Saturday, March 13, 2010


Andrea Sciberras, 35, is a physician who teaches at The University of Florida at Miami. She was raised in Floral Park and Garden City. She initially wanted to be a writer. This is from her letter. She begins: “Some of this may be too graphic for some of you, so I warn you in advance to read with caution.

“Many of you have been asking about my recent trip to Haiti. Hopefully these reflections will answer most of your questions.

“I recently visited Haiti with an HIV/AIDS foundation that I used to work with in NY. They had (note past tense) 3 HIV clinics—one each in Port-au-Prince, Delmas, and Leogane. All were completely demolished except for partial damage to the clinic in Delmas.

“The first reaction I had when getting off our charter plan was to the stench. No amount of Vicks Vapo-rub inside my TB mask could mask the smell of decay, rotting bodies, Pseudomonas infections, feces and waste, and overall despair and helplessness.

“Most of the volunteer physicians in Haiti currently are staying in town or the airfield in makeshift hospitals. There are not enough doctors out in the communities. Hence, we deployed to the communities. I went to Leogane with a few others.

“Leogane is a city approximately 1 hour from Port-au-Prince which, was affected severely. It took us 5 hours to get there as there are really no roads or direct routes any more. Although we had some military presence with us, they were unable to stop the loose criminals and gangs at makeshift roadblocks, demanding money or valuables.

“Along the way, we experienced the rubble, the people running along side the SUV begging for anything that would help, the falling down of a nation that was already fallen. Most of the bodies have been moved to mass graves, however, occasionally there was a limb or other body part sticking out of the rubble and mess. The worst for me was finding a near-term fetus in an abandoned building, next to a pizza carton.

Along with the people begging for help, we saw groups united in prayer, with hope still brewing among this mass disaster. Tent cities—some with real tents, some; makeshift from sheets—everywhere. Dirt everywhere. Sickness everywhere.

“When we finally got to Leogane, I met up with a contact I had at the Russian Orthodox Church out there, which was demolished (along with several other Russian churches throughout the greater area. As you know, I am Russian Orthodox.) The entire congregation was living in one big tent, which is where we ended up staying since our clinic was completely gone. A woman was just giving birth when we arrived. Normally I would be happy and excited to bring a new child in to the world, but in this case I didn’t know how to feel.

“Our, ‘hosts,’ were very gracious and thankful to have us. Although their community was destroyed, they still had faith. There is hardly any medical help out in the smaller communities, and it almost seems like those people have been forgotten. It was heartbreaking to see a man walking around on an ankle that was bent 90 degrees inward. He was unable to get medical care in the days just after the quake.

“While I was there, I attempted to treat these orthopedic injuries with the little supplies I had. The amount of infections I saw was overwhelming. I had obtained some free antibiotics from Publix—Keflex, amoxicillin, penicillin injections, etc.—but it would have been nice to have some ceftriaxone injections, some, ‘big gun,’ antibiotics.

“It was such a helpless feeling not to be able to have and help more. The tetany was starting to take over. I had never seen someone die of tetany before, and it was heartbreaking. For non-medical folks reading this, tetany is caused by injuries—stepping on a rusty nail—and we urge you to get tetanus shots every 10yrs.Tetany causes severe muscle spasms of the entire body. If not treated, people writhe in pain from the severity of these contractions. They cannot relax, their entire body may arch in spasm, and eventually they die, basically suffocating because their respiratory muscles spasm and paralyze.

“It was a horrible experience to see people go through this. We did not have any tetanus shots or toxoid with us, nor even any medications to help ease their suffering while they died in agony. Again I felt so helpless.

“I watched many others die of overwhelming infections/sepsis—one villager coughed up an entire bucket of blood before passing away.

“In Haiti, even in the makeshift hospitals that I visited, there are/were still no oxygen canisters, no respirators/ventilators, no defibrillators, etc. so “heroic” measures, to me, meant allowing them to pass on in peace. Yet, morphine was in a limited supply. Even Tylenol and Ibuprofen were limited. I brought 50 bottles of each on my own, and the people were ever so grateful, even though I knew 2 Tylenol would not do much to ease their pain. I even had to do a circumcision on a male with gangrene with my own lidocaine—a local injection (sorry guys!)—there are no anesthetics there.

“Amid the hope of many villagers, there also comes a lot of anger. Unfortunately many bad people have resorted to looting, rape, pillage. It was not safe there, especially at night. Haitian women were getting raped. I treated many victims of rape, if they had the courage to come see me. With Haiti’s high AIDS rate, I was worried about these girls contracting HIV/AIDS, gonorrhea, Chlamydia, syphilis, pregnancy. I would give them penicillin shots to hopefully prevent syphilis, but the other diseases I did not have the resources to prevent. I eventually gave my own HIV meds, which I had brought down with me, to one of the girls.

“Another girl, a 14-year-old virgin, tried to fight off her attacker, so he lit a match and threw it on her genital region. I woke up to horrified screams around 3am. Honestly, I don’t know how I slept at all, other than from sheer exhaustion.

“I gave her all the silvadene cream I had, put in a makeshift suprapubic catheter. On the way back to the airfield for my trip home, I tried to get her, ‘admitted,’ to the airfield hospital. She was denied admission. They were only taking, ‘direct earthquake victims.’ Her wounds were considered an ‘indirect,’ cause.

“Sadly, I left her outside the hospital. She will probably become septic and die from her wounds. At this point, maybe that is the best thing for her, rather than have to live with those memories forever, but that is only up to the guy upstairs, not me.

“…all I can advise is do what your heart tells you. And pray.”

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