On the Ground in Haiti: Picture 9/11 Eight Miles in Diameter

03/27/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

As the crisis in Haiti enters its third week, many thousands of badly injured individuals await lifesaving care. Wounds left untreated pose a serious and life-threatening risk. For many, the clock is ticking.

The following report is from an American medical aid worker, Glen Womble. Mr. Womble is a trained nurse and a manager for an Orthopedic supply company in Florida. He returned to the U.S. last Thursday after working with a team of surgeons and orthopedists on the ground in Haiti. With his permission, I have reprinted his report here unedited (so pardon the occasional spelling error):

Dear Friends, I have never been so emotionally drained in my life. The situation in Haiti is unbelievable! It is a war zone at best. Picture the scene of 9/11 but make it eight miles in diameter! They had a 7.0 quake for 18 seconds that did all of the damage. The population of Haiti is 12.5 million. The Population of Port-au-Prince is 3.5 million. So far, the estimated death is in excess of 250,000!

I have never experience that much death and it was incredibly overwhelming. I was part of a medical group from Melbourne, FL that consisted of three Ortho surgeons, one general surgeon, two anesthesiologists, two PA's, and two nurses. We flew into Haiti with Missionary Flights International and planes donated by Hendrick motorsports (Nascar).

We had a local affiliation with the owner of CDTI hospital. It was a privately owned hosp. with little damage. It is the hospital which is used by the US embassy (oddly enough, our military at the airport didn't know it existed). We went right to the hospital and began work immediately.

We performed over 100 amputations on severe crushing injuries that had become gangrenous or infected. The procedures were performed with Ketamine an anesthetic used in veterinary medicine, and just a little or no fentynal narcotic to keep the person still and calm.

After the procedures, the patient was taken out the front door the parking lot and helped off of the stretcher because the stretcher was needed for the next patient. The patient was placed on the concrete or a piece of cardboard and the next one in line was taken. Most often, the new post-op patient was given no antibiotics, no IV fluid, and no pain medication beyond a couple of Advil.

If they had family, they were sent home, or out into the street so room could be made. For every one patient we tried to help, 20 more would come in. One older orthopedic surgeon said that he had seen as many orthopedic injuries in his entire career as he had seen in the last few days! Fortunately, we were able to do many other procedures with better outcomes such as reductions and casts, as well as open reductions with internal fixation. We worked long hours and yet did not even touch the tip of the iceberg! It was very disheartening to not be able to help everyone.

I am reminded about the analogy of the starfish: A man was walking along the beach where 100's of thousands of starfish had washed up on the shore. He saw a little boy picking up the starfish and throwing them back into the ocean. The man said, "What are you doing, you can't save all of these starfish." Then the little boy said, "I just saved that one!" That was the mentality you had to have. I would feel so guilty to take a drink or eat a meal bar when those patient's had not eaten or drank much if anything since the quake.

It was frustrating to not have the supplies to help everyone. Many times we would run out of basic staple materials that would keep us from doing another case. We had no sterility to speak of and would often not have a basic piece of orthopedic hardware keeping us from fixing another fracture. We did have a Black and Decker drill from the garage that was a life saver when wrapped with an ACE wrap. I can not begin to tell you all of the instances.

The worse part was to see all of the supplies to help us sitting on pallets at the airport and not being able to get to them due to the United Nations control of them and their distribution. I did make headway with our military to get a secure parameter set up and food and water to the patients. They may be able to bring in a mobile hospital unit to help with the logistics of sterilization of instruments and just decompression the magnitude of casualties!

The city was a nightmare! Front end loaders picking up stacks of bodies and putting them in dump trucks to be dumped in a mass grave. We had numerous aftershocks at 4.0-4.5.

The scariest thing was the second quake on Wed. morning at 6:01am. It was a 6.1 that lasted 10 second. We were on the third floor of a concrete building that already had damage from the first quake. I was awakened by screams of, "get out it is falling". We did get out without damage; however, homes next to us did fall. It sounded like a helicopter landing on your head, with a train passing next to you, while you were trying to stand on a moving roller coaster. I have never been so scared.

That is what made our decision to leave since there was a stand down for flights leaving Haiti. We made it out, but I feel so guilty to have left early when there was still so much to do.

One of our doctors stayed and will still be there for another week. I already have another team ready to go back possibly within the week. This time we have a big check list of needed supplies that were lacking the first time.

It was such a joy to help these wonderful people in this way! I wish everyone could have had the experience I have had. Thank you all so much for your prayers and concerns! Please don't stop praying for these people as they still have such need! I will try to keep you all posted. Thanks, and God bless, Glen

Note: I received confirmation from Mr. Womble this afternoon. He left today for his second trip to Haiti in less than a week. Let's do all we can to support these medical aid workers. You can make a donation to the Red Cross by following this link.