11.2.2010 Port-au-Prince, Haiti
I write now just over one week into my stay in
Haiti. I left Santo Domingo finally by helicopter with volunteers,
almost all from USA with International Medical Corps. They are
medical, nursing and other staff who have volunteered for 2 week
periods of volunteer work in the main general hospital of
Arriving in Port-au-Prince into a suburban
area, and not even an airport, did not reveal the full extent of
the earthquake. The effect of the earthquake is so sporadic.
Buildings here are intact and then a random, collapsed one.
However there does not seem to be a single street that has
not been ravaged by the earthquake. Every building is a tomb for an
unknown number of people.Yet walking around Port-au -Prince life
goes on as normal. But everywhere people are staying in tents
including myself. We don’t know when the next earthquake or
aftershock will arrive.
Local people who have been through the
earthquake are petrified to be indoors. Gradually I see more and
more destruction each day. It is an eerie experience to see
building after building reduced to rubble and all the human life
that goes with this. Each day I see the tensions on the street as
people fight, as distribution of food leads to long queues and
Every day I pass by the market area
which was one of the largest in the region. It is unclear how many
people perished here. A huge building has collapsed to absolute
rubble. Now youths are scrambling up mounds of rubble to loot any
items from the market.
What I find most poignant, as I think many of us do, is the school
of nursing which is just next to my work base. Here at least a
hundred or more nurses perished in the earthquake. It looks
like complete rubble. I pass this every day. One day they
were removing some bodies. That is a sight that is quite hard to
forget and the smell lingers. Today I saw a load of notebooks
nearby on the road that obviously had come from the nursing school.
This is my strongest image of the earthquake.
My work is based in the Mars and Kline
Psychiatry hospital where they kindly collaborate with us. We are
hoping to support their health systems in the main psychiatric
hospital and gradually spread out through primary care throughtout
the earthquake affected region. This hospital holds 100 patients
but the majority left after the earthquake when they were fearful
of staying in such a structure. All the staff have been touched by
the earthquake, losing family, friends and neighbours. Most of
the staff are sleeping on the street still. For example, one of the
nurses today showed me all of her mosquito bites as she is still
sleeping outside with no shelter. Yet they still manage to come to
work and care for the patients.
The inpatients seem to be predominantly
suffering from psychosis. The courtyard for the patients is riven
with a long gash from the earthquake. The perimeter walls have
collapsed. Fortunately no patient was injured in the earthquake.
The outpatient service is tent-based outside. The earthquake has
exposed patients’ vulnerabilities. I saw one man who had lost
a son and his only other offspring, the other son, was paralysed.
He had become manic as a result. Other patients were unable to
get their medications for their psychosis because of the
disruption, and have had a relapse of their symptoms. There
is a lot of anxiety amongst the population, and amongst the
mentally ill, particularly in relation to going into
buildings. Many people somatise to chest pain.
The other area of work is the General
Hospital, which is tented with many USA and other volunteers
supporting the Hospital, which struggles to meet the needs after
the earthquake. The majority of the patients are in
tents. There are many amputations. Today I spoke to a man
who was about to have a below knee amputation. Next to him was
a young girl with bilateral below knee amputation. Friday ,
Saturday and Sunday are a national day of mourning in this tented
city for the catastrophic loss of life and livelihood. I now
return to my own tent!
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