Children’s nurse Michael Felber came to Haiti on March 15, where he’s been working in the town of Fond Parisian. On Monday, he joined the Global Surgical team in Cange. Here, he reflects on his experience so far.
Being in Haiti is a little like the fable of the three blind men and the elephant – each of them had different experiences based on what they encountered. In someways things look a lot like most Latin American countries- it’s hot, the cities are crowded, the people are wonderful. Port au Prince looked mostly ok from the air, but then when you look closer you can see that some areas are rubble, and there are tents everywhere, even where the buildings are standing. The tents here at the field hospital are easily over 100 degrees, but many people are still afraid to go inside buildings. The kids here are wonderful – big friendly smiles, love to play soccer, make kites. Still pretty much everyone has lost family members. Many don’t have homes to go to, and rainy season is coming soon. Its hard to imagine that possible a quarter of a million people died in the earthquake and the days after. Where do you go from there? One of the patients said to me, “I’ll see you tomorrow, if god is willing”. The hospital is well run, especially considering how many people are coming and going. The pharmacy is as organised as I have seen anywhere. There are electronic medical records, although much simpler and more user friendly than ours. You have to be comfortable stepping out of your comfort zone. Tonight I am covering the night shift in Triage. It’s like an ER in a tent, hopefully more quiet now that everyone has gone to sleep.
The large white tents are being put up to shelter people during the rainy season, which is due within a month. I slept for about an hour last night while things were quiet in triage. There is a daily outdoor church service with loud singing and clapping at 4 am every morning, so lots of people were up early. We got an urgent call to see a thirty year old man who had had a recent surgery to his leg. He was crying in pain and fear. His bandage had saturated with bloody drainage, and started to come loose. I think besides the pain the blood scared him, but it stopped after I rewrapped the bandage. We brought him up to the triage clinic, started an IV ( I will be good at putting ivs in by flashlight if this keeps up) and gave him morphine and IV fluids. I rewrapped his bandage and helped him calm down. Deep breathing works as well here as anywhere else. A few other patients came in a very sweet 13 year old girl with a repaired femur fracture who couldn’t sleep because of pain, but was comfortable after having two ibuprofens.
working outside their comfort zone and area of expertise to some extent.
I went to the evening church service, which is held at the bottom of the rows of patient tents. There was a band the music was like a blend of reggae and gospel. People danced and sang along. When the prayers started a little girl sitting next to me motioned for me to bow my head. When you work in health care, you get used to seeing injuries and disability and suffering. There are all kinds of ways of distancing yourself emotionally from it you have to. Every time I look around here I see people with amputations, with external fixators, with disabilities of different degrees. None of that really bothers me it is what it is. But there was something about standing with all of those people as they sang and danced and prayed that really moved me. Life really does go on. This afternoon after I woke up I saw a teenage couple, both with external fixators and crutches, holding
hands like teenagers do all over the world.
We organized the pharmacy stock room over the last few days. The stock room was
really testimony to how chaotic the response to disasters can be. There are medications from all over the world, some of which are familiar and some that aren’t licensed in the U.S. There are too many of some medications and not enough of others. We have thousands of doses of Lasix, a diuretic mostly used for elderly patients and heart patients. We have been using the boxes to hold up tables. Still, we got the job done, and I will be able to bring some of our extras to Cange tomorrow.
Parisian, there are a lot of wounds and amputations. I worked with two young women amputees. Their makeup, hair, and clothes were perfect. They had done up their prosthetic legs with stockings and pretty shoes. We called them the princesses. One was a double amputee. She walked up a very steep and long hill with me. I suggested she sit down and enjoy being outside. Out came the hairbrushes and gel, and I realized it was
going to be a long physical therapy session. After an hour of socializing and hair braiding she refused a wheelchair for the trip back down the steep hill. Two of us walked her down, and she did great. She’ll be able to leave soon. I hope she has a good place to go to.