January 15th, 2010
03:24 PM ET

"Expect Gettysburg"

By Elizabeth Cohen
CNN Senior Medical Correspondent

Yesterday I flew to Port-au Prince along with a team of medical doctors from the University of Miami. As the sun set and we made our descent, I asked the physician on the plane with the most experience working in Haiti, Dr. John MacDonald, what to expect.

“Expect Gettysburg,” he said.

“What?” I asked.

“Expect Gettysburg,” he repeated. “You know, the kind of medicine they practiced in the Civil War.”

Once I arrived, I saw what MacDonald meant.

While doctors here aren’t anesthetizing patients with liquor the way they did in the Civil War, the care at the makeshift hospital I’ve been reporting from is certainly rudimentary. An hour ago, I watched University of Miami trauma surgeon Dr. Enrique Ginzburg amputate a woman’s foot without general anesthesia, using only a local anesthetic and sedation. The nurse stood by his side, sterilizing surgical instruments in an open pan of soapy water.

Some 250 severely injured patients have been treated at this facility on the United Nations compound near the airport. Almost all of them have orthopedic injuries and open wounds. In a modern hospital, doctors would do surgery to clean the wounds and give intravenous antibiotics. Here, they receive only oral antibiotics and morphine for the pain.

“This is so frustrating,” MacDonald told me. “I wish we could do more.”

So far, three patients out of the 250 have died, but doctors fear that number could go up dramatically. MacDonald explains it takes about six or seven days after a wound occurs for septicemia to set in – that’s a blood borne infection that can quickly shut down the body’s major organs. It’s been three days since the earthquake happened. The clock is ticking.

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soundoff (88 Responses)
  1. Marilynne Quick

    Having traveled and lived in Chicago, Washington D.C., New York City, Denver and Miami, I thought I had seen poverty at its worst in the ghettos, slums, and homeless souls, but when I traveled in 3rd World Countries, including Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, what I saw was people living in places that were unimaginable to those of fortunate to live in the U.S. The faces of the children and the elderly were the faces I have never forgotten, and it has been almost 40 years since I traveled to so many of these countries with my employment. The people of Haiti have suffered so much and yet have a spirit and faith that sustain them through all these trials and tribulations. I am a social worker and am in training to do disaster relief as a social worker. These people are going to have emotional/psychological scars and are going to need so many social services to help them begin the road to recovery. God bless all of you at CNN for the wonderful coverage and work you bring into our homes everyday and night. You all are doing God's work under the most horrific conditions possible and it is good to see the anchors, reporters and all personnel involved sharing these emotional stories of miracles and sadness and bless you even more when you become emotional yourself on camera. It shows that you are just as human as other people. God bless all of you.

    January 15, 2010 at 21:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Raul Grosz

    Wow I personally know and have worked with Dr Enrique Ginzburg. What an excellent and dedicated surgeon! I had no idea he was in Haiti and operating under such primitive conditions.... God bless you Enrique!

    January 15, 2010 at 21:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Tom

    Hopefully the medical personnel who go will be familiar with medicine in the Third World. It won't be helpful if they go expecting to find equipment etc that they are accustomed to working with! It'll be an eye opener for many.......

    January 15, 2010 at 22:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Space technology

    I can see how erasing the US moon program would correct all the ills in the world. However: No moon shot means no batteries for the drill & saw I witnessed on CNN cutting a little girl free from rubble. No moon shot means no relief communications, internet or news via satellite or GPS navigation to guide helicopters to resupply hospitals. No moon shot means no oxygen concentrators and compact medical gear so doctors will have to use more trucks to tranport tens of tons of oxygen tanks to do the same job. And most of all, the Space program helped build many countries economic bases and technological bases so the resources and money would available to help a country in the middle of an ocean or a city hit by a hurricane or a tsunami ravaged island in the Indian Ocean or to protect our planet from a killer asteroid. All of these have happened before and will happen again. The nations of the world can come together to do many great things BECAUSE of the Space Program. It inspires us to be greater. Blaming the state of the world on certain endeavors is easy but when you take them away you might find you lose more than you gain.

    January 15, 2010 at 22:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Patrick Sanford

    May the powers that be give these brave physicians the strength to what they must to help as many of the unfortunate people of Haiti as possible. They surely earn themselves a place of honor in whatever afterlife may exist.

    January 15, 2010 at 22:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Red

    to: Patrish Dehler

    I work for the Air & Relief Section of a world-wide freight forwarder. Please believe me that every transportation company is doing all possible to get rescue personnel, equipment and supplies to Haiti.
    The US Agency for International Development has been sending out bids for carriers and forwarders to move material there since this happened. Some of the response times are measured in 2 or 3 hours.
    I know that Miami Int'l Airport is full at this point. We, like others, are looking at alternative cities to use as staging areas to get items gathered and sent. The one thing we – as individuals – can do, at this point, is pray for the safety of everyone, on the island

    January 15, 2010 at 22:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. joe carson

    I cannot even begin to imagine what it is like there. I work at a Hospital here in FL. You are the chosen ones. May God Bless you in many ways and may all your hope and dreams come true. We are so proud of the work you do. When it gets you down because of how far they are behind in medical care just remember if you save just one life then your trip and medical training has been put to good use. Keep it up

    January 15, 2010 at 22:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Regertz

    I understand a major problem has become the lack of central authority even for such things as assigning distribution points for food and water. With so many living in the streets can't some folks be flagged and given instructions to tell their friends to clear routes and assemble at certain points, others to start hand carrying supplies if the roads are too impassable for vehicles to get through? Even if massive waste/theft occurs for a day or two something will get through quicker until the system is organized. There has to be a faster way.

    January 15, 2010 at 22:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Smith

    Keep up the good work to all the good doctors.

    To one of the commenter "Jim H" and all other people that want to volunteer: I think you can phone/email Doctors Without Borders, World Vision, Red Cross, etc. to register your service for this cause. And you may want to contact the White House, Clinton, or Bush and suggest that they host a centralized registration on the ClintonBushHaitiFund.org website. Currently, it only has a "donate" link.

    I remember reading somewhere that three days have passed and the UN is feeding 8000 people several times a day. Wow! This sounds like very slow progress to me. They said they are looking at feeding over a millions in 15 days. That means lots of people are starving crazy. Haiti is only a stone throw away from the US. With all the military hardware and food supply we have, stocked by the arm forces for instance, can't we just airlift and drop some of them over to people? Obstacles blocking roads? Can't we just use helicopters? Or even parachute emergency personnel in? Are we, I don't recall hearing we are doing it?

    January 15, 2010 at 22:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. BellaItaly

    God bless these doctors and the doctors without borders. You are the best example of humanity. Please stay safe and please get lots of rest so you can do your jobs. Thank you for being there.

    January 15, 2010 at 22:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Randy in Asheville

    Bless you, heroes all- you're in the hearts, minds and prayers of so many. Stay safe, and keep your hopes up... there's more help on the way. I wish I could be there to help.

    January 15, 2010 at 22:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Sean in Balad

    We wish you the best luck in Haiti and are thankful for your team's services. Stay focused, it matters more than anyone can imagine that you are doing all that you can.

    From health care providers in Iraq.

    January 15, 2010 at 22:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Smc

    It's so hard to imagine the Hatian people, probably thinking that no one knows or cares what's happening to them (because they're cut off from communication). It's so frustrating to see good people trying so very hard to get food, water and medical care to these folks but it seems to be taking forever. I know everyone is trying their best. Thank you for being there, all of you who are trying to help. I know you feel limited in what you can do right now, but at least you are there offering comfort and letting them know that they are not forgotten. That is so important.

    January 15, 2010 at 23:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Mark

    Many of us have volunteered to donate our days off to fly in relief supplies. To date, the government has not authorized any flights for our airline to operate into Port au Prince. Frustrating....

    January 15, 2010 at 23:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Betsy Heitkamp

    I'm a student nurse in Aiken, SC and I wish with all my might there was a way I could be there to help. Y'all are doing a fantastic job! Don't forget to take care of yourselves too.

    January 15, 2010 at 23:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Dexter G.

    I'm not a doctor, but I play one at Jamestown. In other words, reenactor / historical surgeon. I've also done modern first aid at a large medieval camping event, working under emergency docs. First off, THANK YOU for your service. You're doing an incredible job under hideous conditions.

    I do have a minor historical correction. No surgeon I know of between 1500 and 1900, in his right mind, would use alcohol (a vasodilator and, in some patients, a stimulant), as anesthesia. It WAS used for cleaning wounds as far back as Roman and probably Greek times. At Gettysburg, they were using ether and chloroform as general anesthesia, and morphine for post-op pain.

    Prior to the 19th Century, there was laudanum (opium and alcohol), although you didn't want to use that as a general anesthetic. It had a really horrendous fatality rate if overused.

    January 15, 2010 at 23:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Michael

    Please find ways to get more doctors and medical supplies to Haiti. There are many who would volunteer in the US who have the skills and the resources. Allowing rescued victims to die from what are commonly treatable emergency room injuries is something we cannot allow.

    January 15, 2010 at 23:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Salvatore Aversa

    I've been to Haiti 3 times. I have also done humanitarian work for Haiti in the past. My heart is truly with them at this time. They are such beautiful people, even with what little they have...this is truly devastating on so many levels. What little they did have before is just completely gone. I wish I was able to jump a plane or ship down there to help them in any way I could. It hurts my soul seeing some of these stories, while I sit here in my home, behind my computer, taking life for granite. May God be with you in this trying time, and the people of Haiti come out of this stronger. Our hearts and prayers are with you.

    January 15, 2010 at 23:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Derek Hinch

    What would it take to make a small sanitization kit for severe medical trauma instruments used in eartquake or explosives like surgery? Chemicals, Container Sizes? UV Maybe = No Chemical?

    I would like to get something together that could maybe help. I know that UV is highly anti-microbial – better than soapy water, right?

    Anyone please respond if you know of maybe a package inventory that would be in surplus here, and lightweight. Maybe some R&D later, but now, get something to these guys. There is no reason we can't fight.

    January 15, 2010 at 23:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. zee

    Coconut water is sterile and has been used as a plasma substitute in emergencies.

    January 16, 2010 at 01:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Linda & Patrick

    I've also been thinking about women who might be giving birth during this time and/or people who might have just had surgeries as they were being operated on. Aside from praying for relief and God's grace to cover everyone down there what else can we do who live so far away? Will there be blood drives, will they gather clothing and other necessary items?

    My heart and prayers go out to the surgeons, nurses and mostly the patients.

    January 16, 2010 at 09:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. James

    Why isn't somebody listen to Dr. Gupta to help the woundeds, why did the UN pull the doctors? It really shows why haitians don't really like the UN soldiers...The U.S need to take control and help we know for sure the the UN soldiers were like in vacation in Haiti.

    January 16, 2010 at 10:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. cindy

    I just keep praying these relief efforts on the ground in Haiti will reach our brothers and sisters as soon as possible. Everyday they have to wait, we are all feeling their pain, it is so frustrating to watch. I am also praying for Sanjay and the rest of the medical reporting team, please stay strong, these people need you. God be with you.

    January 16, 2010 at 10:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Alanson Winchester

    I am looking to volunteer in Haiti. I have 8 years experience as a Navy Hospital Corpsman, 5 of those as a field medical tech with the Marines and another 3 as a surgical tech attached to a fleet hospital. I believe I could be of real help. Does anyone know how I can get down there?

    January 16, 2010 at 10:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Donna

    when I was a nursing student doing clinicals in a nursing home I was astonished at the insufficant care the elderly were recieving. They were
    pleading for help, and the overworked staff seemed to have deft ears. An army nurse said "You do as much as you can do and take comfort in that. Otherwise the needs of others will consume you." Thank you to all of those who are doing as much as they can.

    January 16, 2010 at 12:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. tricia

    They should deploy troops to protect these Medical people , not send un troops to remove them. Overwelming yes, but there are people whom need treated. If we can send troops to war, we can send troops to keep people from losing their minds. Bull horns need to be used to make people listen basic instruction. Weak people are having things snatched out of their hands. The pope should go there and speak to the people. Calm them down so people don't go Katrina on anyone.

    January 16, 2010 at 14:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Debbie Cottrell

    As a veterinarian who has worked animal disaster relief, I am accustomed to "Gettysburg Medicine." That's the only chance we usually get. I applaud these physicians for what they're doing and hope they understand they are simply doing the best with what they have, and no one can expect more. I'm sure Doctors Without Borders has Gettysburg Medicine down to an art.

    January 16, 2010 at 20:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Guest

    Thank you for leaving your busy lives to help the people of Haiti...May God bless you and your team abundantly...

    January 17, 2010 at 03:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Janey

    Thank you all for the Money that you all have given and the prayers that you have prayed for the people in Haiti, please include in your prayers the many rescue workers and all the Doctors and Nurses that are in harms way there too.
    I thank you all for the kindness in your hearts that moves you to do all you do for others.
    God Bless you all ....

    January 17, 2010 at 20:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Jeff F.

    Like Jim H, I am a retired senior professor of head and neck and facial plastic surgery. When I contacted Doctors Without Borders, I was asked when the last time i operated. I said 9 yrs ago(due to a hand injury) I was basically told I could not be used. This, despite 45 yrs of surgery and a past history of military service during the Vietnam Conflict, French spoken fluently and a charity trip for surgery to Haiti many years ago. I do not understand the needs or priorities of the system.
    Thank you,
    Jeff F:(MD)

    January 17, 2010 at 21:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. sthiltgen

    Jeff F., you can find a group who needs you on http://www.medicalmissions.org .

    January 18, 2010 at 10:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Brenna

    I am fortunate to have lived my life within sight of Washington, DC, and I have known many children of parents who were diplomats. I'm lucky enough to also have traveled, and I have even been to Haiti. I was 10, and had no idea what was to greet me – the poverty is only what you see on the outside. Haitians are a calm, faithful people even in times of absolute horror, and in the dust-caked faces of those who still showed up at the leveled cathedral in Port-au-Prince, you can see a smile. A smile that they made it through the night, or a smile in the hopes that today WILL be better. Everyone who helps, whether it is prayer, monetary, or those who are willing to give it all for a stranger, is behind that smile. As a child of the world, THANK YOU.

    January 18, 2010 at 11:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Wessagusset

    Elizabeth Cohen's praise for Israel's field hospital in Haiti was well deserved. The criticism of U.S. efforts in light of the disaster was not and only serves to fan the flames of anti-Americanism.

    January 18, 2010 at 11:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Katrina

    I've been the DR to work @ a Batay where some Haiti refugees were living in 2005. Some of the stories of the Haitians and there faith is inspiring and should make americans feel guilty. Often I would see on the news how a hurricane had hit the island and would wonder if the children one in particular a boy named Julien who was trapped in the Batay. He was about 12 and the interpreter for my group said he was smart and had an education. I would have liked to adopt him but it was not possible. Anyway, a Batay which means work camp is for workers and families that come across the border from Haiti to work in the sugar and bannana fields. Sort of like migrant farm workers in Ca. only the conditions are much much worse, no running water, naked children, pregnant women, and it difficult because these were Haitians in the Dominican Republic. I hope that this earthquake will continue to cast a bright light on Haiti. Lots of christian orgs have been there for many years doing what they can to help, when your there it totally overwhelming, lots of mixed emotions.

    January 20, 2010 at 02:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Elizabeth McDaniel

    Please, please share with the people of Haiti that many, many people are on their knees praying for them, medical supplies are being collected and sent along with monetary donations. They are not and will not be forgotten!

    January 21, 2010 at 00:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Salvador S. Flores

    Dr. Gupta,
    Got your msg on CNN the other night; please post on your site or the CNN main site, the OTC medical supplies you deem are the most necessary. I'm planing several trips to the Dominican Republic (DR) and will drive to Haiti from the DR. Any special sites or locations you'd suggest to drop off the med supplies would also be greatly appreciated if posted.

    Can do, Got your back

    Sal Flores from Woodbridge VA

    January 21, 2010 at 15:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Frederic Abner

    Dear Dr. Gupta,
    I am sending you this memo to specially thank you for all you've done for the Haitian people. My wife and I are praying for the people of Haiti and for YOU every day, asking God not to let anything happened to you down there. I am proud to be an american when I see you every day doing what you can to save haitian lives, an sad ans ashamed to be an Haitian while in that moment of need, I can not do anything to help as a proud Haitian should.
    You w'ont be forgotten. God bles you

    F. Abner, Port St Lucie FL

    January 26, 2010 at 13:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Moonsamy

    Dear Dr. Gupta,

    Thankqs you a lot of what you have done for the Haitiens people. I hope that you will stay there a long time still to help the people. They syffered everyday. Without food, water and shelter, medicine – life is a burden for the Haitiens.

    But what i don't understand why so many amputations. Children and youn persons – what will happen to thm – How they will carry their daily life in a country where life is very difficult. They have lost their happiness of their lives.

    Why so many amputations? I don't understand.

    The whole populations must be vaccinated against Tetanos – and others. Please help – i pray for you and for the others medical officers. God bless you and your family. You are an Hero

    March 4, 2010 at 18:03 | Report abuse | Reply
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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.