Medical missions in Haiti, Part 2

Workers at a clinic in Haiti

Dr. Brenda Kowalske (l), Jessica Matthews (c) and George Pilgrim at a medical clinic. Photo: Marty Duren

Being part of a medical mission team in an emergency situation can be a dicey proposition. Unless you are in a controlled environment like the University of Miami field hospital located near the airport in Port-au-Prince or a city hospital run by the Red Cross and guarded by the US military the response can be unpredictable.

On my first full day in Haiti, we were asked to visit an orphanage not far from where we were staying. We loaded up all our needed supplies, both medical and personal, and set out. About a mile into the trip we hit a very steep hill which stopped our bus in its tracks. We finished the rest of the long climb on foot with several of the young German team members carrying our supply containers. Our destination was at the top of a very steep and sometimes narrow flight of stairs, a building with two or three small rooms and a single large one.

It did not take long to realize that the “orphanage” was more a meeting place that had filled with children and parents. While we were setting up the clinic, a man with a bullhorn stood on a sidewalk high above the community and announced our arrival. He apparently invited all the weak, sick and infirm to come get in line. What was supposed to be a clinic to assist 50 or so children resulted in a clinic that saw 150 people of all ages. Because of the influx of people, we had maxed out our supplies in the early afternoon. Tickets were given to the 60 people who remained in line for a return clinic that will take place this week.

The presidential palace in Haiti

Part of the damage at the presidential palace in Haiti, February 3, 2010. Photo: Marty Duren

On another day we set up clinic immediately beside the Capitol building, across the street from one of the largest tent cities in Port-au-Prince. One’s presence is announced by making a red cross from duct tape on the nearest wall. Once seen a line quickly forms for whatever care is available. Wisely, our team leader had secured the services of two state police to help with crowd control both of whom did an excellent job.

At this clinic there were more people who had sustained injuries from the earthquake including a young boy of about 10 who had suffered a blow to the head from falling rubble. Specifically a portion of concrete block hit him directly on the top of his head, causing a small puncture through his skull. The sum total of treatment seemed to be the band-aid stuck over the wound. Dr. Richard Kowalske treated the young man who acted as if nothing had ever happened.

Also treated that day were three Haitian ladies who were attacked as they attempted to clean sidewalks nearby. An ear wound, a facial laceration and a bloody wound to the head from a length of pipe were the repayment of attempting to clean in an area where help was not wanted. The incident was reported to the local police, but with little expectation of the crime being solved.

Pediatric hospital Port-au-Prince Red Cross hospital

A Swiss Red Cross hospital sits in front of the damaged pediatric wing of a Port-au-Prince hospital. Photo: Marty Duren

I am thankful that we never faced any truly unruly people or dangerous situations. Two or three very distraught people forced their way into the front, but all they really wanted was someone to take their situation seriously.

Read Part 1 of this series.

A few of the available books on Haiti:


Marty Duren

Just a guy writing some things.

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