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Surprise Donations

new equipment

Photo by Samir Mehta

“Holy s___, where did that come from?”  That was Tom’s reaction. The OR, today, had installed two brand new state-of-the-art anesthesia machines. In addition, Tom just told me that GE donated four x-ray machines and portable machines that were dropped off today.  What the hell? This is unbelievable. To think what we could have done had we had this technology just 12 days ago. Tom is ecstatic with the machines that he will get to use for about two hours.

Cases Scheduled before Departure

We leave today, but in typical ortho trauma fashion, we have cases scheduled.  The shuttle to “Cement City”, “Tent City”, the “Aristede Complex” is at 1130 am.  We complete rounds – saying goodbye to so many of the patients that we have seen daily over the course of the last two weeks. On rounds, two patients start coding – one in the SICU and one in the MICU.  This is getting all too common on rounds.

Penn Team and partners in Haiti

The Penn Medicine team poses with colleagues in Haiti before returning to the U.S. Photo provided by Samir Mehta.

"I know that part of me has been totally changed by this experience."

I’m not sure how I feel leaving. I have no idea what will happen to these patients, who will take care of him, who will pack their wounds daily, who will check for infection, what their x-rays will look (and who will be assessing them). I am worried.

We are leaving nearly everything behind for the facility here. Hopefully, we’ve left a little more than just material goods. I know that part of me has been totally changed by this experience. One might ask how? I don’t know. It might be that when I start up in the OR on Monday at HUP I am no different than they way I was before I left. It may be that it comes out in very subtle ways … I know I feel different.

We pack the cars and took two SUVs over the non-paved roads about half the way. The car ride to PoP is essentially silent – I think, in part, because everyone is tired and I think, in part, because everyone is watching the countryside. When we came here, we were hungry with anticipation and some concern over what we were embarking on. Now, as we ride back, I think our thoughts turn more to admiring what these people have accomplished despite having limited resources. We take in the people, the sounds, the smells. We pass through Mirabella and it is a bustling Friday afternoon where the marketplace is teaming with people. Life is routine here – maybe even almost normal.

From the top of the plateau, we can see a straight road leading into PoP. The city is covered in haze – kind of like L.A. minus the tall buildings and the plethora of highways leading in and out of it. From this distance, it seems like there is only one road in and one road out.  As we get closer and closer to PoP careening down the face of the plateau, the scene is changing – more traffic, more bustle, more congestion. Everything is covered in a layer of fine dirt.

A Familiar Face

We get to the Aristede complex – Tent City – almost exactly like we left.  As we come to the courtyard, we see someone wearing a CHOP hat.  The cars drop us off and we wait.  We’ve set up on some steps. Derek and I find Steve Larson, from the ER at HUP, who came down with the CHOP team.  He is running the ICU from 7 P to 7 A at the tent hospital set-up in PoP. We hear stories of care being rendered during the day but no one to care for these patients at night until Steve established an ICU type setting. Nursing care, or lack of, is a major issue – particularly in caring for the polytrauma patients.

Touring Port-au-Prince

We are very interested in seeing if we can get access to an SUV to take us to the University / City Hospital or through PoP to witness first hand the destruction of the earthquake. It sounds a bit morose, but I don’t think I really have a concept of what this is or what has happened that has brought me to this place.

Night starts to fall. The CHOP team leaves. Dinner comes and goes. The video crew that is shooting a documentary on Haiti & PIH offers three spots in their SUV to see PoP. Babak, Derek, and Mike head out … they are gone for several hours but when they return they describe the sheer destruction that they witness. The traffic was outrageous taking nearly three hours to go three miles. Bill Clinton and Paul Farmer are in town and the additional security appears too much for the tenuous traffic patterns of PoP.

Goodbyes and Transitions

While the three are gone, Alysha starts to say her goodbyes. She is leaving for New York in the AM via Ft. Lauderdale. Our departure has shifted from 545 AM to 530 PM. The blizzard in Philadelphia is of epic proportions. We were hoping she would be on our flight as she has been a great resource and has become a friend. We neglected to give her a nickname or a number – she was reminded of this by our orthopaedic resident JP.  As such, we nicknamed her “Puma” and her number would be “7”.  While there is a deeper story to the name Puma, suffice it to say that it has to do with her 28-year old Australian boyfriend named Angus.

The Duke team arrives around 330 or so. They have to turn around fast before getting to Cange too late.  I have an opportunity to speak with part of the team. It is clear that their team leader did not forward any of the information that we gave them. I remind them not to judge to harshly.

The documentary team is being lead through the region by Andre – who can make ANYTHING happen. He is able to get a van for the rest of us to go into PoP tomorrow for a nominal fee. We plan to take full advantage of this opportunity. I am still at a loss as to what has really brought me here.

We start to divide up to get some rest.  We’re not really sure what to do with ourselves, especially as the generators shut down for the night. Many of us believe that we will be spending yet another day in Tent City. I choose to sleep outside, bathe myself in 100% DEET, and watch the stars with the occasional plane flying by. The cement is hard and I’m not sure if it’s a function of “roughing” it or just wanting to spend one night really under the stars.


This report was written by Samir Mehta, MD, during his participation in Haitian relief efforts through Penn Medicine in coordination with Partners in Health.


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