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January 26th, 2010
06:08 PM ET

It's just survival

By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
CNN Chief Medical Correspondent

A couple of days ago, a man was stoned to death about a block from where we are staying in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. I have been down here nearly two weeks covering the earthquake devastation, having arrived quickly the morning after it occurred. I didn’t see the stoning myself, but several of my colleagues described a man who had been trying to steal money and was met with swift and deadly citizen justice. A lot was made of this particular tragedy, and if you caught only that headline, you might be left believing the incident was in some way emblematic of what was happening all over the place. Truth is, even though I braced myself to see rampant lawlessness and mob hostility, I wanted to blog about what I have actually seen.

As I drove through the streets of Port-au-Prince, just 16 hours after the earthquake, I was met with stunned stares and unfathomable grief, as parents tried to dig their babies out of the rubble and older kids did the same for their parents. It was heartbreaking. And though we raced out with our first aid bags to help those we could, it seemed like we would never be able to make a dent in the suffering. There were people who died in this earthquake and those who lived – but there were also a large number of people somehow caught in between. They were alive, but terribly injured and dying. That is where we focused our attention. Terrible crush injuries of arms and legs. Degloving injuries, where the skin of the arms or legs was ripped away. And, people so malnourished and dehydrated that they could barely walk.

I expected to see those stunned stares turn to desperation, and that desperation turn to brutality. It didn’t. In fact, I remember driving by a water station that had finally opened on January 18th, five days after the earthquake struck. It stayed in my mind for two reasons. First of all, five days is a long time to go with little to no water, especially in Haiti heat. Second of all, there was no pushing, shoving or aggressive behavior. There were no armed guards and there was a tight line, with people waiting patiently. Some were even singing songs, while blistering away in the heat. I almost cried. A piece of my faith in humanity, which had been trashed by too many terrible images, was slowly restored.

A couple of days later, I was seeing patients at one of the hospitals in downtown. It was actually more of a tent city situated outside the hospital, where care was sparse and misery was thick. Helping care for wounds, evaluate injuries and even perform surgery – every single patient said thank you, in Creole, French and English. Thank you. When recounting this to a neurosurgery colleague of mine, he reminded me that we could often go months working at a county hospital in the states without ever hearing those two words.

Over the last two weeks, I have not seen the violence Haiti has been known for in years past. During this time, when lawlessness had been put to the test, it seems the people of Port-au-Prince stood tall, dignified and with respect for one another. Yes, there has been “looting” from stores of supplies. But, is “looting” even the correct term for people taking basic necessities for themselves and their families? Instead, it is just survival, and faced with the same situation, I would’ve likely been right there with them, wanting to preserve the lives of my wife and children.

Consider this a blog that went beyond a headline, and presented a reporter’s on-the-ground view of this very important issue. I won’t pretend that this is more than a slice of life in the aftermath of a terrible natural disaster, but it is my slice, and I wanted to share it with you. Thank you – for reading it.

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soundoff (336 Responses)
  1. LPA

    We must not forget the missionaries and students who died at the Montana Hotel and whose bodies have not been recovered. Many of them were foreighners who were in Haiti on humanitarian grounds and who deeply cared for the well being of the Haitian people. My heart goes out to their grief stricken family members. We must believe that things happens for a reason, and it was their destiny. May they rest in peace knowing they died helping humankind.

    Hats off to the CNN crew for magnifying the seriousness of this catastrophy.

    January 29, 2010 at 00:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Viviane Toussaint

    Dr Gupta,
    It was refreshing reading your blog about Haitians' dignity. For so long, we've been bombarded with negativity and it is very important that people like you report on the positive aspects as well.

    Since the earthquake, I have been watching CNN continuously and wish to thank you for your enormous contribution as a reporter, as a neurosurgeon, as a human being. You are a decent man and it shows.

    Keep up the good work!

    January 29, 2010 at 00:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Marshal Valentine

    Dr. Gupta-

    I had the honor of working in Haiti some years ago on a security team for a government official. The year or so that I spent in Haiti had a dramatic impact on me; it was the people. A country so poor, with most residents living on $1 or $2 a day if they were lucky. Cooking on charcoal because that was all that was available. Observing our house staff boiling the tooth brushes that we threw away so that they could be re-used. A country that when we went out into the deep rural areas with our principle one realized that many of these folks did not even know what a TV was, things that many in the US and other countries take for granted. But what always stood out was that they were and continue to be a proud people. As poor as they are, they remain proud and for that I respect. Keep up your good work, the people of Haiti need you and your prefessional friends, they need the help of everyone. The country never seems to be given a chance, its like three feet forward and six back and that ha seems to be going on for years. Stay safe and Good luck.

    MV

    January 29, 2010 at 01:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Susan Ocame-LeMay, RN,CLNC

    I find it amazing that there are still survivor's being "stumbled" across in the rubble this long after the quake with little to no access to fluids, not to mention the extreme heat. I can't help but wonder if the Haitian people have adapted or "evolved" in such a way that they CAN survive the extreme.Haiti's history consists of hundreds of years of extreme poverty, poor living conditions, lack of clean drinking water & poor nutrition...even PRIOR to first settling there. Do you think this could be a factor that can be attributed to these amazing individual's surviving so long without svere electrolyte imbalance from dehydration claiming their lives ? Are all of these cases native Haitian's that share similar living enviroments & nutrtion ?
    Dr. Gupta...you truly have a beautiful soul & help us to see through your eyes. Be safe & stay well...GOD BLESS !

    January 29, 2010 at 02:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. David Smith

    Dear Dr. Gupta,
    I appreciate your positive comments about the Haitian people in the modest framing you offered in your blog, saying, “I won’t pretend this is more than a slice of life in the aftermath of a terrible natural disaster…” If I may contribute additional observations outside the context of natural disaster, I have been to Haiti four times in the last 10 years, spending time in Port-au-Prince, Jacmel, Belle-Anse, and Pichon.

    During each visit I observed—with sincere admiration—noble qualities of character in the Haitian people that spoke eloquently to a wealth of community life and a generosity of spirit that ranges far beyond the abject poverty that defines the public view of that country. I applaud your comments and other CNN reports I have seen. May they help bring a richer, more complete view of Haiti and its people into public awareness. With heartfelt thanks and best wishes, David

    January 29, 2010 at 09:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Carolyn Henderson

    Thank You Dr. Gupta, Thank you for helping the Haitians, I love you for what you did, I Love You for what you are doing and I Love You for what you will do in the future. I'm a single mom of two, and I can't imagine going though what the Haitians are experiencing. Every night we pray for Haiti and we pray for You Dr. Gupta and Anderson Cooper, and all the other volunteers that are helping. This memory will never leave my heart or my mind. My children and I will continue to pray for every soul in Haiti.

    January 29, 2010 at 10:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. shari

    Dr. Gupta- You are an inspiration to me. The situation is devastating, but seeing people of all sorts come together for the betterment of mankind, brings peace to me. Thank you for going to help the people there and sharing your story.

    January 29, 2010 at 11:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Kimberly

    Dr. Gupta,

    Your story is a passionate, heart-felt, and inspiring. Thank you for writing it and for sharing it with the world. Thank you for using the talent God gave you to help the Haitian people. I've been following your efforts since you were offered a position with the CDC and you've never been anything but amazing. I truly wish that you had accepted the position because I think you would have been done a wonderful job. But, perhaps God had a plan for you and knew that if you had taken the position that you wouldn't have been able to make this trip to Haiti. Either way, it all worked out the way it was supposed to, I believe. You make me proud to also call myself an "Atlantan". I wish there were more people like you in this city. Continue your work in Haiti, you're doing a truly amazing job there. God Bless!

    January 29, 2010 at 12:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. kelly

    Right ON Dr. G !!!! Thank you for sharing your insight.

    January 29, 2010 at 12:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. a buddhist

    you and AC are practicing the Buddha's teaching

    January 29, 2010 at 13:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Carla

    To Patricia Anderegg – That was one of the most ignorant comments i've heard in quite awhile. If you feel you could have done better, I'm sure they could use someone with your expert medical knowledge in Haiti. Feel free to jump.........................on the first plane out.

    January 29, 2010 at 13:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. karen

    Thank you , Thank You. You are seeing the true humanity of people in a trying and desperate time. I'm glad you expressing the true value of people. It is a testimonal of who you truly are as a human being to stay & help. I'm sure this is a life changing & moving event for you. I'm grateful for someone like you & the many others. Take care & thank you, thank you, thank you

    January 29, 2010 at 14:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. tobe woodyb

    a lot of reporters would go to haiti to reporte the news but you guys not only do that but you also help people in the world to understand the gravity of the situation in Haiti. i think you for that

    January 29, 2010 at 15:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Steve from Boston

    Dr. Gupta,

    Heartfelt and well said but you have missed the mark on one point. Thanking us for reading. Are you kidding? Thank you for being there, for caring, and for being a shinning example of what is best in human kind. THANK YOU!

    My God bless the people of Haiti.

    Steve

    January 29, 2010 at 15:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Eddy Philippe

    Dr Gupta:
    As a Haitian American living abroad for more than 30 years, I have on countless occasions either on TV or News Papers gotten misinformations about the haitians. I would hear or read that the haitians are lazy, love the misery, always with their hands out. They could not be farther from the truth. The silver lining in all of the latest incidents, if there is one, is that now, because of the great work of Dr Gupta, Anderson Cooper and the rest of the CNN crews, the world knows that haitians are indeed poor monetarily but rich in resilience, wisdom, pride, dignity, culture. It touched me a lot to see minutes after the tremor, poor haitians with their bare hands helping their neighbors and strangers who were stranded underneath the rubbles. Ladies who lost their homes but yet never lost their spirituality and were singing religious songs on the street. Thank you for the great report and I know it can't be easy for you as a father and husband seeing all the destructions. I hope your experience of the positive side of Haiti brings you some confort.
    Thanks to the World and specially the USA for their quick response and help to my destructed country. Again my gratitude to CNN.

    January 29, 2010 at 16:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Val

    Dr. Gupta –

    This is momentous. To read your words is both sad at the circumstances and inspiring in their telling. Keep talking to us. Keep telling us what you see, what you feel. I would rather read these terrible details from someone who is there, now; than the media who don't always have accurate information. I will not stick my head in the snow.

    You don't need to thank us for reading your words. We thank you, for going where we cannot go – without hesitation; and letting us share in this with you. I can barely imagine the toll this is having upon you and everyone who is there. Not everyone has the fortitude to do what you do, what they do. I don't know if I could.

    Our best is all we can do. Be safe as you can, and come home to your family and an army of readers who recognize your efforts and feel great pride in them.

    January 29, 2010 at 17:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Eva A.

    Dr. Gupta, thank you so much. This blog has put a lot of my worst fears at ease. CNN does show the desparate pushing and shoving sometimes and it drives me crazy, even though they also people patiently waiting in lines and the singing and dancing as well. It's so hard to get a true overview and you clearly have a better one than most. I discovered NetHope tonight on Twitter and caught the UN's OCHA director on CNN. It's clear the coordination between agencies is not working well enough yet to provide swift distribution of supplies. But I'm learning more and more that really good people are working on exactly that and it will get better. Hopefully, model work for interagency coordination will develop more rapidly now through Haiti and many more lives can be saved from such horrific catastrophes.

    January 29, 2010 at 17:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Karrie Jean

    Thank you for sharing your experiences in Haiti. I am glad you and your team are there to document and share with us this unthinkable tragedy for the Haitian people. Stay safe and take care of yourselves while you are caring for others.

    January 29, 2010 at 19:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Idyle from MA

    Dr. Gupta,

    Thank you so much for your insights and for saving lives in Haiti. For many years, no matter what the circumstances may be, as Haitians living abroad the world sees us as boat people coming from the poorest country in the western hemisphere. After reading about what you wrote, I hope the world will have a different view about Haiti and the People of Haiti.

    This is the worst catastrophe I've seen so far. The Haitian people have been through so much over the years, just when I thought this couldn't get any worse and then this. Thank you so much for caring, and writing the truth about the Haitian People.

    People are emphasizing about "looting" would they do any better if there were face with the same situation? I don't know anyone who wouldn't, I would if it means to keep my family alive. Thanks to You, Anderson Cooper and CNN staff.

    Idyle

    January 30, 2010 at 16:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Ianthe

    Thank you, Dr. Gupta. You're an amazing reporter and doctor. And to the people of Port-au-Prince and Haiti all over, your people are in my prayers.

    January 31, 2010 at 01:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. K. Etienne

    In regards to Patricia Anderegg's comment I think I speak for most of the nation...shut the hell up. And during a crisis like this when you do not have anything positive or nice to contribute then I am sure for the most part no one wants to hear or read ANYTHING you have to say. As for Dr. Gupta and Anderson Cooper...you are true CNN Heroes along with the resilient Haitian people. You all are definitely number one in my book. What you guys do, I think most people would think twice about doing. I ask that the Lord watches over you and your journey in Haiti and the Haitian people during such a trying and devastating time. WE THANK YOU AND WE ALL APPRECIATE YOU. Come back home safely.

    Ketienne 🙂

    January 31, 2010 at 03:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Stefanie Zarych

    Dear Sanjay,

    You and Anderson's coverage of this disaster compelled me to travel to the Haitian border last week and work in a hospital in Jimani, DR for quake victims. We were lucky enough to have an actual building for some of the patients. The days blurred together, but one night we had three after shocks. After the first, all of the patients and family ran or were carried out of the hospital. Outside they all began to sing. Hundreds of people, they all knew this song. They waved their hands and released their fear through song.
    And yes, everyone said thank you the whole time I was there.

    Stefanie Zarych

    January 31, 2010 at 12:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. jennifer

    dr gupta, I have been very grateful to you for the account of the situation you have provided, but also, as I am not a doctor or nurse, I feel gratitude to you for your generous and heroic acts.
    I feel like you are representing.
    At this time, I can only donate, supplies and funds etc.
    But you are able to give your hands, your brain and education etc.
    Thank God for you, and I want to say this to you – for sharing your heart and experience, as strange as it may seem...
    I believe you. I believe what you say and do. A rare trust to have with someone on the tv. I hope that you soon get the rest and nourishment that you have sacrificed these past weeks, and the love and comfort of your family and friends back in the US.
    Of course the same goes to your heroic team.
    from our family to yours,
    Thank you for your sacrifice and for your commitment to justice.

    January 31, 2010 at 22:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Wendy

    Of all the outstanding reporting being brought to the global audience by the CNN crew, yours, for me has been the most revealing look at not only the tragedy but the humanity of what happened there. It brings a unique intimacy to the story when you have the heart of a healer and, though it's been very emotional to watch you and your team over this time, I've found it heart-provoking, conscientious, professional and profound. I admit, I've been concerned about what mental and emotional tole this is taking on the CNN teams but I'm also finding that something special is going on between all of you and the Haitian people as a result of the circumstances you all find yourself in, and by default, the viewing audience as well. Their spirit is infectious and something to be celebrated. I join the chorus of thank you's, to the whole CNN team. Not just for the reporting, but for the caring.

    February 1, 2010 at 06:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. j m

    The need to issue 'women only' food tickets attests to the dignity involved. Not to mention the requirement to protect the old people and adopt their young.

    February 1, 2010 at 08:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Jackie

    Dr. Gupta,
    I am one of the zillions of people watching you out on the front line in Haiti, delivering the reality-du-jour now, as a trusted friend and respected doctor. I am enormously grateful for the path you have chosen-for most of us, it is so much easier to hide and choose our moments to absorb this crisis when it is convenient.....In the hours after the earthquake, I watched in horror and sadness, which then transformed into frustration and agitation, not knowing what or how to do what my heart was so moved to do. I contacted the Canadian Red Cross and then began canvassing in my neighborhood but wanted to do something of greater impact. Dr. Gupta, after approaching the principal at my 6yr old son's school, she opened her heart and schedule and allowed me to talk to each child in the school. In this discussion, my mission was to open the hearts and minds of these little future leaders. As I talked about Haiti and earthquakes, I asked them to tell me what the basic needs of human beings are, whether you live in China, Haiti, Canada or Australia. They participated and began to realize that everyone has a right to have these needs filled. I told them if they didn't have money, then donate time, and if they didn't have time, then just talk to anyone they can about this emergency that is unfolding right in front of us. Some of the older children had great ideas of how to get food into the people, to which I stared straight into their eyes and said, don't ever stop thinking in this way, for you, in this room may come up with an idea that no one has yet to. Within this room may sit the construction worker that helps to remove the rubble, the pilot that may fly a plane with water or the next Dr.Sanjay Gupta that saves lives. Even though you are small, you can do great things. One of the best moments of my life occurred moments later as I walked through the halls a 7year old came running up to me saying, I want to donate, held out his hand and gave me 11cents. Dr. Gupta, thank you, walk selflessly on and know you are a huge inspiration and are loved. Jackie

    February 1, 2010 at 11:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Farah L.

    Dr. Gupta:
    Thanks for this candid blog. As a Haitian native who knows first-hand of my nation's dignity, love of life and amazing strenght and resilience, it touched me to get the report of a third-party about what's really going down there. I cannot thank you enough for this report and for taking on the current cause of Haiti. I shall forever remember your presence and dedication not only as a reporter, but doctor on the grounds of Haiti after its worse moment in history.

    February 1, 2010 at 11:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Lesley B

    Thank you Sanjay for sharing this...it made me cry and ashamed at the same time as we sit here in our warm shelters with cupboards of food complaining of daily occurences...This jolted me back to reality and I appreciate it....I will pray for all Haitians to recover as quickly as possible

    February 1, 2010 at 22:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Jacky Lagrace

    Dr. Gupta, I very much appreciate you sharing your thoughts and perspectives. Thank you for the work that you are doing. My prayers are with you and Haiti. God bless you!

    February 2, 2010 at 22:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. al

    Nou pa gen l'or, nou pa gen diaman pou nou ta remesi'ou, men yon ti mesi ki sorti nan fon ke'nou va exprime santiman'n pou ou.

    mesi doc
    mesi anderson.

    February 4, 2010 at 16:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. al

    we're not going to ask the haitian government but we'll order them to rename 2 of their main streets in port au prince as Dr.Gupta Blvd and Anderson cooper Blvd.

    February 4, 2010 at 17:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. sharon womack

    Do something ( read the comment I put on Anderson Cooper's page 360....Shame on reporters who put the viewing public in a panic to wave rules like we saw Penn. Gov and many other do.....Thank you for helping...but; we could not do "hands on" HELPING...Anderson COOPER is to blame for these missionaries coming in a panic....He made everyone feel "Do something, look at these kids dying just like Katrina" do something..Just get them out of here and SORT later"....THIS is the kind of reporting that made all mothers who have a heart want to do same thing.......How many people will come and help NOW...Anderson Cooper will bring more people like (that Priest to make up more Hasty Generalizations against other imperfect workers...He caused this panic...Would you help these people get out of this KANGAROO COURT..Shame on this kind of reporting..

    February 6, 2010 at 10:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Max ETIENNE

    Dear Editor,

    A few weeks ago, I wrote a note to "CNN" telling them that I hope that wherever or whenever they rebuild Port-au-Prince, they should name three streets after Dr. Gupta, Anderson and the other French speaking reporter. They did it before for the Senator Charles Sumner... They should do it again...

    I hope every Haitian considered Dr. Gupta, above all, as a real hero. He has done something that was overdue: going through Haitian streets and show the entire world that Haitians are reacting by mere survival instinct. The myth of "violence in Haiti" has been used again and again without any scientific study behind it ...

    With all due respect, all things being equal, imagine the reactions in Miami, Paris (France), London (United Kingdom) after being left a few days without food, water or shelter. In fact, even in normal situation, any small city in the world have a higher crime ratio per inhabitant than any city in Haiti. All medical health professionals interested in "helping" Haiti should talk with Dr. Gupta before going there.

    That will keep them from nurturing those pre-conceived, pseudo-scientific notions that Haitians are more than anone in the world pre-inclined to carry the "AIDS virus" and other very contagious, and questionably popular myths about citizens of that country. Again, thank you Mr. Gupta. The Haitian community as a whole (In Haiti as well as American citizens from Haitian origins) should owe you a big one.

    Regards,

    Max

    February 7, 2010 at 02:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Sam

    @sharon womack

    Your racist comment about Haiti is uncalled for. Despite so many ignorant and Pompous Americans like you may think . Haiti is a sovereign country and they have their law just like we do. You may not agree with it but that their law.
    I watched Anderson Cooper reports, not once did he ever encouraged people to go down to Haiti to steal kids. I do want to help the kids but I know that I have to follow the law
    The ring leader intention was not noble and pure. She lied to the parents about having a legal orphange, she lied to her group. She was treating those kids like commodity. She treated these kids like slave without any identity . I am glad the story got exposed. Like the priest said during Anderson cooper’s interview, there are many fake missionaries in Haiti and third world countries that are exploiting the people and are getting filthy rich and they could care less about the orphans. They are hiding behind the bible to steal and sell kids.
    As usual, America is in denial. They cannot accept that child traffickers look like these fake missionaries
    She broke the law. She should face the consequences. Child trafficking is unacceptable everywhere!

    February 8, 2010 at 13:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Suzanne from Atlanta, GA

    Amen Sam! I was disgusted by Sharon Womack's comments and agree completely with your response to her. Thanks for stating the facts. Additionally, I never once heard ANY reporters, especially Dr. Gupta or Anderson Cooper, encouraging people to come steal children for their own safety! Fake missionaries deserve to sit in jail and face the consequences.

    February 8, 2010 at 13:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Dana

    @Sharon Womack
    Your comment is way off base. I've been watching Anderson and Dr. Gupta , they never encourage anybody to go to Haiti acting like Rambo. They encourage people to help the kids in Haiti not to steal them.

    Frankly, if anyone in the group had even bothered to read Haiti’s Wikipedia page, they might have thought twice about a plan to take black children out of the country without paperwork. By disregarding even the most basic history of slavery, missions, or colonial activity in Haiti, their missionary impulse failed them miserably. With all of the missions already on the ground in Haiti, what made them think they could just take children out of the country?

    The ignorance and naïveté of this group is staggering, except when considered from the perspective of the evangelical imperative of “ Go ye into all the world” Last time I checked, however, that scripture did not mean steal children and make them Christians by spiriting them away to be adopted by other families.

    Haitians are well-attuned to missionaries, as several missions’ organizations have been in the country for more than fifty years. So before the Haitian government is criticized for arresting the New Life group, remember: they understand what it is like to have the United Nations and many religious relief organizations operating within their country—and they know what’s legal.

    If the New Life Group had really wanted to help these children, they could have done it right there on the spot, rather than going to the remote community of Calebasse and taking children into the Dominican Republic. Better yet, send money and stay home; let professionals handle the situation. It wasn’t as though Haiti was lacking of missions groups.

    February 8, 2010 at 16:56 | Report abuse | Reply
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About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.