Walking into the cholera tents at Hospital Albert Schweitzer (HAS) is daunting. Swathed in drippy moist heat and the acrid smells of human sickness the nurses and doctors acrobatically move between cholera cots that are crammed into every corner. Family members lie on found cardboard pieces on the ground in the small spaces between the cots, cleaning copious amounts of vomit and diarrhea while the patients, after days of retching, wait for relief to come.
We came to help. To offer some relief to the local staff overwhelmed by the swells of patients with a disease that has not been seen in Haiti for over 100 years. And while in theory, the treatment of cholera is simple – rehydration – the sheer volume of patients and the critical states in which many of these patients arrive makes the treatment of cholera a very complex, time-sensitive, and logistically intensive endeavor.
Watching the local staff at HAS working tirelessly and with an adeptness that would impress the most seasoned nurse at Massachusetts General Hospital, we felt lucky to fall in beside them and be thought of as colleagues. The local nurses shared their expertise in treating the stream of complex cholera patients who are referred to HAS from other hospitals while we were able to share new methods of streamlining care and minimizing redundancies.
It is amazing to see this positive collaboration personified as patients who were carried into the cholera compound with barely palpable pulses are discharged days later to walk home on their own two feet. Yet, even with our successes we know that the battle with cholera in Haiti is far from over. This outbreak may shows signs of settling but new surges of patients will arrive with the rains and inevitably more needless deaths will occur.
Regrettably, the issues that keep cholera raging in Haiti cannot be treated as easily as the disease itself. Yet, while we cannot cure these larger ills, we feel blessed to be able to provide support and relief to our Haitian colleague and privileged to be able offer a kind hand to our ailing neighbors.