Wednesday, February 10, 2010

“...on my final day, my mind tired and body aching, I find myself wishing for a couple more days.”

By Dr. Solomon Kuah

Wednesday, February 10, 2010, 4:45 PM,
Port-au-Prince, Haiti

If only I had a couple more days . . . I have spent every day of the past 26 days working at the Port-au-Prince University Hospital. I am on the last notch of my belt, sun-burned, dozing off during the rare standstills, and wondering if I should be worried about urinating only once a day. I have battled sickness, heat exhaustion, dehydration, and near-narcolepsy without faltering a day. Now on my final day, my mind tired and body aching, I find myself wishing for a couple more days.

You've heard the story: it started 2-3 days after the 7.0 earthquake that found us at the University Hospital with nearly 800 Haitians near-death and wounded. On the first days we worked with our tools at our side, bobbling around with jump bags full of irrigation, splints, antibiotics, pain medicine, sharpies (triage), etc. The Haitians were strewn all over, lying on either the bare floor, cardboard boxes, stained blankets, or shattered hospital beds. Too broken to move, they waited for a shadow to fall over them that could signify a doctor or nurse coming to tend to them. Their faces were sad and they had no tears to cry, but if they could just reach into the shadow, someone might notice they were alive. Our relief team masked the shock and ignored the quiver in our hearts. We worked with speed and diligence. We were committed to these people.

As the days passed, we secured shelter and water for our patients. Other relief teams poured into the hospital and we evolved from the bumbling individual with 2-to-3 jump bags slung over each shoulder to a clumsy system at a maximum 57 agencies, all setting up shop around the patients. The system was anywhere from fast and fluid to confusing and redundant with some days a flurry of activity and others a standstill. We scurried around with faces of many colors while our patients lay still in their cots watching in apprehensive confusion, unable to move. I visited nearly every one of our original patients, every day for the past 26 days - maybe my unique 'Chinois' face would serve as one thread of consistency. One can only wonder if this reassured them.

Each day we chipped away at these numbers and the patients slowly got their much needed interventions. Smiles began to surface and family members occasionally danced in the space between tents. Most smiled back at me every morning, some would even wave, some would not, and others simply could not. Life was coming back into their bodies and now it was time to start preparing for their life outside the hospital. Rehabilitation and physical therapy centers having been popping up throughout the city over the past week and a half. As a center opened, we would offer them a transfer but most would initially refuse to go. They were afraid if they left, they would die. This is a society and culture bent by a failed state to not trust what they could not see. I would visit each center and 'report' back to the hospital. 'Reporting' used a phenomenon called 'tele diol' or word of mouth. It found most the centers calm, well staffed, and appropriately equipped. Upon return I would have one of the local Creole translators tell one family member, ˝the 'Chinois' doctor just came back from the rehabilitation center and he thinks it is very good.˝ By the next morning, nearly all were willing to go. Just remember, 'tele diol', it can be used for good or for bad.

It is my final day and we have approximately 90 of our original patients left. A third still require a final orthopedic or plastic surgery intervention, with the remaining waiting for the hospital rehabilitation facility to open. International Medical Corps has been working closely with Handicap International to open a rehabilitation/physical therapy center on campus. It is nearly complete with the truckload of equipment coming tomorrow. This means within a week we could potentially see one of our first patients walk out of the hospital by themselves. I've longed for that day. I will miss that day. If only I had a couple more days.

Although I am the only person left from the first International Medical Corps team I have had the company of my patients. I have three names: 1) 'Chinois', 2) 'Jackie Chan', 3) Dr. Sol, and 4)'the humble doctor'. One mother with an above-the-knee amputation of her left leg requested I support her as she guided me into the hospital courtyard. She took me to watch the children dancing and singing. We sat for 5 minutes, silent, until she said 'thank you'.


price_gary said...

Dr. Kuah,

Thank you to you and your colleagues for the care that you are providing to the people of Haiti. I hope the these endeavors will receive the support that they deserve.

alicepeechee said...

Sol, you're amazing

Anita Teresa said...

Dear Solomon,
Thank you so very much for sharing these reflections. It really touched me profoundly. May you experience peace and blessings and ability to integrate such unimaginable suffering as you return home. Many thanks again for sharing such an inspiring, beautiful, human portrayal of this tragedy and triumph.

Anastashia said...

I m deeply touched.... u only get to the know the really face, after living in a crisis with those effected