So here I am, sitting down at my desk to write my usual neurotic drivel, whining about the challenge of finding natural bedding, how the CEO of Whole Foods may, in fact, be the devil, and blahblahblah, wahwahwah, when I get an email from my friend, Peggy. She’s a doctor and writer who flew to the Dominican Republic to work with Children of the Nations (COTN), providing medical care at a hospital near the border of Haiti.
Here are some excerpts from the email.
The first two quakes on Saturday night caused all 350 patients in the hospital to evacuate themselves to the yard. EVERYONE left their rooms with their belongings, mattresses–hobbling on amputated legs, being carried by family members, jumping off the balconies. You name it, they got OUT of there–utter pandemonium and the most raw panic I have ever seen. Now we have all patients in a self-made tent city on the dirt and gravel. It is unbelievably difficult to deliver care to open wounds in the dirt, but we’re doing it. Today, a few patients were convinced to go back in the building. Tonight, no sooner than we had finally achieved some sort of order–in conjunction with the day shift–the 3rd quake occurred. Now the hospital is totally empty again and no one–I guarantee it–will be convinced to go inside again.
COTN has a very nice clinic, constantly staffed by top-notch docs in Barahona. COTN has committed to provide/pay for all of the medical needs for 11 children, provide housing for the kids and their families and then help the families relocate in Haiti when they are healed. Believe me when I say it was like moving heaven and earth to get the Dominican Republic to allow a bunch of wounded Haitian kids into the interior of their country.
But the worst was that Vicki and I were given the very difficult and heartbreaking task of picking out 11 children to bring back to Barahona. I cannot tell you how hard it was to wander through the tent city that had grown up in front of the hospital knowing we could only take 11 kids. The word got out quickly and parents began following us around, begging us to take their kids. The grief Vicki and I have shared … Well… you can imagine. Or, maybe not. This day job was performed after crawling around in the dirt all the previous night trying to keep wounds clean and was followed by a very long evening caring for a 3 month old baby. The baby had been buried under 4 collapsed stories and the 5 dead bodies of her family and she was brought to us by her auntie. The baby was critically dehydrated and had gangrene of her thigh. It is an absolute miracle she didn’t die last night. Vicki and I took turns at her bedside, (we took care of her in an O.R. instead of in the dirt) in between trying to arrange the transport out of those 11 children, and worked until 1 a.m. when a wonderful, merciful surgeon from our team and a nurse from another offered to relieve us. 4 hours sleep never felt so good.
This morning we tagged and listed all the kids and the family members accompanying them and got them staged and ready for evacuation. I made one last trip through the tent hospital to say goodbye to some patients I had come to know. I can only justify the taking of the few with the knowledge that there is no way we can help everyone. I know the powers that be are working hard to get the critical patients out of there, but there are so many that are not considered ‘critical’ enough to be relocated. I have no idea what will happen to those people, but devastating infection is high on the list given the conditions.
The Puerto Rican arm of the US Air Force provided us 2 Blackhawk helicopters to evacuate the kids and their family members to Barahona. Vicki flew in one helicopter with half the people, I flew in the other. I have to admit it was pretty damn cool to fly in a Blackhawk helicopter—I only wish it was under different circumstances.
This afternoon, members of a new COTN medical team that arrived in Barahona yesterday are getting the kids bathed and ready for some serious wound dressing changes. The smell of infected flesh is everywhere. One of the happiest experiences of my life was walking into that clinic this morning with all those injured kids and seeing THREE PEDIATRIC ICU NURSES had arrived with the newest team. Wow!! Exactly what we needed! Not only that, but it is such a relief to have these kids in a place where we can actually get them clean, care for them properly and hopefully save any remaining limbs that they have.
Go ahead. Take a minute. Pull yourself together.
No more compulsive, self-centered, naval-gazing for me today. There are babies to be saved. Did you hear me? Peggy is saving babies. Saving. Babies.
It’s hard to know what to do about Haiti, how to help, where to give. You can see the work Peggy’s team is doing. You can make a donation here.
Go do it. Now.