By Nabile Safdar, M.D.
Assistant Professor of Diagnostic Radiology
Editor’s Note: Dr. Safdar spent three days in Haiti as part of a group of Baltimore and Washington DC volunteers from The Islamic Medical Association of North America. He shares his experiences below:
Lying on the foosball table with a lollipop in her right hand and a photograph in her left, she could have been my own daughter. This smart, patient 3-year-old was like Khadija in so many ways, except that her left leg was broken, and now 6 days after the earthquake she was receiving her first pain control. Not 10 feet away from her, a 7-day-old baby girl lie dehydrated, born by Cesarean section the day before the earthquake. Her family members had one bottle of formula, after which they fed her sugar water, after which they fed her goat’s milk — all in an effort to keep her alive while her mother was pulled from the rubble. Suffering from vomiting and diarrhea for days, the child was dehydrated.
Now, her mother lie dazed on the air hockey table while Ayesha and Irfan [other medical volunteers] debrided the burn left by the light bulb that fell onto her thigh, not to be removed until it was already cool. All I knew was they were no different than my own family. I couldn’t imagine what it must have felt like knowing her infant was hungry, hearing her cries, but being stuck — unable to provide the breast milk that was her birthright and lifeline. It was too painful.
There was no way to prepare myself for what I saw the first two days of the makeshift clinic we helped set up in a damaged amusement park in Port-au-Prince. I had imagined, almost a week out from the disaster, some people would have already received medical attention. This was not the case. We treated infected wounds, fractures, dehydration, and barely recognizable limbs with the limited arsenal of antibiotics, pain control, crutches, splints, Betadine, and gauze we brought with us.
Thank God we had a local partner in the group Aimer Haiti to set up the clinic, know their city inside-out, and identify which hospitals were still operational. We held the most seriously injured patients in the concession pavilion of the amusement park, giving them something to drink and pain control, until transport could be arranged to one of the other overwhelmed facilities nearby.
When we started seeing patients, we asked them all about their families. After some time, the uniformity of the answers stopped us. After doing the best we could to treat them, we started asking them to pray for us. They always understood this request. We all knew that the prayers of the world were with the people of Haiti; what the rest of us really needed, though, were the prayers of the Haitian people. After all, we were just like their families too.