As I look out over the mountains of ice covering the Lake Michigan shoreline and the snow-clouded sky, it is hard to believe that only a few days ago our medical team from Holy Spirit Church was sweltering in the heat of Haiti. The comforts of home and a soft bed are nice, but, speaking for myself, I would return to Haiti in a heartbeat. I began on the day after the quake trying to connect with a group going to Haiti who could use an orthopaedic surgeon and gratefully accepted the opportunity to go with the Holy Spirit team. I would be the only Orthopaedic surgeon on a team mostly oriented to primary care medicine. Not knowing precisely what I would be doing or how I would do it was not a great concern for me as I have confidence in my ability to improvise with meager resources.
That said, it was Troy Silvernale who made the connection that make a worthwhile contribution by taking over the orthopaedic clinic at Grace Children’s Hospital. After a slow start on the first day, the clinic was busy almost to the point of overwhelming as the week wore on. Just the way I like it! I had access to decent x-rays which allowed me to assess and treat many fractures and crush injuries not needing surgery and triage others definitely needing surgery to sites capable of dealing with them. What a joy to have Beryl Silvernale as my interpreter for the week. Not only does she speak fluent Creole, but has the compassion to give comfort to the patients and instructions with very little prompting from me. By the end of our stay we were seeing patients sent to us by the Cuban clinic, the Dutch unit, and the University Hospital of Port-au-Prince.
On our first day a 10 year old girl who definitely needed surgery was carried in by a young man who as it turns out was a distant cousin. She had an unstable fracture of the femur (thigh bone).The cousin had found her in the street after the quake and had been caring for her. Her whole family was dead. She had already been seen and treated somewhere, but that wasn’t working. Troy figured the best bet for getting her in the correct hands was at the University of Miami Hospital which was set up under a big circus-like tent on the airport grounds. We all piled in the van and headed to the airport. Getting there and avoiding traffic meant going down some back-streets that were nearly impassable. At one point Troy had to get out and move rocks out of the way so we could squeeze by an enormous pothole. Finally to the airport entrance road we were stuck in a tightly packed standstill traffic jam, still about a half mile from the hospital. Impatient, and no end in sight to the wait, we decided to walk in and carry the child. Inside the airport gates we hitched a ride in the back of a passing pickup truck for the final quarter mile and arrived at the mayhem of the Miami unit. My admission ticket was the child’s x-ray and waving this in front of people I made my way to the back half of the tent which was one big OR with multiple cases going on in the one undivided room. Finding one of their orthopaedic surgeons, permission was readily granted to have her admitted. I made my way back outside to where triage and registration was underway, a Babel of patients, staff, and families under the canopy of some blue plastic tarps. We bid farewell to the cousin and headed back to the traffic jam where we left Beryl and Reuben, the driver. It occurred to me that I would never see the girl again, nor know of her outcome, a thought that would recur during the week and was hard to put away. Then, on our last day in the clinic as our thoughts were turning to the trip home, the cousin came back in to the clinic. He returned just to thank us and let us know that the girl’s leg had been fixed and that she was doing fine.
One child, one story, one smile. There were many more, and more yet calling us to return.