Carolyn Kruger, a health specialist for World Vision, arrived in Haiti on the day of the earthquake and had barely cleared Port-au-Prince when the temblor struck. For the next few days, she and other World Vision U.S. colleagues helped out at a hospital in Mirabalais that was overrun with wounded.
We left Port-au-Prince, weaving through the city and taking pictures of the President’s Place, the main square, and the port cranes. As we drove into the mountains, we looked back at the city—unaware, of course, that it would never be the same.
About one hour after leaving Port-au-Prince, we saw a truck with people desperate to get off. Others were running out of their homes, and our own car seemed to be riding over excessive bumps. We stopped and were told that there was an earthquake in Port-au-Prince. Our Haitian colleagues got on their phones to call loved ones—constant phoning, sometimes two phones at once, desperate attempts to get through. Within an hour, all communication was dead to Port-au-Prince.
We arrived at the village of Mirabalais in the Central Plateau, where we ate in silence and went to our hotel rooms. The aftershocks rumbled our beds. Sleeping was impossible, knowing the pain and suffering that was going on.
The next morning, our Haitian colleagues returned to Port-au-Prince to be with their families, check on their homes, and begin mobilizing the first-response teams. We remained behind in Mirabalais. I gathered the nurses together to determine how we could help the Mirabalais hospital that had been receiving patients all night long.
When we arrived at the hospital, all sorts of vehicles were lined up with patients waiting to be admitted. They came in trucks, cars, ambulances, U.N. vehicles, and motorbikes. Patients were lying on boards with broken limbs, swollen faces, and bleeding ankles, their hands and feet wrapped with whatever they could find.
The wounds were the worst I have seen in my nursing experience. The crushed limbs and fractures were already days old, so edema and infection had already set in. It was amazing to me that these people could tolerate the pain—although many were in shock. The fractures were set using rustic boards that were cut outside the hospital and wrapped with gauze because they had run out of splints.
We found the medical chief and nurses and informed them of the medical supplies we had brought, and they were grateful. We brought the most-needed supplies immediately to the ER staff. We asked how we could help, and they stated they need more medical supplies, food, and water for the patients. So we spent hours combing the village pharmacies for IV fluid, sets, bandages, and topical antibiotics as well as food and water for patients.
One young girl, about 11, arrived to the hospital on the back of a motorbike with a pair of crutches. She struggled to walk up the ramp by herself with an obviously broken foot. I helped her to the entrance and asked a young man to lift her onto a stretcher. She waited hours for help, enduring a lot of pain. We comforted her and gave her water and biscuits. There were so many other patients with more severe crush wounds, and she knew she had to wait.
There was a mother with a crushed foot who arrived from Port-au-Prince in the back of a truck with her husband and three children. After two days, the infection was severe, and she had to have her foot amputated. Her husband propped her up on the floor in his lap to help make her comfortable while they waited for surgery. We obtained pain medication for her and sought care for the children.
The hospital was running out of local anesthetics, so one of our colleagues went to another hospital to see if they could spare anesthetics and casting supplies. The children were especially vulnerable because they didn’t have food or water during the long hours while they waited for care, so we went to the village and bought water and biscuits and distributed them to the mothers.
Triaging patients was a challenge because the medical and nursing staff were completely engaged in emergency procedures and surgery and did not have much time to attend to the new patients arriving, so we began to assist with assessing patients as they came to the hospital and alerting staff to the ones that needed immediate attention. The more severe cases were brought into the available wards, and we tried to make them comfortable on the floor, which was the only space available. They were in shock and in pain, pleading for help.
There was such a feeling of helplessness—of being overwhelmed as to where to start and how to help—so you just did whatever you could, whatever came up at the moment, and then you moved on to the next situation.
Carolyn Kruger left Haiti on Jan. 16 and is now back home in Purcellville, Va.
Read the Washington Post article about Carolyn.