Jeff Leathersich – Update

Posted by on Jan 27, 2010 in Members, Missions | 0 comments

Jeff Leathersich – Update

Days before we departed to Haiti I saw a national news report of a medical team that flew down just after the earthquake, while they originally intended to stay longer they were melting down emotionally after 5 days. One of them was sobbing while being interviewed she said they could not take it anymore, the need was too great, the devastation was too widespread and the supplies were too few. I did not judge them for leaving but said to myself that they must not have been prepared physically or emotionally. Having traveled to Africa, Indian, Brazil, Fiji, Mexico and Belize on medical and other forms of humanitarian missionary efforts… having designed and directed a International Community Health Program for five years training people to do health care in developing nations, I was certain that I would be prepared… I was wrong.

Today I spent the day at a camp for IDPs or Internally Displaced People. It was without a doubt the most challenging and difficult day of my professional life. One of our team members said it was like a war zone and I have to agree, we had hundreds of people run to the our bus as it pulled into the camp. We were the first medical team to show up to this community of 700. We saw so many gapping wounds that have not been treated and broken bones and other injuries that I loss count. Some flesh wounds infected… some just rotting away. My first patient was a lady who had literally been scalped in the collapse of a building and her right arm she had fractured all the bones in her arm so her upper and lower arm were both flopping. It had a make-shift splint on it. Her scalp wound was healing so I left it alone and splinted her arm. Fortunately we have an orthopedic surgeon coming next week.

The next patient of note was a 3 month old baby that was minimally responsive to painful stimuli, we tried to convince the family that she needed to go to a hospital but they did not want to take her, we offered to find one and take her but they still refused… don’t ask me to explain it they just would not do it after long conversations and I don’t understand it. We knew what the consequence of their decision was but I don’t know if they did even though we tried to explain it or maybe they did… but their decision reflected the degree of hopelessness these people have.

The last patient I will tell you about today was a 9 year old boy who came to our bus without a parent, his mother died in the quake and while his father was found at my request and came, he did not want to stay with his son. The boy was burning up with fever; he was severely dehydrated and vomiting. I tried to orally re-hydrate him but he just could not keep liquids down and they ended up mostly on me very early in the day. He collapsed sobbing when he threw up, it was not hard to tell that he was not just crying about being sick… this sobbing was more than that… it was about the fresh and unprocessed death of his loved ones, the trauma of all he had seen and the hopelessness. While these survivors are alive, it seems like they are crying as they know their life as they knew it just died a terrible death. We gave him 3 liters of IV fluids, antibiotics and Tylenol and benadryl which is all we had to calm his stomach, he looked better when he left, I hope it was turning point for him. Without his mother and having met his father I doubt anyone would have been by his side forcing him to drink.

So what made this day so difficult? The numbers of sick people is overwhelming, you just can’t get ahead, when the people from the next town or camp you are at hear we are there and they walk 10-20 miles to find us. Our supplies while well stocked for adults we are short on medicines for kids as the is the country and the apparently the relief effort suppliers we are working with, by noon we had to apologize and say that we just don’t have pediatric pain medicine. Caring for people who are ALL in such emotional pain is draining. They are hopeless and it is an understandable hopelessness they have and you look around and say, yes, this is a hopeless situation, it is overwhelming. At the end of our day, we have to leave to home by dark, the crowd that is still waiting erupts some in anger others in anguish. I don’t know if I have been able to put it into words for you, this is just the worse thing I have ever experienced in my life, and tomorrow is another day.

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