The earthquake victims are still coming in great number to the hospital – people with pelvic, femur and arm fractures; dehydration, malnourishment; loss of consciousness, seizures, infected wounds and more.
The Camillian Hospital in Port au Prince is close to capacity – full of earthquake victims and their families. The staff is stressed, everyone is to one degree or another traumatized, and essentials like food are often difficult to find. Nevertheless, things go on: they have to. Many Haitians are used to surviving on little, but the earthquake has dealt them a serious blow and made things much worse.
The effects of the disaster are still very apparent – destroyed homes; people who are hungry and very sick: seizing because of a lack of food and water (I have already treated 3 of them); unable to walk because of fractures or amputations (half of our patients fall into this category); disoriented or even not communicating because of head trauma (after being hit by a falling object) or psychological shock (one man buried his wife, and then he totally shut down – becoming mute), etc.
For me as a Family Physician the number and the type of maladies we are seeing at the hospital is fascinating. But it is devastating from a human standpoint: people are really suffering and they need help. Resources are limited in what was already a very difficult situation before the earthquake. I have already sent four people to the US for further treatment. In fact, the very first patient I treated at the Hospital is somewhere in the States. When I arrived in Haiti, I surely didn’t expect that I would send my first patient to the US.
Patrick Tomeny and I arrived on Thursday, January 21. Neither one of us quite knew what awaited us. We settled in at the community, celebrated mass, etc. and then prepared for the next day. And it was quite a day at that.
After mass in the morning at 0630 with the Camillian community, I sent Patrick in the Camillian Hospital ambulance to look for patients in the surrounding area. He was aided by a driver who was able to navigate the poorer areas and tent communities of Port au Prince. The first patient they brought back that day was a woman who was unconscious and showed obvious signs of a neurologic event. She had been that way for days, and nobody brought her to the hospital. After looking for remediable causes for this woman’s condition and not finding any, I decided that she needed to be stabilized and have a CAT scan and further neurological treatment in another place: we sent her to the US the following morning. In fact, when I realized there was little more that I could do for this woman, I asked Deacon Vernan, MI to lead those of us gathered around her in prayer. The family joined us as we recited the Our Father in Creole. And our prayers went with her as the ambulance drove away. I hope the woman is in good hands – wherever she is. Welcome to post-earthquake medical care in Haiti – with a CTF-SOS DRS pastoral care touch.
The rest of the day gave me the opportunity to work together with a group of physicians from Italy, the Haitian staff and my fellow Camillians – 2 Italian priests, 1 priest from Haiti; another from Burkina Faso; and two deacons from Haiti – all working hard but traumatized themselves. In fact, several sleep outside at night for fear of another earthquake that would leave them trapped in a building. And at least 15 of the patients have refused to enter the hospital for the same reason.
The number of patients outside slowly increased through the day as Patrick brought them in with the ambulance.
And so did our collaboration with the local staff and the Italian physicians.
They had arrived that morning immediately after my first patient did – ready to help and quite competent: Paolo (an orthopedic surgeon); Giuseppe and Franco (general surgeons) and Gianni – a gastroenterologist who specializes in hospital administration. They were sent by a local Catholic Hospital – San Damiano. We immediately divided our forces – organizing ourselves and the patient care responsibilities.
We helped many people that day – working together in a coordinated and effective fashion despite limited resources and significant language challenges: at any one time one could hear 4 languages being spoken around the bed of a patient – English, French, Creole and Italian.
Patrick and I finished an exhausting day with a meal and praying the rosary during adoration in the community chapel. We hoped to make that a regular part of our experience in Haiti – ora et labora.
The mission continues. Stay tuned for more, and please keep praying.
To support the relief effort and help the victims of the earthquake in Haiti, click here. The people still have great needs, and we plan to serve these earthquake victims for a very significant amount of time – providing for their medical, humanitarian and pastoral needs. Please help us do that.