Snagged from EPM Monthly. EPM's executive editor Mark Plaster, MD, arrived in Haiti on January 24th to assist in the relief effort. This is his account.
January 25: Getting to Work in Port-au-Prince
“When we got off the plane, Port-au-Prince was almost completely black. There is almost no light here. We unloaded the aircraft ourselves and it was just a giant scramble getting all the bags off. We had bags in seats and the inside of the aircraft was total chaos. It was shocking that we got all our gear off. We were met by a team Rubicon leader named Jake Wood, a 6' 5" ex-marine sniper who was now a medic. On his own, Jake had decided to come down to Haiti and help out. He’d grabbed a couple friends – some people he didn't even know – grabbed some sleeping bags and flew to Santo Domingo, DR. They rented a car and just drove in to Port-au-Prince. They made a connection with a Jesuit Mission and just camped out in the mission yard and started seeing patients as fast as they could. They were cutting off limbs in the field . . . it was pretty chaotic when they first arrived. That's when Jake Wood notified his father back in Michigan that they could use a second wave of team Rubicon. The team coalesced from all over the country – California, Texas, New York – and none of us know the other guys at all. We all just showed up and it's been amazingly well organized. The team leader down here, Gary Cagle, is a medical logistics guy who worked with the U.N. He was able to put together a 501-c-3 in a matter of about four days and he raised about a quarter of a million dollars in order to bring a team down here and get the job done. So they showed up at the airport, we off-loaded all our gear and came over to the Jesuit Mission, everywhere was pitch black. They told us to throw our sleeping bags down on the ground and they’d introduce us in the morning when we could see everybody. All night long I could hear planes coming and going because the runway was so close. I could also hear babies crying, but it wasn’t until the next day that I learned that this was because the Jesuit mission is a refuge for the homeless."
"The Jesuit Mission itself is a gorgeous old Spanish-style building, but it is unusable. It's about to fall down and nobody can actually go in it. It's a tragedy. Everyone is now living and cooking out in the yard. There are about 40 of us here now but there is a whole group that is leaving today, surgeons who have been here for a while and have to go home. People are coming and going all the time. But it's moving into a different stage at this point. We are now seeing wounds that were handled by people 5-10 days ago. I just took care of a little girl, probably three years old, who had her leg amputated traumatically and we were just cleaning up and redressing her wound. Whoever handled it initially didn't try to do a true amputation they just kind of cleaned up the wound and took the rest of the leg off. We've seen fractures – I just treated a guy with a lower leg, tib fib fracture that was never set, never seen by anybody. Somebody just got him some crutches and he's been limping around with an untreated fracture ever since. We're using cardboard and duck tape to stabilize his fracture because it's too late; we can't get it to set at this point. The surgeons at the local hospital operated until 10pm last night and they had another 200 cases waiting for them. There's a lot of open fractures down here, a lot of orthopedic work.
One serious problem down here is the lack of follow-up. Some docs are putting in external fixators, but they are leaving them with nobody scheduled to follow it up. A lot of people are walking around with X-rays and medical records and hoping that at some point somebody will take the bars off their legs.
Today we drove away from Port-au-Prince and found a place to park under some trees. We've got two trucks out here and just set up a bunch of chairs to see people. The people have been very obedient and calm, we just have to make sure we're not passing out food and water. We don't see starvation but people are certainly not happy. But at the same time in Port-au-Prince people are coming back out. They can be seen sitting outside eating and drinking."