19 Jan.

Amputations, dead bodies piled up on the streets, a decayed leg found on the ground, the pungent smell of infection and death, crying children in severe pain… To put it simply, today was a very long and hard day!

Despite the overall upbeat spirit of the team, there are times when your idealism is unfortunately overshadowed by the grim reality.  So contrary to my normal perpetual optimism, I will be blunt:  the situation in Haiti is indeed catastrophic… Scratch that, it is apocalyptical!

So pardon me if this journal entry is not consistent with my usual writing style… The truth is, I’m exhausted, running on pure adrenaline at this point… And yet so much work has yet to be done…I’ll try to be as realistic as possible because in the end, these stories, photos and personal anecdotes will hopefully help to depict just how grave the situation really is!

After what felt like an eventful and productive day, I woke up eager to get started this morning to make some serious progress on setting up our clinic at Delmas 33, one of the worst hit areas of Port au Prince.  Surely, our input would be most beneficial there.  The rest of the surgical team, along with close to 5 tons of medical supplies were scheduled to arrive later that day which would give us plenty of time to not only prepare for their arrival by securing the logistics but would also give Richard, our surgical team leader, an opportunity to get stationed there for the day to help some of the many injured who most desperately need medical attention.  As he accurately put it, the medical focus, at this point, has shifted from mostly lower limb trauma to dealing with infected wounds – a complication that is, under normal circumstances, so easily treatable – or preventable for that matter!

I was really excited to support Richard today and ensure that he would be able to perform his job to the best of his ability… Unfortunately, it’s not that simple – it never is in an emergency!  With an assessment team of five of us for the time being, there are so many tasks to be done and so many different hats to wear.  So this morning, after dropping off Richard at the Merlin site in Delmas 33, I was en route, with our trusty driver, Gerard to the CNN hotel to drop off some of our video footage, as requested by  one of their production crew in the US.  As I entered the seemingly luxurious hotel compound (anything seems luxurious I suppose after camping out on an uneven rocky patch of dirt in the far end of the UN compound while sharing a filthy bathroom with about 500 people!), I was reminded that even the big guys (i.e. CNN) were dealing with pure chaos!  No one seemed to be able to point me in the right direction, not even Anderson or Sanjay!  So after bouncing around from one clueless segment producer to the next, I eventually gave up and just transferred all the video material I had on someone, anyone’s computer… I had to get back to Delmas to support Richard – it was, dare I say, slightly more important than waiting around for indignant press officers!

On the way back to Delmas, Gerard shared a story with me, which I will never forget.  As I asked him about the Earthquake, where he was at the time, if everyone in his family was ok, etc… , he told me that his Father had to amputate his wife’s leg with a machete as he was confronted with the existential conundrum that no husband should ever have to face:  to cut off your loved one’s limb or to let her die…  This brave man courageously did what most would never dare to do:  he saved her life.  This poignant testimony, compounded by the dead and injured bodies on the streets added yet another component of “realism” to the situation… I simply cannot, nor will I ever be able to put into words the visual magnitude of this devastation.  This vision was only reinforced by my time spent with Richard at Delmas 33, giving medical attention to everyone from a young boy who had had both of his tiny feet amputated to an elder man whose hand had been crushed so badly that his hanging, bleeding, infected fingers were the size of a baby’s forearm!

I spent the rest of the day assisting Richard and Andrew, our logistics leader, ensuring that everything would be set up for our team’s arrival.  In the end, we all put in that extra bit of steam to make sure that everything was set in place.  We charged our satellite phones, ran franticly in so many different directions(got lost a few times), used whatever contacts we had at this point… all to ensure that in the end, Merlin is ready to do what it does … TO SAVE LIVES.

So here I am now, under a rainy Haitian sky, plugged in to the only outlet in site, huddled under a flickering light bulb with my friend, the neighborhood rooster, awaiting the rest of the team.  Naturally, every hotel was booked up; but I managed to convince this incredibly kind manager (who lost her house in the quake) to let us pitch tents in the hotel’s terrace!  It may not be the Ritz Carlton, but it’s secured and close to our medical site.  I can’t wait to see the guests’ faces when they get up to get a cup of coffee outside, only to see 10 tents erected by the breakfast tables!  Would you like milk and sugar? Or perhaps 4.8 tons of medical supplies?!  I guess one positive thing about this dire situation is that I’ve fully come to realize and appreciate the fact that in times of crisis, people DO come together in solidarity.  “We’re all in this together,” I was reminded by this sweet woman… Yes, we are, YES WE ARE!

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