Haiti Response: First-Person Accounts

Rescue personnel describe what they found when they were deployed to Haiti to assist with the medical care of earthquake victims.

NYC Medics, an international relief organization, mobilized and within five days had placed two teams on the ground in the country. Over the next eight weeks, NYC Medics deployed a total of seven teams--nearly 60 paramedics, nurses, physician assistants and doctors. During this initial response to the earthquake, NYC Medics treated roughly 20,000 patients. Here are some first-person accounts from rescue personnel deployed to Haiti.

Individuals Come Together for a Common Goal by Betsy Fine, MD

In October 2005, I responded to an email from the Society of Adolescent Medicine requesting a doctor to go to Kashmir after a massive earthquake. Within a week or so, I flew to New York City and then on to Pakistan with a group of complete strangers--a fairly close-knit but somewhat ragtag group of veteran NYC paramedics, off on their own with no organizational backing. It was a crazy thing to do, but it was the start of some of the most rewarding experiences of my career and my life. How a family doc with a specialty in adolescent medicine fit in with a group of seasoned New York paramedics was and remains a little unclear. Somehow, even though our skills sets are very different, our basic belief that anyone can do something to help ties us together.

Though each trip with NYC Medics was very different--the first to remote Kashmir, Pakistan, a second to refugee camps for displaced mountain people in Garhi Habibullah, Pakistan, and most recently to one of the poorest and most densely populated cities on earth in Port-au Prince, Haiti, my friends and colleagues work with the same energy, compassion and utmost respect. I marvel at how folks whose work is in tiny fragments of lives in emergencies were as connected to the patients as those of us who spend years in practice getting to know them. Not only patients, but the local staff, translators and community completely bond with this group. Four and a half years later, we still get emails from our friends in Pakistan.

Personally, I found Haiti the most emotionally difficult of our missions. Our work, though meaningful, felt like a drop in the ocean compared with the homelessness, poverty, and a lack of food and water heaped on top of illness and injury and unimaginable loss. It has really stayed with me daily when I turn on the tap, walk in my home or open my full refrigerator. I am constantly reminded how the people of Haiti are living. We had the amazing fortune to be welcomed by the people we came to help and by the activist community people who would be there after we left.

In the end, it really is all about connections--something my friends from NYC Medics are extraordinarily good at. As one patient said to our gentle friend Chris in Kashmir, "You have two hands, I have two hands...we are the same." Ultimately, this is the reward of our work, to share our humanity and to stand with each other in the face of sorrow and loss. I am ever so grateful to have been a part of that.

"Entry into Haiti" by John McGlade, EMT-P

Six members of NYC Medics 'Team 3' met with Ruben Flores for coffee, ID cards and a briefing at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City around 3:30 a.m. Eight hours later, we were on the ground in Santo Domingo waiting for the rest of our team from California. A few short hours into the afternoon, we were on the way to the Haiti border, several hours to the west.

The roads were a maze of potholes and broken asphalt, and an inevitable flat tire held us up for over an hour while it was repaired. In the Dominican Republic (DR), a flat tire isn't a problem. However, having two flats is a big deal, so we had to get it repaired just in case it happened again.

The flat tire and hour delay put us at the border after 9 p.m.; it had closed at 7. After a discussion with the immigrations officer who was responsible for the border, she approved our crossing, since we were "diplomats," and they opened the border gates for us, but it was too soon to celebrate. We hadn't figured on the animosity between the Dominicans and Haitians.

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