March 15, 2010

Haiti needs long-term commitment from all of us, Portland doctor says

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He has been a perfect match for Dr. Pierre Louis; they both served as military surgeons. Matt’s personality is calm and reassuring, and I predict a long-term relationship. That is what we all need to be thinking about as we transition to the long haul of rehabilitation and reconstruction.

Our two wound-care nurses from MMC have been angels. March Truedsson and Marieta Atienza have been ministering to the worst of the infected wounds with enthusiasm, kindness and attentiveness. These are just awful wounds, probably among the worst of my 30-year career. This morning in “wound clinic” they saw 25 new patients.

As for me, I have spent time with the urology residents, interns and nurses trying to maintain some sense of normalcy.  

Performing some urologic surgery, daily teaching rounds, instruction in ultrasound, and PowerPoint presentations about routine urological problems, I think there is something helpful to everyone’s morale with routines and schedules.

The 12-year-old boy with a big smile but the insensate, useless arm will haunt me for a long time. He is days or weeks away from an amputation at the shoulder. The pediatric ward at the Milot Hospital filled with children missing parts of arms and legs was hard for me to get my brain around; this must be what war is like: indiscriminate, brutal and without reason. I try not to think about the big picture too much.

I saw a woman who had lost one arm and severely injured her other arm. Matt reviewed her X-rays and we spent some time discussing her case with Dr. Bernard. When we left she said in broken English, “God bless you.”

We had done nothing but show her a little compassion.  

There are thousands of Haitians who have undergone recent amputations just like these people. How do you begin to rehabilitate an entire segment of a society, particularly in a country like Haiti? I shouldn’t be asking so many questions when I know the answers involve suffering and loss on a biblical scale.  

My biggest fear is that Haiti will fade from the world’s consciousness as it has done every time there has been a natural or political disaster in this country of more than 8 million people. This is just the beginning of an arduous road to recovery; Mainers need to understand that “earthquake relief” is very long-term; not a quick-fix “CNN moment.” It will be ongoing and difficult for years.

As a health care volunteer in Haiti, seeing the reality on the ground over the past 10 days, I am already discouraged about how long this recovery will take. It is all very personal for me; I have been on the verge of tears for days.

What Haiti needs most is a long-term commitment from the international community, and from people like you and me, that it will not be forgotten, and that this international response will be sustained for many years and decades to come.



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