Despite Exhaustion And Frustration, Medical Student In Haiti Remains Resilient

Alison Smith is a medical student at Tulane University who is posting frequent reports from Haiti to the MTV Newsroom blog. Today she offers us some amazing stories of survival and updates on the slowly improving situation on the ground.

By Alison Smith

Friday, January 22: I have almost been here a week, and today I felt very emotionally exhausted from everything. We are sleeping a couple of hours a night and not really eating much — tonight was my first meal in two days. There were two aftershocks early this morning when we arrived at the hospital. People went crying and running for cover. So many people are terrified to stay inside or to be near buildings. We had to permanently evacuate one of the hospital buildings that has become structurally unsound, so more patients are being cared for outside.

The best doctors from the United States, France, Norway and Switzerland are here. There are some frustrating issues of the top minds in the field clashing. Everyone has their own ideas as to what is best for the patients. I have found that the greatest asset that I can provide here is to find the sickest patients here — those in the streets, outside the hospital — and bring them inside for care.

I've had to be very aggressive and persistent, but without that, there would have been a lot of very sick people who would have missed getting operations from the very talented doctors we have here. It is a frustrating role, but I know that I am doing the best I can for the people here. Some blessings did come to the hospital today. The food and water situation is slowly improving. We evacuated about 60 people with the help of the U.S. Army to the USS Comfort naval ship today.

An 84-year-old woman was pulled out of the rubble this morning. She was very sick but she was alive — a true miracle. We transferred her to another hospital that had more emergency equipment than we do. I found a very loving Haitian family to look after Giovanni, the orphan we took in last night, until we can get him placement. It was heartbreaking to leave him overnight at the hospital. He was crying and very upset as he did not understand what was going on. But I know the decision was made for the best and that he will be safe and cared for tonight.

I have seen many amazing stories of survival here during my time here, but today we had one that is just incredible. During my first full day in the hospital six days ago, we had a patient brought to us. He was a frail, very sick older man. His leg had been completely crushed. It was black, only bone (as the muscle was ripped off) and full of maggots. It was probably the worst crush injury I have seen here. He spent all day in the sun, patiently waiting to get the operation that had been promised to him. However, it was decided by the surgery team that he was too frail and would probably not live through the operation. He was taken outside to die. The next morning, he was still waiting, smiling at us from his bed in the sun. He asked me if he was getting his operation today because he explained that he would be much better if we could just fix his leg for him. We thought he would pass away soon, so my colleague and I tried to make him comfortable. We got him Kool-Aid, cookies, anything that we could find to make him happy in his last few hours.

We brought him into the "hospice ward" section of hospital for the night. Late at night, we held his hand and talked softly to him thinking he would pass soon. He was persistent and kept asking if tomorrow he would get his operation. We told him yes to make him at peace. The next day, he was taken to the morgue in the morning. However, he was brought back to us a day or two later, still alive and wanting his operation. We couldn't believe that he had made it. He had to wait a few more days and finally the surgery team agreed to operate on him today. I saw him after surgery, resting comfortably. This is truly an example of a man that all the doctors left for dead, but he defied all medical reasoning and survived.

We have three more days left at the hospital in this journey. I plan to work very hard to make sure that every patient here has been evaluated and has had the best chance to receive lifesaving medical care. We are trying reach out to surrounding areas of the hospital, to the many tent cities filled with hundred of people to find those who are being overlooked. People here are still suffering every day. It is going to be very difficult to leave and return to life in the U.S. knowing what is happening here in Haiti.