11.2.2010 Port-au-Prince, Haiti
I write now just over one week into my stay in Haiti. I left
Santo Domingo finally by helicopter with volunteers, almost all
from USA with International Medical Corps. They are medical,
nursing and other staff who have volunteered for 2 week periods of
volunteer work in the main general hospital of Port-au-Prince.
Arriving in Port-au-Prince into a suburban area, and not even an
airport, did not reveal the full extent of the earthquake. The
effect of the earthquake is so sporadic. Buildings here are intact
and then a random, collapsed one. However there does not seem to be
a single street that has not been ravaged by the earthquake. Every
building is a tomb for an unknown number of people.Yet walking
around Port-au -Prince life goes on as normal. But everywhere
people are staying in tents including myself. We don’t know when
the next earthquake or aftershock will arrive.
Local people who have been through the earthquake are petrified
to be indoors. Gradually I see more and more destruction each day.
It is an eerie experience to see building after building reduced to
rubble and all the human life that goes with this. Each day I see
the tensions on the street as people fight, as distribution of food
leads to long queues and frayed tempers.
Every day I pass by the market area which was one of the largest
in the region. It is unclear how many people perished here. A huge
building has collapsed to absolute rubble. Now youths are
scrambling up mounds of rubble to loot any items from the
What I find most poignant, as I think many of us do, is the
school of nursing which is just next to my work base. Here at least
a hundred or more nurses perished in the earthquake. It looks like
complete rubble. I pass this every day. One day they were removing
some bodies. That is a sight that is quite hard to forget and the
smell lingers. Today I saw a load of notebooks nearby on the road
that obviously had come from the nursing school. This is my
strongest image of the earthquake.
My work is based in the Mars and Kline Psychiatry hospital where
they kindly collaborate with us. We are hoping to support their
health systems in the main psychiatric hospital and gradually
spread out through primary care throughtout the earthquake affected
region. This hospital holds 100 patients but the majority left
after the earthquake when they were fearful of staying in such a
structure. All the staff have been touched by the earthquake,
losing family, friends and neighbours. Most of the staff are
sleeping on the street still. For example, one of the nurses today
showed me all of her mosquito bites as she is still sleeping
outside with no shelter. Yet they still manage to come to work and
care for the patients.
The inpatients seem to be predominantly suffering from
psychosis. The courtyard for the patients is riven with a long gash
from the earthquake. The perimeter walls have collapsed.
Fortunately no patient was injured in the earthquake. The
outpatient service is tent-based outside. The earthquake has
exposed patients’ vulnerabilities. I saw one man who had lost a son
and his only other offspring, the other son, was paralysed. He had
become manic as a result. Other patients were unable to get their
medications for their psychosis because of the disruption, and have
had a relapse of their symptoms. There is a lot of anxiety amongst
the population, and amongst the mentally ill, particularly in
relation to going into buildings. Many people somatise to chest
The other area of work is the General Hospital, which is tented
with many USA and other volunteers supporting the Hospital, which
struggles to meet the needs after the earthquake. The majority of
the patients are in tents. There are many amputations. Today I
spoke to a man who was about to have a below knee amputation. Next
to him was a young girl with bilateral below knee amputation.
Friday , Saturday and Sunday are a national day of mourning in this
tented city for the catastrophic loss of life and livelihood. I now
return to my own tent!
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