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Treating the injured amid the apocalypse of Haiti

Over the last two days, I have spoken to seven caregivers at Stanford who treated earthquake victims in Haiti, all describing what they experienced as life-changing and beyond anything they had witnessed before.

“It was a completely religious experience. It was an unbelievable outpouring of emotion and human bonding,” said Stanford orthopedic surgeon Gaetano Scuderi, MD. He jumped in to volunteer with a Haitian-American nonprofit group after seeing a CNN report of doctors abandoning patients because of security issues. He spent four days in a small village north of Port-au-Prince with 25 other physicians, treating as many as 800 patients with crushed and broken limbs and other traumatic injuries.

“I have to say we operated through tears in our eyes the whole time,” he said. The spirit of cooperation was so remarkable that only days into the relief mission did he discover that the person sweeping the floors in the tiny garage of an operating room was an oncology surgeon and chief of staff at a big Florida hospital.

“Everybody had one goal in mind. We knew people were out there dying. We didn’t want to waste a second.”

A separate team of Stanford emergency physicians and nurses also spent two weeks at the university hospital in Port-au-Prince, arriving to find a scene they described as “hell,” something out of an apocalypse. A sea of patients, some dead or dying, awaited them amid cries of pain and the overpowering smell of infection and death.

“Seeing those mangled extremities, the amputations and the infected wounds, it was overwhelming,” said Anil Menon, MD, a member of the team.

The group, which arrived Jan. 17 and was one of the first medical teams on the site, set up an effective system of care to triage and treat patients, trying to save as many lives as possible, said Robert Norris, MD, chief of emergency services at Stanford. They cared for an estimated 2,000 people in collaboration with other physician volunteers who arrived later on scene.

A podcast on the Stanford team’s experiences is available here.

Previously: Stanford medical team returns from Haiti

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