March 3, 2010

Portlander reeling after chaotic weekend


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Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer: Staff at the Justinian Hospital in Cap Haitien, Haiti carry a woman who was injured in the earthquake from the women's ward to an examination room on Monday, January 18, 2010. The Justinian Hospital is getting some causualties sent up from Port au Prince but expect a surge of earthquake-related patients in the coming weeks.

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Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer: A woman from Port au Prince whose left arm was amputated in the earthquake cries out in pain as nurses at Justinian Hospital pour disinfectant on her wound on Monday, January 18, 2010.

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Staff Writer

CAP HAITIEN, Haiti — ''Oh, I'm so glad to see you.''

Judy Carl blinked several times as she hugged Nate Nickerson in relief Monday morning.

The Portland woman had been in Cap Haitien for two weeks, volunteering with Portland-based Konbit Sante, teaching English to doctors, nurses, administrators and others at Justinian Hospital.

She was staying with a friend's family when the earthquake hit Port-au-Prince last week. She was at the hospital all weekend, working to help medical personnel deal with the rush of victims.

''Everything is just so confused,'' she told Nickerson, Konbit Sante's executive director.

Konbit Sante has existed for more than a decade, working to improve the health care system in Cap Haitien through Justinian, a 250-bed teaching hospital, and a health clinic at Fort St. Michel, one of the poorest sections of the city.

While Cap Haitien wasn't hit hard by the earthquake Jan. 12, survivors have been arriving in the city since last week.

There are varying reports of how many people have been treated at Justinian since the earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince, about 85 miles to the south. Some hospital officials say about 85 patients. Medical residents who worked during the weekend reported treating about 130 victims on Saturday and Sunday alone.

''They came in pickup trucks, they came in minivans, they came in Land Rover-type things,'' said Carl, her Konbit Sante badge swinging from an L.L. Bean lanyard around her neck.

The mayor of Cap Haitien sent down six city buses to bring back the injured, and earthquake victims continued to trickle in on Monday.

Nickerson expects that trickle to become a flood as more resources come into the country and emergency workers can send more victims north to Justinian.

With that in mind, Konbit Sante is trying to use its connections and resources to help Cap Haitien officials obtain what they need in terms of medical volunteers, supplies and money.

Carl went to the hospital Saturday to help. In the emergency room, she found only a few IV saline units, and a good supply of ibuprofen and acetaminophen.

''That's it, and here people are coming in with terrible wounds,'' said Carl, who plans to be in Haiti for about four months.

Sometimes, the simplest things pose the biggest problems. On Saturday, the staff member who had the key to the supply depot wasn't at work, so no one could get needed materials.

Several doctors came in to work, but most of the work was done by medical residents, who live at the hospital and haven't been paid since September.

''It's terrible. We had a lot of patients with fractures, with emotional shock,'' said Lino Georges, 33, the resident who was in charge of the efforts on Saturday. ''We do not have enough materials, enough qualified people.''

Security was a challenge, said Georges.

Masses of people -- including those who had come with the injured or local residents who were looking for family members from Port-au-Prince -- crowded onto the hospital grounds. They were in the emergency room, on the stairs, everywhere, and were very aggressive, said Georges.

Carl found a woman on the stairs, shaking uncontrollably. Though not a quake victim, she had an extremely infected leg. Carl got her into the hospital, then went out to buy the medicine she needed at a pharmacy in the city. Carl sat with her for hours, holding her hand.

''She just kept saying, 'Thank you, thank you, I will pray for you,' '' Carl said. ''I said, 'No, I'll pray for you.' ''

Carl went to the emergency room and asked for a list of medical supplies the staff needed. She did the same in the orthopedic suite. Then she and a doctor went to town and Carl used her own money -- most of her own money -- to buy everything from morphine to antibiotics, ''things to keep people alive.''

''I've never seen sights like what I saw (Sunday) and Saturday,'' said Carl, still numb from the experience. ''I can't believe I didn't react. It hasn't hit me.''

Things had quieted down by Monday morning.

A dozen or so people crowded up to a window in the women's health wing, peering in as doctors and nurses worked on a woman who shouted in pain. Medical workers treated the woman and kept her mother away as she tried to incorporate a Vaudoun ritual into the treatment.

Inside the hospital, Carl visited briefly with the woman she had sat with for so long on Saturday.

Georges was back to work on Monday. He said that he and many other Haitians don't think other countries will offer much help to Haiti. It took two days for 36 French soldiers to arrive from nearby Martinique, he said. The U.S. Marines are arriving this week, days after the earthquake.

''The future of this country is going to depend on Haitians,'' he said.


Staff Writer Matt Wickenheiser can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:


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Additional Photos

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Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer: Judy Carl talks with a woman on Monday, January 17, 2010 whom she helped get admitted into the Justinian Hospital in Cape Haitien, Haiti on Monday, January 18, 2010. The woman is not an earthquake victim, she was sick with an various illnesses and had an infected leg.

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Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer: Nate Nickerson, executive director of onbit Sante, bottom, and Nick Preneta try to repair a C-Arm, a machine that helps to analyze fractures, in an operating room at the Justinian Hospital on Monday, January 18, 2010.

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Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer: Nate Nickerson, executive director of Konbit Sante, talks with hospital staff at the Justinian Hospital in Cap Haitien, Haiti on Monday, January 18, 2010. Nickerson has been instrumental in organizing the hospital's efforts in response to the earthquake.

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Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer: Judy Carl of Portland talks with a nurse at the Justinian Hospital on Monday, January 18, 2010. Carl is volunteering with Konbit Sante and was in Haiti when the earthquake occurred.


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