Helping the Haitians: Local physicians return from trip

Area physicians who volunteered their time in Haiti have returned with mixed memories of devastation and resolve.

La Jollan Nathan Watson recently returned after two weeks with an international relief team working in Port-au-Prince, and an 11-person team of Scripps physicians and nurses came back on Feb. 5 after a one-week medical mission at Hospital Saint Francois de Sales in the island nation’s capital.

Chris Van Gorder, president/chief executive officer of Scripps Health, talked about the overwhelming dimensions of the tragedy.

“Katrina was devastating with 2,000 people killed, but in Haiti, there are 200,000 killed — and bodies still in buildings,” he noted.

Watson, who works as an emergency room physician in Imperial Valley and also responded in 2004 when a devastating tsunami struck Indonesia, said going to Haiti was his most difficult emergency deployment ever, but he praised the Haitians’ tenacity.

“The people are really resilient for what they underwent, which is on the same order of magnitude as the tsunami … only in a very concentrated area,” Watson said. “We were able to see Haitians starting to bounce back, reopening on the sidewalks in the front of stores that were destroyed, people starting up outdoor food carts — it was impressive.”

But they also saw things they would rather not have.

“The most frustrating thing for us as doctors was to have patients we could have saved in the United States, but there just weren’t the (medical) resources available,” Watson said.

The physicians operated in primitive conditions and quake victims suffered for it, Watson added.

“There were hundreds of people with amputations, especially children,” he said. “The ratio of maimed to killed seemed much higher than I’d ever seen.”

The Scripps Medical Response Team — trauma surgeons and trauma nurses, orthopedic surgeons, anesthesiologists and support personnel with disaster experience — dealt with the same daunting conditions: operating without electricity, cleaning their hands at hose spigots outside.

Aside from administering life-saving humanitarian aid, Watson said doctors were proud to be able to mentor some of their Haitian counterparts.

“I taught a medical student how to suture, how to sew,” he said. “The most satisfying moment I had there was knowing that she would be suturing right from now on.”

Dr. Brent Eastman, chief medical officer of Scripps Health, also commented on sharing knowledge with the local responders. In particular, he talked of teaching how to treat “compartment syndrome,” which saved lives — and limbs.

“It was the single most common injury in this earthquake, muscle swells that exerted pressure causing muscle to die,” he said. “The only way to treat it is to make long incisions through the skin to take the pressure off. That’s what we did.”

Van Gorder said the experience was a lesson in international relations.

“We had to remind ourselves we were in Haiti: This was their country, their hospital,” he said. “We had to be cognizant that we were collaborating with the Haitians.”

Eastman shared a memory he’ll never forget, of a 100-year-old Haitian woman who was waving her arms and singing.

“It struck me it was the Haitians’ way of dealing with pain and consoling themselves,” he said. “It was consoling to all of us as well.”

Related posts:

  1. San Diego relief workers focusing on follow-up care in Haiti
  2. Showing their concern: Local women return from inspiring trip to Zambia
  3. Trauma surgeon elected chief of staff of Scripps La Jolla
  4. Local Rotarians step up effort for Haiti
  5. Local students take part in Science Festival Expo Day

Short URL:

Posted by on Feb 11, 2010. Filed under Archives. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

Leave a Reply



Bottom Buttons 1

Bottom Buttons 2

Bottom Buttons 3

Bottom Buttons 4

Bottom Buttons 5

Bottom Buttons 6





  • Community input received on proposed health club and pool facility in Rancho Santa Fe
    About 100 Rancho Santa Fe residents showed up on Friday, Oct. 17, for a health club and pool community meeting, the last outreach before ballots were mailed on Monday, Oct. 20. On the ballots, members are being asked whether the Rancho Santa Fe Association should spend $350,000 on a professional planning phase for the potential new community amenity. RSF Ass […]
  • Czech violin duo to perform at Village Church in Rancho Santa Fe
    In cooperation with the Consulate General of the Czech Republic, the Czech School San Diego hosts a free classical violin concert by internationally recognized Czech violin player Jaroslav Svecený and his daughter, Julie Svecená, who are on a tour of the United States. The concert will be at 7 p.m. Oct. 27 in the Village Church. The father-daughter duo will […]
  • Rancho Santa Fe weekly sports update
    Torrey Pines defeated Canyon Crest Academy 4-3 in a Palomar League opener for both teams on Oct. 9. Alayna Tomlinson and Farah Farjood each scored two goals to lead the Falcons. Samantha “Sammy” Cirino added one goal and one assist. […]