Haiti through a Doctor’s Eyes

Douglas Green is an anesthesiologist in his 50’s, working in Haiti. The following are his words and his experiences. We thank Doug for allowing us to imagine the work going on in Haiti through the eyes of the medical personnel on the front lines.

“A disaster of heartbreaking proportions. The trauma team from Hospital for Special Surgery. Did we do a hundred surgeries? Many amputations. But many limb-saving procedures too. Synthes corp. gave us a jet and many hundreds of thousands of $ in ortho equipment. The place stank of rotting flesh. Patients in the corridors and courtyards with the most outrageous injuries. By the end of the second day the smell had cleared. Other teams were there. An orthopedist from the Dom Repub. named Scott Nelson (what a hero), Dr. Bacot and a great team from St. Thomas. Medics from France, Mission of Hope team (USA), medics from Australia (what is it about Aussies that is so encouraging? They make it feel like victory in the middle of catastrophe). A Jamaican trio was very welcome. They came and went but they had 3 machine guns. Nights were lonely. Gunfire. Rachel and Gabriel Coupaud (angels) ferried us to their parents house in shifts to sleep. Fed us. Neighbors contributed food (would you give up your cache of food when there is little hope of more?). Slept 6 hours in 4 days.

An anesthesia nightmare. No heart monitor. BP cuff, semi-functional anesthesia circuit (gas vaporizors rusted shut) and pulse oximeters (ours) in two rooms. Got two other rooms going with an anesthesiologist from FT. Myers (Bob Thornton?) No monitor. No BP cuff. No pulse ox til I pieced one together from parts in a storage room unfortunately located next to the place where the amputated limbs were being dumped. That’s a smell that will buckle your knees. We brought a ton of stuff but we had to open more rooms to handle the load. Spinals and generals in the 2 rooms with the possibility of positive pressure ventilation (pop-off valves semi functional, CO2 absorbent last changed who knows when). Nerve blocks in the other 2 rooms. Haitians are beautiful people….In the streets they thank you. Those poor people. They had nothing and it was taken from them.

Don’t believe the TV coverage. The US presence is only just getting started. Mostly around the airport and the embassy where you can get medical care if you have a US passport. But thank God they took over the air traffic control. Flight in was like a Coney island ride. Told to circle without an altitude assigned or a pattern. Much better on the way out. Team exhausted and melting down. Our exit plan fell apart when US military assigned our flight a landing slot but then cancelled it (not unreasonable, I’m sure. They prioritized my getting out a little lower than I did). We were on our way to the D.R. in a truck with maybe a bus to take us to maybe… maybe… . My Haitian born partner (Kethy Jules-Elysee) went to the airport and found that we had a good chance there. A beautiful Haitian girl got us onto the tarmac. Pilots from everywhere offering rides back. Pilot culture is the best. How do you want to go? C130 or 737? Hitched a ride to Montreal. Good night for now.

Oh, we did a c-section on the way out the door. Doctor culture is cool too. Haitian OB-GYN and one of our Orthopedic Fellows. In the middle of Hell on earth the OB didn’t just do the case. He talked the fellow through it and then closed. Always educating. Resuscitated the baby. Extubated him and put him in mommy’s arms with colleagues shouting “we got to go. We got to go!”
I have to go to sleep.”

~Douglas Green


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