Arriving at HAS after the earthquake
Today’s blog from Deschapelles is being sent to you all by Ian Rawson’s son, Edward who was working in New Orleans and immediately made plans to travel to Haiti upon receiving news of the earthquake.
I was able to arrange transportation just shy of two weeks after the massive 7.0 earthquake that shook the country to the ground. I flew in on a private plane which was bringing doctors, reporters, much needed medical supplies, and me. I spent my first night sleeping with one eye open on the tarmac at the Port au Prince airport. I watched as massive military planes unloaded tons of supplies. Most of them looked more like buildings with wings than airplanes. Trucks marked UN, US, France, Turkey, and hundreds of other country’s authorities raced around coordinating plans and supplies for the following day. It was surreal. I’ve been to this airport many times in my life often greeted upon arriving with the sounds of a band playing as I walk towards customs. This time the building was cracked and the only sounds were jets and sirens. The reason we slept on the runway the first night was that we were not allowed to leave the airport until dawn due to concerns about security.
When I got to the hospital the next day it was a really nice feeling. I hung on the side of a trailer filled with boxes of pain killers, antibiotics, and surgical supplies. I passed the big mural near the hospital entrance that we did in November still in perfect condition. It was a great feeling to be back to my home away from home. I was happy to be bringing these supplies and I was happy to see my dad.
Once the truck was all unloaded I got to sit down with my pops and reflect on the weeks before. It had been hard on him, I could see it in his eyes, and I could tell by how quick he would well up, and how little he wanted to talk about the tragedies he witnessed. I could tell he hadn’t been sleeping much and he was becoming very attached to many patients from spending so much time in the halls doing what he could to make them feel better.
Hôpital Albert Schweitzer Haiti is in the center of the country in the Artibonite Valley, in a town called Deschapelles. It was far enough from the center of the quake that it did not sustain much structural damage which is great news for all those I love here, and great for the hospital my grandparents built in the 50’s. It was even better news for the victims 2.5 hours away in Port au Prince. Many of the hospitals in the city had been leveled or were severely damaged by the quake and were not in use immediately after. HAS was the first response in many cases.
Because of the severity of the quake, whole buildings fell on people. Hundreds of thousands of people died all so fast their bodies were just piled up in the streets in the days after. Those who did survive largely had bad traumatic injuries caused by concrete chunks hitting them and breaking their bones. They were in massive amounts of pain and needed treatment ASAP or they too would join their fellow Haitians dead in the streets. It was a very scary reality for many to face. I’m so thankful I was not here when it happened because hearing the stories from so many people was more than I could take much less to have to witness or be a victim of the horrors myself. Thankfully hundreds made it to Hopital Albert Schweitzer on time for life saving treatment despite having to travel up bumpy roads in the back of pickup trucks for hours.
Even when I got here two weeks after the big shake, I saw the hospital filled way beyond capacity. I had never in my life seen so many people at this hospital. Many patients were placed in the halls and their loved ones slept under their cots on the ground.
It was a trying first week as many faced surgery, while others got bandages changed and began the healing process. Thankfully there were finally some pain killers here. Even with them, some patients wailed in agony. If I close my eyes I can still picture one man screaming on my first day here as a nurse peeled away blood soaked bandages to reveal exposed muscle on his arm. Across the hall a few feet away a man sat quietly watching with his left leg wretchedly broken in several places and yet the surgeons so overloaded still did not have time to operate yet, so he sat and waited patiently for his turn.
All in all you could see the hope in the eyes of all people here. Every patient seemed relieved they made it this far, and knowing they were in good hands with the doctors and care HAS was providing. They were gonna make it through this and they knew it.
The patients were also relieved to know that regardless of how much care was required, it wouldn’t even cost them a penny because HAS is supported by generous donations from all over the world.
Edward Rawson is a mural artist who has been creating public art designed and painted by disadvantaged youth in Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Miami, New Orleans, Brazil and recently in Haiti. Follow other images and video clips at www.edwardrawson.com.