By Marylou Greenberg
Editors Note: In light of the devastating earthquake in Haiti and in tribute to the courage of the Haitian people, On The Issues Magazine presents an exclusive eyewitness interview with a physician who traveled to Haiti on an emergency basis as a volunteer.
From the air, it looked like an atomic bomb had hit Haiti. I haven’t seen an atomic bomb, but I couldn’t imagine anything worse…everything was like dust…people under the rubble. I just started crying. But I reminded myself I was there to help people, I pulled myself together, and soon was working at a makeshift hospital set up in front of the UN headquarters.
As the extent of the damage from the January 12 earthquake became known, Dr. Evans Crevecoeur knew he had to go. He had last visited the country, where he was born and lived until he was 10 years old, in August, and had family there.
Affiliated with Jamaica Hospital and Omnicare Anesthesia, as well as Choices Women’s Medical Center where he works as Director of Anesthesiology, Dr. Crevecoeur volunteered to go with the Red Cross. After Red Cross planes were canceled twice, he became impatient and arranged to go with a group based at the University of Miami School of Medicine, Project Medishare. Arriving on January 18 and bringing desperately needed medical supplies donated by Choices Womens Medical Center, he stayed for over a week.
Dr. Crevecoeur praised the dedication of the doctors and nurses who volunteered, along with those from Haiti who had quickly set up sidewalk clinics outside destroyed hospitals. I saw neurosurgeons cleaning floors and changing diapers, he said. One older woman from Miami had no medical training but insisted on going with the Medishare group and organized a pharmacy at one of the tent hospitals.
He learned of people whod survived the quake using small hand tools to dig others out from under the rubble in the hours and days immediately following. These people had no food or water themselves, he said, but they displayed real heroism trying to rescue others. So many lives were lost, he said with great sadness. At the General Hospital School of Nursing, 150 students were in a class in one building alone and no one survived.
He visited a community hospital owned by his uncle now with surgery being done in tents on the street and doctors and nurses working outside around the clock to help people. There were no ambulances to get people to larger medical facilities, he said, so the smaller community hospitals were treating most of the injured however best they could.
Most of the surgery being done was amputations, he said, from injuries sustained by those trapped and crushed when buildings crumbled. (His 12-year-old niece had to have one foot amputated, and a 24-year-old cousin lost her leg) The problem with most of those who had amputations, he said, is that they have no place to go and stay because their homes are destroyed. The risk of infection is very high.
There are areas even more devastated than Port-au-Prince, but initially all relief efforts were focused on the capital city. He traveled to the town of Leogane where his parents had come from and which he’d visited every year when he was a child. It was hit worse than Port-au-Prince, he said; 90 percent of the town is dust and rubble, and there were no tents for shelter when he was there.
I know there have been a lot of donations for Haiti, Dr. Crevecoeur said, but a problem is that distribution is not being done equally, and people were desperate for food and water. As he was driving one day he saw a UN truck with probably 1,000 people running behind. Aid workers were throwing food packets off as the truck moved, forcing people to scramble over each other. This was very bad, he said, very condescending to the people, and ensured that only the strongest would get food. Why couldn’t food distribution be organized and people told there is food for everyone
Haiti is so close to America, he said, but other countries were much better prepared to help and were on the ground much sooner. Israel, for example, had set up a complete neonatal intensive Care Unit. People from the Dominican Republic set up a center in a park in Port-au-Prince with a complete medical facility and cafeteria that served nutritious food to everyone who came. It enabled people to eat in dignity, the way humans should be served, he said.
If any good can come of this, he said, I hope the international community can see what Haiti needs and help the Haitian people rebuild.
See photo essay by Dr. Crevocoeur here.
February 9, 2010