We remember Haiti A week after returning from Haiti, medical crews of the IAF talk about some of their best and worst moments on the devastated island

Eden Bar-Noy | Translated: Nikolai Avrutov

Air force personnel made up about a quarter of the Israeli delegation to Haiti. Among them were 10 doctors, and 20 combat soldiers who served as the security force of the delegation.

“We had a very high percentage of senior care-givers”, tells Colonel Dr. Gil Hirshorn, medical forces officer. “Overall, the “blue” doctors were older, and relatively to their limited number, we had a very diverse range of specialists: Internal Medicine, Family Doctors, and Paediatricians”.

“The speed of our field hospital set-up in itself is a great accomplishment. Our team, coupled with vast amount of equipment and medicine we brought along with us, allowed us to treat multiple patients”, says Alon Grossman, Commander of the clinical ward and the medical unit of the IAF, and an internal medicine doctor at the delegation.

At the field-hospital that the Israeli delegation set up, over 1,000 patients were treated, 220 surgeries performed, and 13 babies were born. At the Paediatric emergency room, supervised by Dr. Amit over 300 children were treated and 13 resuscitations performed.

“We didn’t get to see much of the destruction on the island, as we went straight from the airport to the location that the Americans designated for our hospital site. Instead we saw a lot of people, with a frozen kind of gaze in their eyes, calling for help. You don’t see this in Israel, but to those of us who have been in disaster-stricken areas before – we recognized it. Younger members of the crew had to brace themselves to be able to function properly”.

“One the more notable achievements of our team, is the versatility at which we operated: I am an internal medicine doctor, but working at the ER, I handled mainly orthopaedic injuries. At the end of the day, a doctor’s role is to save lives, and we all did our best, and filled in where we were most needed”.

The harsh reality of the disaster forced the doctors to make many difficult decisions. “We tried not to get too attached to the people we were treating, as we knew that many of them have very little chance for survival. We worked in constant uncertainty. Perhaps our lack of knowledge of the French language helped a little in this respect”, says Dr. Grossman.

There were ample of cases, where not making a connection was a necessity. “A young lady came in with severe infection in her leg. By the time she was brought to our hospital, all her internal systems failed, and she was terminally ill. We had to make the decision not to resuscitate her. Her father told us that he had nine children, and she was the only one who survived. This was extremely difficult for everyone, but with the limited resources we had to give that chance to someone else that is more likely to survive. Another girl that was crushed under her building suffered an extensive damage to her kidneys, and required a dialysis treatment which was not available to us. We could only treat her with fluids, when it is clear that she would not survive. It was so frustrating to realize, that only if she could come in four days later, we would have had all the equipment she needed – as our American colleagues brought in the dialysis equipment – then her life would have been saved. Another woman, that successfully recovered had to be informed that her son passed away from the same disease she had”.

But there were also moments of joy. A man, who lay trapped under his house wrecks for over a week, was released after being hospitalized for just one day. A child with a deadly internal bleed in his ingestion system recovered thanks to a blood donation from a doctor at the delegation with a matching blood type.

“The heat and the humidity were unbearable. We feared of violence erupting, and we experienced a secondary earth quake. But we worked like Ninjas despite of all that”, concludes Dr. Grossman. “The conditions helped me realize how badly we were needed there, and how advanced the Israeli medicine is”. 

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