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Spencer McLean works with an American nurse practitioner to dispense medications at a mobile clinic at Cité Soleil. (Courtesy Kimberly Carcary/Team Broken Earth)
Spencer McLean works with an American nurse practitioner to dispense medications at a mobile clinic at Cité Soleil. (Courtesy Kimberly Carcary/Team Broken Earth)

Life and death in Haiti: A doctor’s diary Add to ...

That night, as we’re having dinner at the UN, we get a text from the NICU nurse saying the babe had just died. Ten minutes later, we get another text from an ER nurse saying that she’d just delivered a healthy baby in the ER! Life and death in Haiti.

January 20

Being Sunday, most of the local staff was off so we had free rein of the OR. Boy, we worked and worked! Our team did four hip hemiarthroplasties; removed a breast tumour, a stomach tumour and a neck mass; fixed a broken hip and did some minor emergency cases. One of the Haitian orderlies, Taylor, confided in me that he has never worked so hard in a single day in his 11 years working at the hospital. That was echoed by one of the girls washing and sterilizing the equipment when she asked me in a forlorn voice, “Do you need this set again?” I said, “Nope, we’re all done.” At which point she just smiled.

As the day went on, we ran low on beds. We began to discharge them as soon as possible and watched them walk out. For those not ready to go home, we pooled some money to pay for an ambulance to send them back to the general hospital.

The Haitian people are remarkable. They either don’t feel pain the same as we do or are much better at ignoring it. Back in Calgary, these patients would be in hospital a minimum of five to seven days and go home on some form of narcotic. Here, our first patient went home two hours post-op on Tylenol and ibuprofen after walking with our physiotherapist.

I really felt like we did something worthwhile today because five of our patients had been confined to bed for months. Today, every one walked out of the hospital. The granddaughter of one of our patients started crying because she thought she’d never see her grandmother walk again.

Tonight the UN was closed so we went to dinner at one of the local hotels called Visa Lodges. I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to be “Vista Lodges” – it’s up in the hills with a nice view. It was a chance to finally blow off some steam.

January 21

After yesterday’s marathon, today dawned sunny and calm. We had only one case on the board – the ICU patient who showed up within hours of our arrival after ramming into a truck with his bike. He was a real team effort because our emergency docs and nurses resuscitated him the first night, the ICU nurses kept him alive throughout the week, and today all three of the surgical teams worked on him.

While I waited for my turn in the OR, I sat on the roof in the sun reading and watching the streets below – my first real downtime since we arrived. Some observations:

* It’s amazing how much stuff Haitian women can carry on their heads.

* During the day, there are thousands of Haitians in the streets, just wandering. At night, everyone disappears. It’s eerie.

* Every step along the way, people are skimming money; for example, it costs $1 (U.S.) for a banana and I know it’s probably a few cents to buy it from the source.

January 22

We’re on our way to the airport and just said goodbye to the dedicated Haitians that we worked with. We had an amazing week and did some good work. A dabbling of our team’s surgical cases: cleft palate corrections, mastectomy for breast cancer, gastrectomy for stomach cancer, multiple broken bones fixed, dealing with complications from injuries sustained during the earthquake, hernia repairs, amputations and everything in between.

I have seen more humanity in despair than I thought could exist.

I’m craving chocolate milk and a hot shower.

Christina Frangou, a freelance writer and Dr. McLean’s wife, compiled this piece from his diary.

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