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EHMC Staff in Haiti - Englewood Hospital Physicians and Nurses Aid in Haiti Relief

Spotlight On: Jennifer Ashton, MD

I spent 8 days in Haiti providing medical care to earthquake victims during the day, and reporting my medical experiences and those of the victims for the CBS Early Show and The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, as well as Face The Nation, with Bob Schieffer.

I travelled to Haiti with a medical group from University of Miami Global Institute, and was accompanied by fellow Bergen County resident and neonatal ICU nurse, Babette Ammerman, of River Vale, NJ.  We were caring for 200 patients in a tent hospital. One day, I was given the first media tour on board the USNS Comfort, the US Navy Hospital Ship that arrived in Haiti. Another day, I was the transporting physician responsible for the transfer of 5 critically injured patients from our facility to the Israeli Field Hospital. The bulk of what I did with these patients was wound care, dressing changes, starting IVs, giving antibiotics and pain medications, though I assisted with an arm amputation of a 15 year old girl pulled from rubble 3 days after the quake.

As an Ob-Gyn with surgical training, I was completely unprepared  for the magnitude of the human suffering that I observed.  My brother, Dr. Evan Garfein, had travelled to Haiti 2 years ago to operate and had related how poor their pre-earthquake infrastructure was. But witnessing first-hand, row after row of patient cots, holding innumerable victims with compound fractures, gangrene sepsis, and infected wounds, was overwhelming. There were injured children who had been orphaned during the quake. There were pregnant women, there were young adults and babies who were badly burned and were critically dehydrated.  Interestingly, there were few elderly patients.

At our facility, we had no oxygen, no food/water for patients (and very limited 'snacks' for doctors and nurses even), no latrenes/facilities, and extremely limited surgical instruments. What we did have were compassionate medical professionals and stoic and appreciative patients who confirmed the importance of this medical and humanitarian disaster.  

The 8 days were an explosion of sensory stimuli: the smells of death, infection, poor sanitation, the sounds of low-flying military planes and emergency generators served as background for crying and moaning, the touch of grittiness, dustiness and dirtiness that covered every surface, the sights of rubble, injury, death and devastation, the taste of military MREs (our only food) and the feelings of helping people in pain who never expected anyone to help them will be with me forever.