| Jan 19, 2010
I leave for Haiti on a small jet with a team from Medical Teams International. The transportation and fuel is generously provided by a private company. We fly high above the other air traffic at 44,000 ft. and descend upon Port-au-Prince. We are given only a few short minutes to land and de-plane. Each ‘slot’ on the tarmac is timed and accounted for. Aircraft quickly land and take off making room for the next arrival. The roar of helicopters, jets, and massive Air Force cargo planes is deafening. UN vehicles and armed soldiers are everywhere. I see the American flag on a military ATV and am thankful that my country is already on the ground, responding to this disaster. I can’t help but notice all the wounded Haitians sitting under a tarp, lined up in chairs with casts and crutches, as though curiously watching this theatrical buzz of activity at the airport to pass away the time. Later I learn that these are only a few of the thousands of hopefuls trying to leave the country. I leave the airport, my pocket full of torn papers with names and addresses scribbled on them given to me by desperate people in the mob that presses in on us while we wait for transportation to headquarters.
King’s Hospital in Port-au-Prince has about 25 beds and new cracks in the walls that are being checked frequently by engineers. The building is yet unfinished. It wasn’t scheduled to open quite yet, but the earthquake changed that plan. Patients with broken bones, burns and unseen emotional trauma arrive in a constant stream. Many post-ops have their ‘bed’ outdoors in the dirt under the trees. Because of fear, many others would prefer to be outdoors. When the aftershocks come, people find their way outside… quickly. A young man in his 20’s is admitted, screaming in anguish and pain over his crushed great toe. The wound is infected. He will have to have an amputation. As I care for him, he breaks out in a familiar song, “This is the day. This is the day that the Lord has made, that the Lord has made. I will rejoice. I will rejoice and be glad in it”…He moans intermittently through the verses. This is the strength only God can give. I am amazed. In the operating room, the surgeons are completing their 4th amputation for the week. Then his case will begin.
I scrub into surgery with Dr.Lou Zirkle and his team. There is no electricity, no suction, and no X-Ray. The operating room is hot and humid. None of these obstacles seem to matter. Dr. Zirkle is gaining world renown for his SIGN method of internally fixating femur fractures in developing nations…and this disaster has provided hundreds of cases for his marvelous method to be put to use. At the end of the long day and only two cases, I am sopping wet and exhausted. Placing all my weight on the broken legs to give traction for several hours while the surgeons worked is quite a workout.
One little girl particularly moves our staff to action. She comes in with serious burns to her face and neck. She had felt the initial shaking of the quake and ran out of her house, only to be run over by a car, the hot exhaust pipe severely burning her fragile body. Miraculously, she got up and ran back into the house to save her mother just before the house collapsed. Medical Teams International was able to get her on a flight to Florida for follow-up burn care and grafting.
DISPLACED FAMILY ON GRASS AT BALOOSE
DR. STEVE REPLACES A SPLINT