by Project Medishare volunteer Ross Kopelman
“I experienced one of my most rewarding collaborations in the summer of 2010, when I volunteered as part of Project Medishare (sponsored by the University of Miami) to participate in a medical mission to earthquake-torn Haiti. Accompanying healthcare professionals to Port Au Prince, I was confronted with a desperate landscape of overcrowded tent cities lacking food, clean water, and basic hygiene. I remember thinking, “What can I possibly do at my stage to help? …How can I make a difference in this sea of devastation?” My uncertainty was fleeting. Despite my limited medical knowledge, I knew I could be valuable to the medical team. I transported sick and injured men, women and children to the emergency room and clinic, retrieved drugs from the pharmacy, and bandaged wounds.
In the Port Au Prince clinic, we encountered patients who generally were poor, uneducated, and only spoke Creole. Most arriving patients had been suffering for several weeks prior to their visit. One Haitian man in his thirties, who complained of shortness of breath, had gone untreated at another clinic. When he arrived at the Medishare hospital, his breathing had become more labored, and he was rushed through the hospital’s “triage gate” to our clinic. Examining doctors determined that his chest had expanded, and only minimal sounds of breathing were audible. Though we administered nasal oxygen to boost his oxygen levels, his extreme shortness of breathe required immediate transfer. I guided him into a wheelchair and to the emergency room, where a general surgeon diagnosed a pleural effusion and immediately placed a plastic chest tube between his fourth and fifth rib. The tube, attached to a suction machine, slowly extracted a viscous yellow fluid from the space surrounding his lung. Within an hour, the patient’s respiration’s improved–he appeared more alert and in less distress. This dramatic reversal left a lasting impression: I had witnessed first-hand how a medical team with limited resources and little access to modern technology could quickly coordinate their efforts and save a patient’s life.
While I had previously observed my father, a surgeon, examine and treat patients, I’d felt somewhat “outside” the experience. In Haiti, however, I felt immersed in a medical crisis and connected directly with patients. I realized that effective medical treatment is not solely dependent upon scientific medical knowledge; rather, science must be integrated with a deeper awareness of a patient’s culture, class, and individual psychology, all elements that contribute to understanding the context of the patient’s medical problems and translate into effective treatment. My Haitian experience taught me that receiving medical care is a basic human right, not a privilege reserved for the few.”
Check out Ross’ blog here for more photos from his trip.