The following is an account sent by email to us from Denise English, the director of the Rehabilitation Technician Training Program. Denise is currently in Deschapelles, Haiti, at HAS.
I find my telling of this new beginning far differently than I imagined. It will remain an account of hope and reaffirmation.
We arrived, Chuck Gulas and I, on January 4, 2010. Chuck flew in from St. Louis. Ian Rawson and I flew in from Pittsburgh. Chuck was waving from the curb outside the airport, having arrived ahead of us.
The trip up from Port au Prince to Deschapelles went smoothly. The vistas spectacular. Haiti never disappoints.
Chuck Gulas, PT PhD, is the Dean of the School of Health Professions at Maryville University in St. Louis, Missouri. This is his third trip to Haiti as volunteer faculty for Health Volunteers Overseas www.hvousa.org.
Beginning the second Rehabilitation Technician Training Program at Hopital Albert Schweitzer (HAS), brought us back. We’re a team. Class started on January 6, 2010.
We find ourselves sharing knowledge and laughter with our six delightful students – each one different – each one engaging – each one expressing their desire to become part of the health care community here assisting the disabled.
They are pioneers. Rehabilitation in this country is in its infancy. Chuck has a way with students. Knowledge delivered with humor. Yesterday class finished with laughter.
The last several days have been quite somber. The students each know someone who has been affected by the earthquake in Port au Prince. Most have family there. Yesterday phone service began to return with news of family and friends. Some good. Some devastating.
Patients began arriving at HAS before dawn on Wednesday. We’d felt the quake here late in the afternoon Tuesday, and the after shocks continued into the next day. We’re not certain, but we think that we felt some slight ones yesterday.
Most medical facilities in Port au Prince were rendered inoperable. Hôpital Albert Schweitzer is one of the few operating without interruption, having been spared the damage of the earthquake. It is now a key rescue facility.
Wednesday continued to see the arrival of vehicle after vehicle of the injured from Port au Prince. Many have been identified as from this area, or having family here. We are 70 miles by road from the capitol.
Our classroom at the hospital has been turned over for patient care. The Physiotherapi room is cleared out and functions as a ward.
Yesterday, we had class here at the house. The day began with discussion of news the students had received. The day ended, as noted above, with laughter. A good decision to spend the day together yesterday. A sense of purpose in a situation that is full of uncertainty.
Chuck and I were privileged to witness the initial mobilization of the hospital staff and community members in response to the arrival of the injured. A sense of calm – in the midst of suffering – prevailed. Patients were carried in the doors – often in the arms of security staff and other hospital employees called into action. Community members came to assist. We began to fill up fast. A search began for additional beds and mattresses. The staff began evaluating and then designating people for radiology and surgery. The nurses moving quietly between patients. Soon it appeared that every possible place was filled.
Hallways were impassable at times.
The patients continued to arrive through the night Wednesday and were still coming last night, Thursday, when I returned to the house around 11:00.
There was not as much heart-wrenching wailing this evening. Hymns could be heard being sung in the wards
Earlier last evening, Tomasz Skowronski, our HVO onsite contact and my partner in coordinating the HAS end of the training program needs for our teachers, was helping to coordinate and effort to secure more beds and mattresses. Now we were spilling out into the courtyards. The halls had long ago been filled to capacity – and then some.
The decision was easily made to press into service a bed and two mattresses that we were not using. Why we didn’t think of it sooner I don’t know. Tomasz arrived shortly with his team and whisked them off. We slept better knowing that someone else did as well. It was touching to watch Tomasz work along side of the others here.
David Charles, PT - the Director of Rehabilitation Services here at HAS – has been a leader in the efforts here – moving amongst the patients and assisting the physicians and nurses. Today we hope to be able to begin to work with him as patients are identified as ready for rehabilitation services.
The injuries are sobering – fractures, spinal cord and head injuries, amputations.
The families are remarkable – caring for and comforting, supporting one another.
Last night we were remarking that when we are in the midst of this we feel hopeful.
We are certain, more than ever, that the training of rehabilitation workers here will impact the lives of many that they touch. It already has. A reaffirmation.
Those who provide that service – our HVO Volunteers – and the sponsor organizations, Hôpital Albert Schweitzer and The Friends of HAS, are key.
In times like this, heroes are mentioned. They are indeed here in Deschapelles. We’ve seen them.
To make a donation to the Hôpital Albert Schweitzer earthquake relief fund, click HERE.