Hôpital Albert Schweitzer Haiti

Saving Lives, Changing Lives

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Last night, the Orthopedics team from Atlanta arrived at 7 PM, following a bone-jarring, 5-hour truck ride from Cap Haitin, the only airport which is open to civilian airplanes. After a quick shower, they did rounds in the hospital and set up a schedule for operations today. This morning, they sey up in one of the operating rooms - the team had a complete staff, with surgeons, anesthesiologists, and and OR nurses, and they brought a large number of bags with surgical supplies, pain medicines and antibiotics. The Haitian surgical team is in the other operating room.

Also, late last night, a surgical team arrived from Sherbrooke University in Montreal. The surgeons attended surgical rounds and then settled in the third operating room, and were joined by their anesthesiologist and nurses. Each of the visiting teams represent an ideal model for post-disaster medical care; they can operate autonomously, in parallel with our permanent staff, and under the overall direction of the HAS chief of surgery, Dr. Exe, they can cooperate in clearing the remaining backlog of surgical cases from the erthquake of a week ago. Later in the morning, a young Canadian anesthesiologist showed up, having hitchhiked from Port au Prince, and was quickly installed in the operating suite.

With this complement of permanent and visiting medical and nursing staff, it will be possible to complete the clinical management of almost all of the patients from the earthquake that have arrived at our location. By the weekend, we assume that the hospital will return to its normal, busy level of activity, and the visiting teams can begin to return, or in several cases, to go into Port au Prince to support several of the international clinical efforts there. Although we continue to receive offers of help from surgeons and other clinicians, for the moment, Dr. Maibach has suggested that we will not accommodate these offers until it is possible to assess the remaining needs, both at HAS and also in the capital.

With the support of the visiting specialist teams, a small degree of normalcy has returned to the wards, and the fulltime staff can invest more of their time on the needs of our patients who are unrelated to the earthquake. Care was provided to all patients by all doctors, with out regard to specialization. Now, the pediatric team can convene to plan the care of their patients, as can the adult medicine group, and the social residents, who arrived several days before the quake, can be reallocated to specific services.

Drs. Hyppolite and Heyliger, whose normal assignment has been with the Community Health service, are in Port au Prince, visiting the storehouses of donated materials and pharmaceuticals which have been sent from around the world, with a check list of our current needs. There does not appear to be a central point of coordination, so they run into representatives of other health organizations as they make their rounds. As Haitians, when they arrived on foot to the depots, the multinational UN guards which are stationed at all of the depots refused to let them in. Once we were able to send them a HAS car, they are waved through graciously, and have been able to address some of our most acute shortages.

For the patients who have been waiting so patiently for more than a week, the additional clinical activity has given them strength, knowing that soon it will also be their turn to proceed down the hall to the operating suite.

Going Home: All through the day, patients leave their beds in the post-operative unit or the wards, cleared for travel home. Family members collect the bedding and clothes and follow the patients as they are wheeled to the exit. They are pleased to be finished with this ordeal, but also face what awaits them with trepidation - they don't know if they have a home, or who will be there when they arrive. As their bodies heal, their lives also will require a healing process.