Friday, February 19, 2010


Yesterday we were strangers. Five of us -- replacement medical volunteers -- flew over the wreckage of Port au Prince in our charter jet, filled to capacity with donated medications and medical supplies. The devastation of the earthquake was overwhelming from the air, stretching miles beyond the boundaries of the tightly packed city. Structure upon structure visible from above, collapsed and toppled. Overwhelming.

I recall playing monopoly as a child with my sister...when the game got out of hand, and tempers flared, and the hotels and houses were lifted and thrown askew when a frustrated hand slammed down upon the board. Whose great fist slammed into Haiti on January 12th, 2010? Why? Overwhelming.

We rode in the back of a truck through the streets from the airport. Air was thick with the smell of burning garbage. Passports stamped in the archway of the now abandoned airport facility , gigantic cracks splitting the face of the building serve as a a first sign of the earthquake. We pass the massive white tents of the Miami Medical Center's field hospital -- Port au Prince's temporary ED. Piles of rubble where mason walls used to stand. Roofs of buildings now 3 feet high. Who was crushed inside in an instant when the fist fell?

We arrive at our field hospital as the sun sets. 30+ inpatients silently watch the newcomers enter the darkened courtyard-turned -tarp covered hospital. They are quiet, respectful. Tired. Blank faces. Kind faces. Traumatized, inward looking faces. A community of injured, cots several feet apart, some sleeping, some consoling one another. There are babies here -- a tiny infant born by c-section from a mother with an open book pelvic fracture; mom was flown to the USS Comfort. A miracle. Baby survived. A miracle. Mom is learning to walk again, slowly by slowly. Casts and amputations and metalic external fixators protruding from the skin of broken limbs. Bandaged children. Dogs wander about and sleep in curled up circles. A boy recovering from a skull fracture...found in a crushed building days after the earthquake, his dead parents by his side. The stories go on an on.

Many had emergency surgeries in the days after the quake and were released to the crumpled streets. Our hospital sends a truck into the neighborhoods every other day to check on patients we can find...lying without sanitation on tent floors with healing surgical wounds and protruding metal hardware, new infections, new babies, diarrhea, malaria. And, of course, the emotional shock and devastating loss. Blank eyed patients with no families left, homes now rubble. Children with massive injuries, recovering from massive life-saving surgeries. Many orphaned. Frightened. Emotionally devastated. Some with amazing, beautiful smiles. One boy, now orphaned, with a non-functioning right arm and a large head wound, smiles at me and teaches me a secret handshake with his left.... touch fists straight on, above, below and then strike the chest. We practice till I get it right. He giggles. I giggle. Did his father teach him that? Who will be his father now?

So many femur fractures and pelvic fractures and amputations. Gigantic forces cause these injuries. Gigantic. So many stories of these patients trapped for days before being found. And now here they are, in our gentle tree lined courtyard under the stars. A mix of American medical volunteers, yesterday strangers, today making it work somehow.

Today our medical team found a young woman with a 17 day old baby in the field. A three pound baby. The baby was dying. Dehydrated. Heart rate and oxygen level and glucose dangerously low. Small red spots of petechia -- meaning life threatening infection -- appeared on his body in front of our eyes. Together our team, led by our physician, a volunteer pediatrician, with innovation and urgency, were able to stabilize him with our limited supplies. We packed his fragile body into a truck and drove to Miami tent hospital, begging them to take him to stabilize him with their more advanced tools and supplies. The tents have perhaps a hundred patients each. The staff are exhausted. They take the baby. Overwhelming.

The world needs to hear -- as I did tonight -- the strangled, sobbing wails of a young mother, who fears for the life of her dying infant, one final loss in an intolerable string of losses. The deep, soul-baring, sobbing wail of a mother losing her only child, going on and on, mile after mile, in a darkened truck, street after crumpled street in the tropical smoky night. The world needs to hear this. Infatiguable fear and grief.

It is the sound of the devastation that is Haiti.

In the dark, we returned from our journey to our field hospital, our souls now overwhelmed with the young mother's devastation. As we opened the metal gate from the dirt road, in the darkened tented courtyard, we found our the patients singing loudly in deep prayer, arms raised and swaying over their heads. They had called the medical staff to the courtyard...and were singing to them. A deep soulful harmonious blessing. Nurses stood, stunned, eyes filling with tears, as their patients -- broken, suffering, tormented -- rose up in song, honoring them, praying for them.

So is the sound of the soul of Haiti. The sound of suffering and pain. The sound of hope, and joy, and love, and strength. Haiti...Such a strong word.

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