Volunteer Minister Disaster Response: Port-au-Prince General Hospital
The Haiti earthquake of January 12 that killed over 200 thousand and left an estimated 300 thousand injured and needing treatment instantly, overwhelmed the Haitian medical facilities. Ayal Lindeman, a licensed practical nurse, EMT and Scientology Volunteer Minister, was one of the first responders to the disaster. A veteran of relief efforts, he served at Ground Zero after 9/11 and at Hurricane Katrina in 2005, but he says nothing prepared him for what he saw when he first arrived at the Port-au-Prince General Hospital.
They found patients lying on beds without sheets, their bodies soiled with body waste and blood. Three patients had died there in the past hour alone, and realizing many of the patients wouldn’t make it without care, they worked through the night until the International Medical Corps arrived at 8:00 the next morning. Two patients nearly died that night. One pulled his IV out and almost bled to death, the other nearly drowned from a build-up of fluid in the lungs.
Night in the wards had other challenges. When the lights failed, Lindeman and Craig were forced to care for patients by flashlight until army medics gave them chem sticks—plastic tubes that provide light for five hours when broken open.
There were so many patients and so few professional resources, patients’ families were providing most of the patient care. But food was scarce. Not only was there none for the families, there was none for the patients, so Lindeman and Craig procured food and water for the patients and their families.
One night, a patient suffered a major cardiac and respiratory crisis, and there was no medication or oxygen to help him through it. A Russian doctor on duty and an emergency room doctor who had been a US Army field surgeon, improvised by mixing the medications they did have, and together they kept the patient alive long enough to get him airlifted to the United States for the surgery he needed to save his life.
One young man on the ward was told if they didn’t amputate his leg, he would die. He refused to have the operation, saying he didn’t want to live with one leg. Lindeman talked calmly with him, helping him look at his options. In the end, he chose to live, and went through with the operation.
Lindeman was assisting in a surgery when a young woman’s abdominal bleeding became life threatening with no clamps to stop it. Lindeman used his Leatherman, an all-purpose tool, as a clamp, which kept her alive long enough to get her moved to the USS Comfort Hospital Ship for the help she needed.
Lindeman’s team has continued working at General Hospital for the past three weeks, caring for 50 to 300 patients a night, often pulling twenty-hour shifts. The wards are now cleaner and lighting is better, and they are staffed day and night.
The work continues, and as volunteers begin to return home, more are needed to carry on a relief effort that the Secretary-General of the International Red Cross has predicted will last for another six months to a year.