Letters from Dr. Reshma Vasanwala with International Medical Corps
President of Haiti Rene Preval (L) shakes hands with U.S. President Barack Obama as they deliver remarks in the Rose Garden after meeting at the White House in Washington, March 10, 2010.
TMO Editorâ€™s note: Here are two emails from Haiti sent by Doctor Reshma Vasanwala. She volunteered her services for Haitian earthquake victims, as has Dr. Khalid Rao from Detroit and other Muslim physicians.
I arrived in Haiti safely–on a UN plane from Santo Domingo. The airport bar at Port au Prince is buzzing with activity–international NGOs, troops (including the 82nd airborne unit), media, journalists, and aid workers.
We are staying at one of the few standing hotels in Port au Prince–a five star hotel that hosted Angelina Jolie, Sean Penn, Anderson Cooper, and the like. There are still a lot of CNN folks here and media from all over the world staying at the same hotel. To my surprise, Iâ€™m in the lap of luxury—buffet meals, swimming pool,. Its weird that just across the street hundreds of thousands of people are living in tents and slums.
We are not allowed to leave the hotel and we take a private bus everyday to our place of work. Driving just these short distances, one can see the devastation caused by the earthquake and the suffering of the Haitian people.
We passed some tent cities that were said to have 40,000 people living there! There is a lot of unrest on the streets as gangs are fighting each other for territories.
Our group has tents set up in the hospital compound, since the buildings are unsafe to work in. The hospital grounds have been transformed into an entire campus of tents-each providing a different type of specialized medical care. There is a pediatric and neonatal ICU, a regular ICU, HIV and TB tents, general surgery, OB, and ER. However, in most of these tents the doctors only come by every few days, and no one to cover at night, so people simply die.
Our group, IMC, provides Emergency care on this campus and we provide coverage 24hours a day. I am assigned to the ER–which has been awesome.There are literally hundreds of patients (600-800) each day, and there is a line several blocks long every morning. I have never quite experienced anything like this. The tents are like 100 degrees, it smells, there are rats and it is complete chaos–but its a blast!
I am doing things here that I have never done, simply because there is no one else to call, or everyone else is too busy. I have never provided such substandard care in my life, because we donâ€™t have the tool and resources to provide good care. However, the reality is that for most of these people, this is the best care they have ever received.
A word about the people on the IMC team…there are about 30 volunteers here, and I am so impressed by these people. They are brilliant, passionate, interesting and loads of fun.
I am working the night tonight so I have the day off, but I wish I was back at the ER tent rather than the swimming pool–its been that much fun so far.
Sent: Monday, March 08, 2010 8:16 AM:
Working with the IMC group has continued to be a blast. Its really amazing that when people come together for a common purpose, there is a unique bond. Our lives have become really integrated and routine. It sometimes feels like summer camp or a travel experience where you donâ€™t have the tedious routines of running errands or the tending to of details that take up so much time back home– so that you can stay focused on purpose.
I am getting used to the work in the ER and really like it. Its really frustrating however, because everyday people die and often it feels like we are running a hospice service because there is not much we can offer–especially when we donâ€™t have a full laboratory or radiology service. The medicine wards, where there seems to really be no medical care going on, seem more like a support group—â€Hey, Iâ€™m sick, youâ€™re sick–lets hang out togetherâ€
Yesterday was especially hard yesterday when a 2 year old died from an unknown cause and we watched the mother cry and scream inconsolably. This really got to me.
It was the first time I had seen such a reaction. I was beginning to think, that the Haitian people, having been through so much, had become stoic or emotionally shut down. Before yesterday, I had not really seen emotion expressed in a way that I might expect when a death occurred or when they heard bad news.
On a more random note, a couple of days ago there was some film people from LA who are starting a reality/documentary series about international community development and they filmed all day at our ER. They got me on camera as they followed me and another doctor deal with a sick kid who needed surgery and the surgeons here did not want to operate. We called the 82nd airborne to get the kid transferred to another facility where the surgery took place and the kid survived.
Weâ€™ll see if that scout footage makes it on their first show.
Its hard to believe that I just have a few days left. I think I may come back again very soon.