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On the Ground in Haiti: Notes from an Emergency Physician

The earthquake in Haiti has created a tremendous need for donations and support for the Haitian people. Emergency Physicians Monthly took the mission to heart. Editor Mark Plaster, MD went to Haiti and has been assisting in the relief effort since January 24.

In addition to my posts, I’m going to add Mark’s notes and pictures to this blog. They are a captivating insight into what is happening on the ground in Haiti.

The first edition is below.

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January 25: Getting to Work

When we got off the plane, Port-au-Prince was almost completely black. There is almost no light here. We unloaded the aircraft ourselves and it was just a giant scramble getting all the bags off. We had bags in seats and the inside of the aircraft was total chaos. It was shocking that we got all our gear off. We were met by a team Rubicon leader named Jake Wood, a 6′ 5″ ex-marine sniper who was now a medic. On his own, Jake had decided to come down to Haiti and help out. He’d grabbed a couple friends – some people he didn’t even know – grabbed some sleeping bags and flew to Santo Domingo, DR. They rented a car and just drove in to Port-au-Prince. They made a connection with a Jesuit Mission and just camped out in the mission yard and started seeing patients as fast as they could. They were cutting off limbs in the field . . . it was pretty chaotic when they first arrived. That’s when Jake Wood notified his father back in Michigan that they could use a second wave of team Rubicon. The team coalesced from all over the country – California, Texas, New York – and none of us know the other guys at all. We all just showed up and it’s been amazingly well organized. The team leader down here, Gary Cagle, is a medical logistics guy who worked with the U.N. He was able to put together a 501-c-3 in a matter of about four days and he raised about a quarter of a million dollars in order to bring a team down here and get the job done. So they showed up at the airport, we off-loaded all our gear and came over to the Jesuit Mission, everywhere was pitch black. They told us to throw our sleeping bags down on the ground and they’d introduce us in the morning when we could see everybody. All night long I could hear planes coming and going because the runway was so close. I could also hear babies crying, but it wasn’t until the next day that I learned that this was because the Jesuit mission is a refuge for the homeless.

Team Rubicon Bravo lines up for a photo before heading to Haiti.

Team Rubicon Bravo lines up for a photo before heading to Haiti.

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The Jesuit Mission itself is a gorgeous old Spanish-style building, but it is unusable. It’s about to fall down and nobody can actually go in it. It’s a tragedy. Everyone is now living and cooking out in the yard. There are about 40 of us here now but there is a whole group that is leaving today, surgeons who have been here for a while and have to go home. People are coming and going all the time. But it’s moving into a different stage at this point. We are now seeing wounds that were handled by people 5-10 days ago. I just took care of a little girl, probably three years old, who had her leg amputated traumatically and we were just cleaning up and redressing her wound. Whoever handled it initially didn’t try to do a true amputation they just kind of cleaned up the wound and took the rest of the leg off. We’ve seen fractures – I just treated a guy with a lower leg, tib fib fracture that was never set, never seen by anybody. Somebody just got him some crutches and he’s been limping around with an untreated fracture ever since. We’re using cardboard and duck tape to stabilize his fracture because it’s too late; we can’t get it to set at this point. The surgeons at the local hospital operated until 10pm last night and they had another 200 cases waiting for them. There’s a lot of open fractures down here, a lot of orthopedic work.

Team Rubicon leaders Jake Wood (L) and Larry Cagle
(pictured: Team Rubicon leaders Jake Wood (L) and Larry Cagle)

One serious problem down here is the lack of follow-up. Some docs are putting in external fixators, but they are leaving them with nobody scheduled to follow it up. A lot of people are walking around with X-rays and medical records and hoping that at some point somebody will take the bars off their legs.

Today we drove away from Port-au-Prince and found a place to park under some trees. We’ve got two trucks out here and just set up a bunch of chairs to see people. The people have been very obedient and calm, we just have to make sure we’re not passing out food and water. We don’t see starvation but people are certainly not happy. But at the same time in Port-au-Prince people are coming back out. They can be seen sitting outside eating and drinking.

…to be continued


4 Responses to “On the Ground in Haiti: Notes from an Emergency Physician”

  1. Great post… enjoyed reading Mark’s perspective of his travels to Haiti and look forward to more. Thank you for your firsthand look.

  2. I read reports from Haiti with my eyes squinted and head slightly turned away. It is so so so sad to hear the stories that are starting to come back from the medical volunteers.

    A definite eye opener was the comment about the post-external fixation’s that are seeking further help. What is going to happen to those people when the tv crews pack up and the volunteers have to go home? I shudder to think. Thank you for posting this despite how difficult it is to read.

  3. LL says:

    All of this plus more can be seen at badgerjake.blogspot.com going back to the first weekend after the earthquake. Probably about 50-60 posts in all. Amazing work they ALL have done at Team Rubicon.

    Tell the good doc thanks for doing what he is doing.

  4. nora friestad says:

    Hi. I am emergency trauma nurse wondering if there is anyone I can contact with regards to voluteering in the region.

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