03/24/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Haitian Medical Dilemma

I, like many other private practice orthopedic surgeons, am eager to go and help ease the suffering in Haiti. My heart aches with every passing day. I've contacted multiple relief agencies but the response remains vague.

To the best of my knowledge I have not an ounce of Haitian blood coursing through my veins but my heart sees suffering and my hands possess a unique and desperately needed skill set.

But as you will read below, despite how passionately a surgeon may feel about being of service in Haiti, the process is daunting:

From the U.S. State Department: "This is an atypical emergency in that the infrastructure has been decimated. The Port Au Prince airport is being used for military and humanitarian cargo only at this point. The port itself has been decimated and there is no secondary airport. Any teams of medical providers must be self-sustaining right now including food, water, and shelter and everyone must arrive prepared self sufficient to carry them through at least the first several days."
In light of that last comment, here is a basic "packing list" (by no means comprehensive) for volunteers to reference.
• water
• food (for 2 meals a day if your sponsor cannot provide)
• a thermapad and pillow to sleep on
• masks
• malaria pills (start taking 2 weeks prior to your deployment)
• broad spectrum antibiotic for treating intestinal disorders.
• clothing
• medical supplies--everything from disinfectant and bandages to operating room supplies and surgical equipment.

These directives that I and other physicians receive on a daily basis do not even begin to address the issues of logistics and transportation.

More doctors and medical supplies are sitting on the ground in Santo Domingo, DR than are currently being used to actively treat the suffering people of Haiti.

A central clearing house for medical professionals is desperately needed. An organized system that functions as a sort of air traffic control for surgeons, anesthesiologists, surgical teams etc... to match these highly specialized caregivers with facilities that can maximize their services. Why send an anesthesiologist to a 'hospital' without anesthetics?

With knowledge of man power, specific resources and capabilities a system could be created to transport and schedule functioning surgical teams to where they are most needed and can be best utilized.

A surgeon could then leave their practice for a defined length of time, hit the ground running, treat as many patients as physically possible, pass off the care of post-surgical patients to the next scheduled orthopedic surgical team and then return home to care for their patients that they left behind. With an organized system in place a physician could then be scheduled for another tour of humanitarian aid long after the plight of the Haitian people is no longer in vogue but the medical demands endure.

Some people will read this and say that I and those physicians like me should just go to Haiti and do whatever we can until we can find a means of transportation back to the US. They'll go on to say that passing out water and rice is better than doing nothing. And I understand their sentiment. I too share those feelings. But despite that, I have patients, a practice and a family that can do without me for a defined period time but I must be providing as much or more aid there in Haiti than I am providing here at home.