For a week they volunteered at the University Hospital in Port Au Prince, trying to save as many lives as possible. But with so many Haitians needing help, the doctors said their conventional training went out the window.
“We had a traumatic brain injury, a gunshot to the head,” said Elizabeth Bentivoglio. “In the trauma bay you would do everything you could to preserve that person, but it was taking us a lot of time and resources and we had to let that go.”
“Ethically, when you really have to do it, it’s hard to look at somebody and say he’s not going to make it so move on,” Westerband said. “Because you’re almost feeling like you’re playing God, and we’re not God.”
It was difficult to treat the massive numbers of people needing help because of a lack of supplies, doctors said. With little to no electricity in the hospital, many of the surgical procedures were performed in the dark with just headlamps and flashlights illuminating the patients.
Pain medication was also at a premium, so many went without it.
“I would tell them, 'You’re strong,' and they would reply invariably, 'God is strong,'” said Dr. Tracey Pyles.
It’s the little things the doctors take for granted every day that made the relief effort more challenging.
“Here in America, you do a surgical scrub for 10 minutes,” said Bentivoglio. “You scrub your hands for 10 minutes. But there was no running water, so we used hand sanitizer like Purel. There was no sterility.”
With the painful images ingrained in their heads, the doctors returned vowing to do something for the remaining survivors. With so many Haitian amputees, the doctors realized they have no way to get around. So the doctors started a relief effort of their own.
“There’s so many people that we give crutches to who have a sprain and in a few days won’t be using their crutches,” said Dr. Pyles. “So we have asked out hospital to support us and within the hour they said yes, so there is a drive now going on at Suburban Hospital.”
Today is the first day of the drive and they hope to fill the room with crutches by next week.