Dr. Christian Arbelaez, an emergency physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital, has gone to Haiti with a team that will work with Partners In Health in St. Marc to help victims of last month's earthquake. Here is his first dispatch.
I am writing in the dark using a head light with dogs barking in the background. It's the end of day 1 and it's all about logistics.
I met the team at terminal B in Logan as they, one by one, arrived with their equipment. The team consists of doctors from emergency medicine (me), orthopedics, plastic surgery, general surgery, and anesthesia. We also have 5 nurses and a Haitian Creole interpreter. Feeling anxious and eager to help at the same time but not knowing what lied ahead. It was interesting for me to see how such a diverse group of people with different experiences had come together and how quickly we had broken the ice.
In Miami, we were ushered into the Opa Locka airport to a charter plane that was helping medical teams and their supplies reach Haiti. In flight, I began mentally preparing for the sheer volume of what I was going to experience and a step back in time from a medical standpoint. From now on, I was going to only rely on my medical history and physical examination. No labs, maybe an x-ray, a portable ultrasound machine that I brought, and limited medications. The ultimate test for a physician under the worst imaginable conditions.
Approaching [Port-au-Prince] from the air, it looked like quiet, still, almost eerie knowing what we knew. The Caribbean sea was gorgeous, deep, and blue. The mountains majestic, reaching for the clouds.
We landed at 12:00 sharp. The conditions on the ground were far from peaceful. It was a military zone with jeeps and trucks moving back and forth, choppers flying just over our heads, and in the middle of it all Ė a tent city. The midday heat was sweltering as we made our way to the Haitian immigration and then fighting through the crowds to board our [Partners In Health] bus.
As we drove to headquarters and then onward to St. Marc, I was struck by the level of destruction from the earthquake on top of the poverty and the number of people, including children, who were either walking or standing outside. I guess it feels safe to be outdoors after what just happened.
I canít seem to get their faces out of my mind - faces of hope, despair, joy, sadness, fear, and resilience. I think often about my children as I see a 12-year-old playing soccer, a 9-year-old carrying what looks like a 30 pound bag of rice. I think about how we are standing with PIH, and hoping to rebuild a better Haiti.
Day 1: It was all about logistics: team dynamics, equipment, supplies, and understanding and adapting to our new environment. The rooster crowing outside seemed to agree.
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