Volunteers from multiple nations help provide medical care to Haitians

Dozens of U.S. soldiers and doctors volunteer at the University Hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
By Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, February 1, 2010

In a hot, dimly lighted tent at University Hospital, in Haiti's quake-stricken capital, a team made up of paramedics from Brooklyn, a doctor from California and a 22-year-old Army medic from Texas tugged at the bandages of a man who was screaming as the surgical wound on his left arm hemorrhaged.

"Anyone have morphine?" someone yelled.

Among the supplies on a rickety hutch in the corner was nothing to alleviate the Haitian's pain.

"Wait!" said Patrick Skinner, the medic from Dallas. "I've got a fentanyl lollipop!"

Minutes after the painkiller was taped to his cheek, the man quieted down, and team members were able to cut off his bandages and stop the life-threatening bleeding. It took them an hour.

On the hospital campus, a block from the collapsed presidential palace, scores of volunteer doctors, nurses and paramedics from Switzerland, Norway, Nicaragua, France, Taiwan, Canada and the United States have joined the local effort to care for injured Haitians. In the past week, they have performed amputations and treated fractures, infections, gunshot wounds and malnutrition.

For Skinner and the dozen or so other U.S. military medics helping the volunteers, it has been a major learning experience. Many said they thought the work here would help prepare them to treat battlefield injuries.

"I like getting my hands in on things," said Skinner, 22, who is on his first deployment. "You look at pictures and you read, but you really don't do it. Here, you're right there with experienced doctors and see how they do things."

"You see it. You smell it," he said.

Over four days at University Hospital last week, Skinner helped with a Caesarean section and two amputations, administered dozens of IVs, cleaned and stitched up wounds, gave blood transfusions and changed countless dressings and bandages.

He is here with the Army's Global Response Force, which is assigned to deal quickly with natural disasters. Since arriving, his 82nd Airborne Division unit has helped transport patients to the USNS Comfort, delivered water and meals to Haitians, fed aid workers and guarded University Hospital so doctors and nurses could work.

"Usually, we're looking for the enemy," said 1st Sgt. Kenneth Johnson, 38, of Spokane, Wash. "Here, we're helping people and trying to figure out where we'll put all the people who are coming in."

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