation was phenomenal, but to be honest the nonstop CNN coverage over the past couple of weeks did prepare us for the visuals. What it couid not prepare us for was the smell of decaying bodies buried under the rubble.
Stopped at the Cuban medical tent. These guys are tough, but with a great sense of humor.
The smiles on the faces of the children are priceless, particularly considering their lot in life. I must admit that given the abject poverty, no organized health care, and a life expectancy of 49, I was very surprised to see how beautiful the Haitian population is.
The medical compound consists of a number of white tents, constructed by Doctors Without Borders. I had not known much about this organization until today. They are a truly international outfit, and require a commitment of at least 6 months. My analogy would be that these guys are regular army, and we are the reserves. Worked all day with a general surgeon from Argentina. He is a ruggedly handsome guy, smokes like a chimney, about 40, no family, and worked in a successful private practice back in South America for a few years. He joined Doctors Without Borders 2 years ago, and has not been home since. His last assignment was Africa. He is paid about 2 thousand dollars a year. This guy is a hero and a saint.
There are a couple of camera crews from CNN who followed us around the medical compound. I pushed them off onto Peter Roman who is working like a madman.
Peter actually missed the van back to our quarters. This is actually more serious than you might imagine. We have no idea where we are staying, there are no taxis, we do not speak the language, and he has no cell phone coverage. With respect to the language, Creole is unlike anything you have heard. There is no resemblance to French much to my surprise. Whenever one is about to travel to a foreign country, you are always told “they all speak English.” Not the case here. Believe me. Only 40 percent of the nation is even literate.
Our liaison sent someone back for him, and they fortunately hooked up. He returned on the back of a moped. While stopped in traffic, a man came up and tried to pull his wallet out of his back pocket. Peter threatened him with his bandage scissors, and successfully thwarted the robbery.
One thing I find amusing. There is a big, burly Haitian fellow who I believe is one of our security detachment. His cell phone ringtone is Celine Dion’s “I’m Your Lady, You are My Man.” Every time it goes off I chuckle, but he doesn't seem to think it's funny.
First case this morning was an adorable 12 year old girl who was buried under the rubble for 8 hours. She had massive crush injuries to her legs. She has been taken to the OR every few days to remove a little more of the dead muscle. Her surgery is performed under a local anesthetic of sorts. We were told ahead of time that she sings softly to herself through the surgery, and when the pain gets a little worse, she sings a little louder. Sure enough, she had the most beautiful voice, and was quite brave. When I went to see her post-op, I told her I enjoyed her singing. She gave me an embarrassed smile, and a thumbs up. That could make the most hardened person melt.
The OR is quite interesting. Our assistants speak not one word of English. There are flies all around, which VJ is getting good at swatting away. We finished our first case, and the Haitian nurses came over, lifted her up off the OR table, and placed her on another table 2 feet away. We quickly found out that that was where the patient was recovered. We did our next case with the previous patient in the “recovery room” an arm’s length away.
When we first went into the OR, I was concerned that the Haitian nurses would resent Deann invading their turf. Thank God they didn't. Again, they didn't speak a word of English and Deann was great.
We had a seven year old girl who had a tonsillectomy just before the quake. She had some trauma to the neck during the earthquake, and came in today with an enormous neck abscess. Called my good friend, and ENT surgeon extradinaire Arthur Lauretano, for a cell phone consult. He advised me expertly from thousands of miles away .
We were told at the end of the evening, in a nice way, that we had worked too hard and too late into the evening. Apparently the Haitian nurses are not paid to work past 4 p.m. and things usually shut down. I hope the ORs in Lowell don't hear that.
Goat for dinner. Very good.