Report From Haiti
by Charlie Paget-Seekins, November 3, 2010
An opportunity came up for me to go help with the cholera outbreak and I took it. Two other people from All Hands and I went up north to St. Marc and helped in a hospital there for four days. It had been crazy and upsetting the couple days before we got there. There were over 40 patients per medical person. The nurses were just running around trying to keep the IV bags from going dry. By the time we got there things were not so bad. We helped with the night shift (midnight-7am), mostly replacing IV bags. I am now really good at diagnosing and maintaining IVs. It was hard to stay ahead of them for the first few days.
Patients were lying on sheets of cardboard or blankets on the floor. Some lucky ones had cots. There were buckets that the sick were using as chamber pots to shit and throw up into. The hospital does not have orderlies, instead family members clean, feed and take care of most of a patient’s needs. Some patients did not have family members to take care of them. They might lay in shit and vomit for days before any of us could clean them up. We mostly ran around doing IVs and giving rehydration fluids to the patients who were not throwing up.
Cholera is a very simple disease to treat. People die because the diarrhea and vomiting causes them to rapidly dehydrate. If you can keep fluids in them for about 72 hours then they should be able to fight the disease off. Two patients died while I was working, but they were in a different part of the hospital. Before we got there, there had been many deaths. The public education seems to be working to reduce the number of new cases and getting sick patients into the hospital soon enough that they can be treated. Each day it got a little bit better, fewer patients and more medical people. We would watch very sick patients come in teetering near death and then come back to health and eventually be released. That was very nice to see.
I worked three night shifts. At first I felt haggard but useful. By the end the hospital was overstaffed with medical people from many different organizations including Doctors Without Borders, Partners in Health, Medical Teams International, doctors from Cuba and a medical team from Mexico. By night we worked in the hospital and by day we slept and hung out at the beautiful beach house of a missionary. It was strangely surreal.
On our way home through Port au Prince my wallet was pick-pocketed. Luckily I was keeping most of my money in my backpack. I only lost about $20 but also my credit card and driver’s license.
I hear that a hurricane is on its way here. I should be scared. We have safe places to shelter and we have supplies to be ok for a while. Worry for Haiti, but not for me. We’ll be ok here.