PIH Physician Evan Lyon recently returned from two weeks helping with earthquake relief efforts in Port-au-Prince. In his post below, he reflects on the achievements—and challenges—of the past two weeks at HUEH.
My work at the general hospital in Port-au-Prince (HUEH) my communications with Zanmi Lasante colleagues nationwide in Haiti has been very sobering. I am returning to my family today with a very heavy heart and concern that's aching from my marrow or someplace just as deep. Smells and dust linger on my body despite a warm shower and fair sleep in a clean airport hotel.
Medicine and healthcare will play an important role in helping Haiti survive now, especially the kind of durable, committed, accessible, and respectful care Zanmi Lasante provides. I find my worries, however, lingering more, much more, basic human needs: shelter, water, food, sanitation, and compassion.
The extraordinary Haitian leadership at the general hospital and the generous volunteers from around the world have made a functioning general hospital again within two weeks of the earthquake. We helped many. We lost many. There are emergency and routine medical services running and improving daily. The Haitian Red Cross has been operating again for four or five days now. Blood is available for many of the most injured. A central warehouse --poorly supplied at the time of the quake, with what little stocks to be had shaken to the ground--is organized and supplying surgical, medical, pediatric, obstetric, and rehabilitation services. The general hospital still in need of some supplies, much of it vital--oxygen, sterilization equipment for the operating rooms, tents and beds. But HUEH is a working hospital again, receiving patients, caring for most, and facilitating transfer when it can't meet their needs. The degree of collaboration on the university campus has been inspiring.
If I'm not mistaken, there were about 100 inpatients at HUEH at the time of the quake. The hospital now has 500 staffed beds, mostly in tents, as most building space is either destroyed or unsafe.
One of the most heartening things I saw during my two weeks at HUEH was one evening ten days or so after the largest earthquake. As I was walking from deep inside the campus, I saw two people walking toward me carrying small bundles cradled before them. They were walking quickly and with purpose but also calmly. I slowed and stood aside so they could pass. Deep in each bundle, I saw a newborn baby. Both had their eyes closed and looked healthy. I knew somehow they were OK. They were also on their way to the pediatric department, now a tent in front of the former pediatric building, which was destroyed. At the gate, they must have asked who could check on their babies. Someone welcomed them and showed the way to pediatrics. These children very likely didn't need a nurse or doctor to check them out, but they certainly deserved one. Life continues even in the shadow of such sadness and death.