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Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Christopher - Going home

Last few days…

My last few days in Haiti were difficult.  I was tired and one part of me was desperate to get home to my friends and family, to sleep in a real bed, and eat some healthy food. Another side of me was equally desperate to stay.

We now knew what we were doing and were working fast, as a tight team. Even my French was beginning to improve! But most importantly, we had got to know some of our patients very well and were very fond of them. We had looked after them through thick and thin, and they trusted us. I think we all wanted to see them through to the end of their treatment. But we were all exhausted.

We had been sprinting for three weeks. Working seven days a week, Michel and I between us had done just under 500 operations. We had been supported by a fantastic team of anaesthetists, nurses and logisticians who just kept the patients coming and made sure that we had everything we needed to do the best job possible under the circumstances.

The surge of open amputations and infected wounds was now under control. So, the surgical crisis was over. But now the long slow marathon of rehabilitation had to start.

Where now for Haiti?

It is estimated that there are now around 3000 new amputees in Haiti, so there is going to be an unprecedented demand for artificial limbs, limb fitters, and rehabilitation. Luckily two big charities Doctors of the World (Medecins du Monde) and ‘Handicap International’ have decided to join forces and are setting up a programme to get these amputees fitted with useful limbs.

In the first instance this work will have to be done by expatriate volunteers, but the task must be handed to the Haitians as soon as possible. It is their country and at the end of the day the solution must lie in their hands. So the workshops and the rehabilitation centres will be training Haitians to make and fit artificial limbs at the same time as treating amputees. It is going to be very difficult to fund, because already Haiti is beginning to slide into the media twilight, out of that bright spotlight which generates funds. 

Looking back

Looking back there are some things which stand out. There was a very small British input in the early stages. Oxfam have and still do a great job helping with water and sanitation. Merlin were one of the first to get a surgical team onto the ground. But for a country which I gather donated more money to help in this disaster than the rest of Europe put together, I do wonder if Britain’s footprint in any way represented our concern.

I just wonder if Britain needs a volunteer stabilisation force ready to deploy at a moment’s notice, to help in circumstances like this. The French have one and it is very good.

Back home 

Back in England it is cold and wet but it is lovely to be home. Walking into the John Radcliffe Hospital I am literally dazzled by the clean floors and the sense that everyone is quietly busy. There are no cracks running down the walls, no blue-bottle flies wobbling drunkenly over infected dressings, no patients lying in rows of stretchers laid out on the ground, sweating in the heat.

My colleagues in the hospital are all very kind and supportive. I know that they would have gone to Haiti like a flash in my place, and would certainly have done a better job too, but whatever they were thinking they were kind enough to keep to themselves.

Facing the press at home

The media still want interview after interview, and of course this suits the NGOs very well. This is their oxygen. This is how they raise funds to do what they do, so I must do it, but actually it is quite harrowing talking about some of the things I have seen, and of course those are the parts they most want to hear. The interviewers are very gentle but my knees are shaking at the start of each interview as I pray that I don’t say something stupid. But their questions are sensible, and they are all very well briefed.

They genuinely seem interested in what I have to say. I am rather touched because they must have to deal with this sort of thing all day every day, and it is nice to realise that they are humans too, albeit doing a tough job.

“Will I go back?” they ask me. Of course I will, if I am asked. I so want to see what happens. I would just love to see Haiti break the downward spiral of poverty, drugs, HIV and violence which has gripped it for years. Perhaps only an earthquake can do that, but it is difficult to see how.

Our entente cordiale

So really this blog ends now. I have to thank Harry Beer at Radio Oxford for giving me so much moral support in those first interviews with the lovely Malcolm Boyden. Then there is Vicky my partner, the rock in the system, always there at the end of Skype when the going gets tough and there at the end of the day to pick up the bits when I get home.

Last but not least my thanks go out to Phillipe Cottin, the artist and photographer who took wonderful photographs, translated these blogs into French, improving them at the same time, and gave me a wonderful insight into French military history. And all these years I had thought that we won against Napoleon!. Thank you for reading this all and ‘au revoir’ or ‘a bientot’.

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