New Canaan doctor turns Haitian disco into clinic
As an experienced student of the unpredictable, New Canaanite Dr. David Reed knows to expect the unexpected in a disaster.
One Haitian woman, her finger still flayed open to the bone more than a week after a powerful earthquake struck the country, sat stoically last month as Reed numbed the nerves and used a Swiss Army knife attachment to amputate.
Without the proper instrument in his kit, Reed was forced to improvise.
In disasters, he said, "things are totally unknown, totally unpredictable, and some doctors went down and had to come back without a sterile (operating room), but you have to make do with what you have."
A Stamford Hospital surgeon and professor, Reed traveled to the Haitian city of Carrefour on Jan. 20 to establish an emergency medical clinic. In six days, he saw 732 patients with the help of one Stamford Hospital nurse, four Haitian nurses and a Connecticut engineer who volunteered to be the clinic's pharmacist.
Traveling with representatives from Old St. Andrews and St. John's L'Epiphanie, Reed had hoped to set up his medical clinic in the Good Samaritan school in Carrefour, a school Stamford missionaries had developed that boasted 180 pupils.
"No rescue teams, no medical teams, in fact, no groups of any kind, had come before us," Reed wrote in the journal he kept nightly with the light of a headlamp.
So again, Reed was forced to make do -- the school, while still standing, was structurally unsound with rebar protruding from columns, crumbling walls and broken windows.
"One good aftershock could have destroyed it," he said.
So the crew found a nightclub down the street and set up a makeshift camp under its sparkling disco ball, hanging signs blazoned with red crosses on the doors.
The club's black walls were decorated with dancing silhouettes in bright neon colors. It was a clean, enclosed space that could be secured at night while they slept in tents on the clinic floor -- in other words, Reed said, "a godsend."
The nurses kept patient charts on single sheets of paper, describing little else besides patient's name, age, complaint and treatment, he said.
Although Reed came prepared with as many supplies as the team could carry, when he ran out of splints, he used a man's pant leg to secure his fractured arm. He had to set broken limbs without an X-ray machine.
The lack of X-ray technology was a problem he quickly brought to the attention of Stamford Hospital and Fujifilm Medical Systems who, with the help of AmeriCares, are sending an X-ray machine and a Haitian technician to operate it.
As soon as Reed heard about the deadly quake, he said, he knew his experience and public health background made him the perfect volunteer. He had responded to 20 disasters worldwide, including four earthquakes, since he began offering inoculations at age 15 in Honduras. Stamford Hospital nurse Ann Guili signed on, too, and still hasn't left Haiti.
"I wanted to get involved immediately," he said. "St. John's (in Stamford) was connected ... and was looking for a doctor."
To prepare for what turned into a 10-day mission, Reed said Stamford Hospital allowed him to raid the hospital's supplies -- a spree he jokingly likened to "being a kid in a candy store."
Among other things, he packed sutures, surgical equipment, dressings, cast plaster, slings, bandages, IVs, a machine to monitor vital signs and all the antibiotics he could carry, he said.
In a last-minute decision, he grabbed a pediatric textbook -- a specialty he performed only sporadically since medical residency and one of the most valuable items in his suitcase.
Although many of his hundreds of photos show patients with dirt-filled gashes, broken bones and scrapes and bruises from flying rubble, other shots showed the Haitian landscape.
Roadways were blocked by fallen buildings, crushed cars lined unused highways, and waterways were strewn so thickly with garbage it was impossible to see the muddy bank.
"Haiti had nothing, and now they have less," Reed said from his New Canaan home this week.
And although Reed and his colleagues saw the terror, pain and hunger on the faces of the Haitians every day, one moment of overwhelming gratitude more than rewarded him for the long journey.
Walking to a CyberCafe, the Connecticut volunteers encountered a large crowd of Haitians, singing sweetly in Creole and dancing rhythmically, he said.
The crowd listened as one woman bemoaned the earthquake as God's wrath, and before long, the microphone was thrust into Reed's hand as the crowd faced him silently.
"Haiti has had much misery," he wrote in his journal recalling his words. "We feel privileged to help the people of (Carrefour) here in a neglected corner of this catastrophe. May God bless you all."
The crowd responded with cheers and riotous applause, he wrote.
"It was a powerful moment," Reed said.