clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Haiti grips Utah doctors — whether there or back home

One Utah doctor is sending his joy, sorrow and exhaustion home from Haiti via cyberspace, e-mailing tales of life and death. And another Utah doctor now home from the devastation is trying to process the post-earthquake experience in his blog.

Rehabilitation specialist Dr. Jeff Randle, founder of Healing Hands for Haiti, writes on that he's not sleeping well, something he didn't expect despite warnings it could happen because he's been to Haiti regularly for years. He even set up a rehab clinic — now rubble in the quake's aftermath — in Port-au-Prince.

This pain-wracked Haiti he found recently when he joined the LDS Church's humanitarian mission is a different country.

"There has been talk of salvaging the rubble to make roads," he wrote this week. "If you use large magnets to remove the rebar, then crush the concrete you can make an admirable road filler. Haiti needs paved roads, clean water, garbage collection and a government that cares about its people. Might as well start with the roads.

"How will it feel driving down a road made of the pieces of misery? Will each crunch of rubber over what once was someone's house release a scream? Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted."

Since surgeon Dr. Dirk Noyes arrived in Haiti late last month, he has treated broken legs, women in labor, babies with malaria, weepy infections that needed draining, cuts, crushed limbs and deep burns.

Noyes, a surgeon at Intermountain Medical Center, has long provided humanitarian care and signed quickly to join the Utah Hospital Task Force, with 150 doctors, translators and construction experts now providing relief in Haiti. Soon, they'll come home and another group will go.

It's not an easy undertaking. Besides logistical challenges, there's illness from unsanitary conditions. Noyes said 22 group member had become sick; a young member in the group was ill enough they sent him home on a military plane carrying others stateside.

At long day's end he e-mails home what you don't see on TV news: the smell of death and the sweetness of some of the people he's met. The wreckage itself is not unlike what he saw after Hurricane Katrina "only worse as the stench of trapped dead bodies was very evident."

The highs and lows take turns: The 69 orphans the group helped send to America to families who were already adopting them. The fellow with lockjaw, who likely died for lack of a respirator.

The group has split up to meet needs as they find them. Noyes worked at several makeshift clinics such as the field unit they call the Miami Hospital for the University of Miami team that brought it. There, he wrote, "We used more Ketamine and Versed in one day than I have used in my entire career." The drugs only wipe memory clean so "they have no memory for any of the pain that we inflict upon them while cleaning their wounds. It does not necessarily stop the pain, so there may still be a lot of screaming and crying … but it is much easier and safer than taking them all to the OR and putting them to sleep for a procedure that may take only a few minutes."

This week, he wrote, the Utah group was to take over care at a hospital as Chicago doctors were leaving and "where our group could move en masse and do a lot of good for several weeks."

The earthquake didn't create all the need. Haiti has long lacked adequate medical care and the influx of doctors draws a huge and desperate crowd. Noyes worked with a neurosurgeon who removed a bone fragment from the brain of a man who had been injured in a motorcyle accident. On a single day, he saved three Haitians: a women whose small intestine was perforated, a man with a hole in his stomach and a woman from whom he took six feet of twisted and dead small bowel.

The doctors operate on low tables with no lights except donated headlamps that they wear like headbands.

"There is no air conditioning, the smells are nauseating (Which I am used to) and the flies are in ALL the wounds," he wrote.

He is grateful, he noted, to be able to help.