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HomeNewsArchivesMarch 3: A View From Port-au-Prince

March 3: A View From Port-au-Prince

Swazi Clarity, a logistics volunteer for the USVI Haitian Relief mission, writes from Port-au-Prince to share her experiences at the Community Hospital of Haiti, where she is part of the St. Thomas-based team.

March 3, 2010

10 p.m.–The VIHR [VI Haitian Relief] team is out getting some food and as we walk back to our car, I see a familiar face–Chantal Candio, a perky and impeccably dressed nurse who is especially noticeable for her smiley cheerfulness. She is across the street, leaning against a car with a tarp attached to its roof and then to the wall of a big house. Another tarp is attached from wall to street level and a miniature Chantal pokes her head out and grins at us from underneath.
Candio explains that her house is a few blocks away, but “crumbled” so she and her family are living there on the street with cars and crowds passing within inches all day and all night. Next morning, I see her in a crisply ironed nurse’s uniform at the hospital pharmacy, briskly organizing prescriptions for her patients.
Chantal, her coworkers and a patchwork U.N. of foreign volunteers here at HCH [Haiti Community Hospital] are slowly returning to a semblance of pre-earthquake operation and adding services for the crushed and displaced: prosthetic and orthopedic clinics head the list.
Another needed adjustment is the storage and organization of the tons of medicines and medical supplies that have arrived from all over. Yesterday, VIHR volunteers and pharmacists taking stock found 26,000 pills in containers that had an unknown but seemingly Asian script on the labels. They asked a Korean-American doctor if he could read it: YES-he could see that it was in Korean but couldn’t read it. He took a photo with his iphone, emailed it to a Korean friend and within minutes we knew that we had a big load of Tylenol 500.
Next boxes? Russian dextrose solution (but with labels in Cyrillic and Arabic letters), German bandages, and… plastic gloves with 4-foot-long -plastic sleeves, seemingly more appropriate for artificially inseminating cows. All stored on shelves from Home Depot in St. Thomas under a tarp with big red letters identifying it as from the Iranian Red Cross, and neatly categorized and sorted by the VIHR volunteers of past weeks.
Below the pharmacy, St. Croix doctor and St. Thomas nurses set up the new orthopedic and wound clinics, replacing the triage area that they had set up in the days after the quake, all supplied by electricity from a generator repaired this week by a St. Thomas electrician. It is 6 a.m.: I write this sitting on the roof—dozens of patients sit below awaiting the 8:30 opening of the new clinics.

March 1, 2010

Mana Bontemps, a slender, attractive 23-year-old, who had half of her left foot amputated from an earthquake injury was leaving her wheelchair for the first time and was afraid to walk with the crutches. Her family and waiting patients, seated around the outdoor treatment area, were encouraging her, but her face was full of fear: chest heaving, eyes shut, she was holding back a sob. She took a few steps then the tears came. She wasn’t in pain: it was a moment of facing the grim reality of the gone foot.
A German and an Austrian doctor plea in chorus: Come on, Come on, you can do it. With a deep breath, she moved forward and kept going speedily down the hallway and towards the stairway. The other patients followed and when she started to climb the stairs, a cheer broke out. She turned, eyes screwed shut again, but this time it was a prelude to a giant laugh and smile.
Leah Coffman, of the VI Haitian Relief (VIHR), coached her to walk the stairs with and without railings and fitted a stump reducer to shrink the tissues in preparation for a prosthesis.
Two prosthetic teams are arriving in the next few weeks and it is crucial that the amputees’ stumps are reduced so the prostheses can fit properly. Leah will spend the next week doing this.
Formerly of Schneider Hospital, Leah is the first such specialist to work here; she will start with inpatients and then move on to those who have responded to a radio announcement organized by VIHR, who will also send volunteers to the nearby tent cities, housing the patients who received over 600 amputation or joint surgeries by our team in the initial weeks after the earthquake.

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