Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Clinicians Offer Help to Haiti Earthquake Victims

Dr. David Snyder, retired orthopedic surgeon, was in Fauquier Hospital’s Surgical Services Department Wednesday, gathering supplies for his departure the next day with the Medical Missionaries. As he ruminated about the earthquake in Haiti and on past medical missions to the desperately poor country, friends and former co-workers stopped by to offer best wishes and words of concern and caution: “I’ll be praying for you;” “Be safe;” “It’s dangerous down there. Please be careful.”

Dr. Snyder knows all about the risks, the poverty and the aftershocks. This will be his sixth trip to Haiti with Medical Missionaries. “On other trips, we have seen people with routine injuries… a motorbike accident, a severed Achilles tendon. This time we orthopedic surgeons will be dealing with crush injuries, fractures, dislocations.”

The media has focused on stories of lawlessness and looting, but Dr. Snyder has seen another Haiti. “When we see patients, everyone in the waiting room is quiet and well-behaved. They wait their turns. They dress up in their best clothes to come to see the doctor and are very grateful for our help.

“In the central highlands where we work, we say that there is no crime because there is nothing left to steal. The people there have good values, strong families. It’s safe to walk around at night and there are very few policemen. The churches are very active and run most of the schools. You go into a school and there are three kids to a desk. They all stand up and bow and say, ‘Monsieur docteur.’
“Each girl has one white dress that they wear to church. The men and women get all dressed up too. When the service starts, there are these wonderful drums.

“The Haitians are very poor; most live on less than $2 a day. But they are a very proud people. They are steeped in tradition and color and art.”

Dr. Snyder has good memories of his visits to Haiti, like the time he traveled for miles over mountains on the back of a motorbike – the Haitian taxi cab – to retrieve supplies. Or the time his group was working on the problem of providing safe drinking water. The village of 6,000 was drinking very contaminated water, when someone discovered a source of perfectly clean water 1,000 yards away. “All these little triumphs …” recalled Dr. Snyder.

He added, “After the earthquake, at first, the people were fighting for survival. They didn’t have food or water and hadn’t eaten in days. They took what they needed to survive. But when the supplies arrived, when they could see they were going to get food, they got in line and waited their turn.”

Dr. Snyder feels the world’s response to the disaster has been good, considering that the earthquake was a very big one. The 7.0 magnitude quake’s epicenter hit just 10 miles west of Porte-au-Prince and its 2 million inhabitants. Dr. Snyder said, “It closed the port and destroyed the whole city of Porte-au-Prince -- the cathedral, the presidential palace, schools, everything. The government is being run out of a small police station. And the roads are terrible in Haiti,” which makes it
extremely difficult to move supplies.

Dr. Snyder thinks that perhaps those going to Haiti for the first time during this disaster may experience something like shell shock because of the widespread poverty. He said that there are very few trees because wood is the main source of heat. People live in shacks with metal or thatched roofs and dirt floors. But the residents sweep the dirt floors and everyone has a garden -- and goats. He smiled, “We eat a lot of goat when we’re there.”

This may be Dr. Snyder’s first trip to a natural disaster, but he is no stranger to the pressure of acute trauma and horrific injuries. He served in Viet Nam during the second Tet Offensive. “The difference then, was that we were incredibly prepared. This time, everyone was taken completely by surprise.”

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