Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Fauquier ED Doc Is a First Responder After Earthquake

Thirty-eight minutes after the earthquake hit Haiti, U.S. rescue teams were preparing to leave for the devastated country. Dr. William Barker, a physician in Fauquier Hospital’s Emergency Department, was one of those first responders. He is a member of the Virginia Task Force 1, Urban Search and Rescue. The team, which is sponsored by Fairfax County Fire and Rescue, left the U.S. on January 12 and remained in Haiti for16 days.

Working heavy concrete rescue, the team pulled victims from the rubble and treated survivors for crush injuries and dehydration. The days and nights full of hard work and too little sleep were wearing, but rewarding. Dr. Barker said, “Our team got two guys out of an elevator by climbing down the shaft and cutting through the elevator. Fortunately, they weren’t seriously hurt. The Fairfax Board of Supervisors held a little ceremony for our team recently. One woman got up to say that her sister was not a widow because of us, her sister’s kids had a dad because of us. One of the guys in that elevator was her brother-in-law. That made me tear up some.”

Dr. Barker has traveled to disaster areas before. Among them: two earthquakes in Turkey in 1999; the tsunami that devastated Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand in 2004; Hurricane Ophelia; and the Pentagon in 2001. On this most recent trip, he said, “Our team was credited with more rescues than ever, 16 official rescues. One woman took us 30 hours to get out.”

Especially during the first chaotic days, the situation in Haiti was catastrophic. “There isn’t much infrastructure. It was very difficult to get personnel or supplies into the country. The hospitals were all destroyed. There are no CT scans or X-rays. You are forced to rely more on your clinical abilities.

“The Israelis got a field hospital up on day three or four. And when the Navy ship the Comfort came in, with Project Hope, that was great.”

Dr. Barker expressed nothing but admiration for the Haitian people. “When we asked them to be quiet so we could hear, it was as silent as if there was no one for miles. They did everything we asked, and they were grateful for the help. They are so resilient. Some would be under rubble without food or water for four days. We’d give them a few bottles of water and it was like they had never been trapped.”

Dr. Barker also talked with enthusiasm about the highly trained, dedicated rescue workers he works alongside. “I’ve said it before, if someone is on the other side of a concrete wall and you take their tools away, these guys would chew through concrete to get to them.

“When I first started in 1999, I know the rescue guys were skeptical of the physicians, but after a while they saw how we worked, that we could fit in and do what needed to be done. When there wasn’t medical work to do, we carried rubble and cleaned toilets.

“We rely on each other. To know that they are there, it takes some of the fear away. I’m a little claustrophobic. But when we’re going in to help, I forget that I’m in a confined area with an unstable building over me.”

What pushes thousands of rescue workers to put themselves in harm’s way? Or to endure two weeks of sleeping on the floor and eating ready-to-eat meals out of a bag? Dr. Barker had his own answer: “The looks on the faces of the survivors and their families – that’s why I do it.” He added, “I really appreciate the support of the hospital and the whole community – and especially the support of my partners, who cover for me so I can do this.”

No comments: