Military working at max capacity to get injured to hospital ship
Stars and Stripes January 22, 2010
Major aftershock brings panicked evacuation at hospital82nd Airborne bringing calm to chaos at Port-au-Prince hospitalSee Stripes reporter Megan McCloskey's Twitter reports from Haiti here.
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The Army hasn’t done an evacuation like this since Normandy. The USNS Comfort is operating at a level like never before.
More than a thousand Haitians most seriously injured in last week’s earthquake are being flown by helicopter to the Navy’s hospital ship for surgery and other desperately needed treatments.
“The number of severely injured greatly exceed any capability of quickly established ground care,” Capt. Richard Sharpe, head surgeon aboard the Comfort, said.
The military was attempting to get at least 100 patients aboard the Comfort by sundown Thursday.
“We are geared up to function at our absolute max,” he said, noting they started taking patients before the ship was even visible off the horizon.
The Army provided much-needed manpower to get the mission done.
Dripping in sweat from the unrelenting heat and heavy lifting, soldiers of Company C, 1st Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment with the 82nd Airborne Division first carried patients on stretchers from the makeshift tent hospitals to Army ambulances.
Patients were then taken to the lawn of the presidential palace where they were loaded onto helicopters bound for the Comfort.
The patients, some holding onto their medical chart or a baggie of intravenous medicine, sat quietly in the shade while awaiting their ride.
Despite swollen and twisted limbs, only when being jostled on the stretcher did they grimace or show any sign of pain.
“We train for evacuations but nothing on this scale,” Lt. Col. Pat Hynes said, noting the planning started Wednesday afternoon and concluded until 3 a.m. He called it the largest Army evacuation effort since World War II.
The goal is to unburdeon the main Port-au-Prince hospital from the crush of emergency patients so it will be free to become a hub for speciality cases and outlying hospitals can deal with the more general cases, Hynes said.
Depending on their injury, the Haitians will likely stay aboard the Comfort for four to five days.
The ship, in addition to trauma surgeons, has pediatric, orthopedics and plastic surgeons, as well as other specialists.
On Wednesday, the staff was busy with amputations.
“We amputated every body part you can possibly amputate,” Sharpe said.
“The infections are so old people are arriving dying. The amputations are a life-saving procedure — and the doctor’s last choice.”
The next challenge is finding some place the Haitians can go after being treated.
“There’s no real facility I can see right now,” Sharpe said. “I have the staff. What I need is real estate.”