I have been a part of medical missions in the past, but nothing could have prepared me for the subacute needs of the Haitian people in the weeks after the disaster of January 12th. As I am currently in a PGY-4 research year in General Surgery, and so my flexibility could not have been better for scheduling travel. I did my research and applied through several organizations and Project Medishare, in conjunction with the University of Miami, was the most promising route. With the financial and planning assistance of CIR and SEIU to get me to Miami, Project Medishare then took over, and the experience was life-changing!
The experience from a medical standpoint was awesome. I worked with a Japanese trauma surgeon, a retired general surgeon who taught nonstop, an incredible trauma surgeon trained on the East Coast who managed to provide different perspectives in treatment every day, and several junior residents. We even had a fantastic PA and medical student to complete the team. I still don’t know if I was just lucky to have such a well-functioning team or the circumstances promote a general sense of comaraderie. I do know that the group of people I worked with (everyone at the hospital) were there to serve… and it was great! No begging for tests, no complaints… only helping hands everywhere, support for the tough times, and more new friends than I can count.
I arrived to find “deluxe” camping accomodations and a well-planned medical compound. Although filled to capacity with patients, my first seven days were spent with a full complement of medical personnel including ancillary staff and interpreters. In some ways, this facility ran more smoothly and I had more assistance than back home at County! My last three days were spent with a skeleton crew as most people had seven day stints and left. I enjoyed my time so much that I elected to stay the additional days to smooth the signout and transition to the new team.
A quick word about the Haitian people. I was lucky enough to meet a Pastor who brought in a woman from a rural town for evaluation and then offered to drive me around. I saw first-hand the resiliency, gratitude, and love for each other in the beautiful Haitian people. Families units are tight, as expected, and closer after losing loved ones. One security guard (hired by Medishare), lost his sister, brothers, parents and home in the earthquake. After talking to him for a while, he is still in shock… moving on the only way he can after losing everything.
The adjustment back to “reality” back in the states was rough for many people. In some ways, I felt more “real” down there. Every day we worked together to provide care that rivaled that in the states. Everyone had a purpose, and the best attributes of US healthcare were applied to ensure best outcomes and respect for the Haitian people, without the negative attributes associated with mainstream healthcare we all dislike. The experience reminded me of why I entered into medicine, and allowed me to see my work here at County with a new, perhaps renewed perspective.
Project Medishare will stay for a long time, and is currently transitioning to provide additional psychiatric services and rehabilitation services included prosthetics. All in all, while the experience was life-changing, it is not for everyone. Any personal agenda should be left at home in order to immerse yourself in the work. I went to help the people of Haiti and came back sleep-deprived and emotionally-fatigued yet with a renewed passion for my work and clear vision.
Note: Since he wrote this, Dr. Reynolds has returned to Haiti a second time. He is currently a General Surgery resident at Harbor-UCLA.