A Hospital in Haiti–Day 3, pt. 2

February 16, 2010

By James S. Gordon MD

Barth Green stands easily in the middle of the dusty yard in front of two small administrative tents, just inside the gate of the University of Miami’s Global Institute field hospital at the Port-au-Prince airport. His blue shirt is clean and crisp, cream colored pants still pressed, his grey hair combed straight back. There is a storm of activity around him, squalls of need coming from every corner of the encampment.

Men and women in scrubs, some with IV bottles in hand, rush up to ask questions. Military commanders and visiting dignitaries stand in a small circle around him. Barth Green responds thoughtfully, unhurriedly, sometimes with humor, to each person in turn. He is the director of the hospital and of the entire facility – the huge tent which contains the operating room and the acute wards for children which are attached to it, the other large one for adults, the small tents for convalescence and isolation, the tent-barracks where hundreds of volunteers lie on cots just like the ones the patients have.

Barth Green is chairman of the department of neurosurgery at the University of Miami Medical School. Since 1994 he and his colleague, family physician Michael Fournier, have been leading Project Medishare in Haiti, helping (along with the US based Partners in Health and the Haitian Ministry) to bring good primary care to the Haitian countryside. When the earthquake hit on January 12, he and his colleagues moved quickly; volunteers arrived. Some were skilled as physicians, surgeons, OR techs and nurses; others were simply, surprisingly even to them. moved to help: “at least I’m another pair of hands,” more than one says. Since then the “barely controlled chaos” as several doctors describe it, has been providing treatment for thousands, saving lives. And a surprising life enhancing life changing experience of selfless service for many who have come to provide that treatment and save those lives. “For me,” a tired looking fifty-ish U of M ER doc confides, “this has been the most important experience of my professional life. Maybe,” he adds after a moment, ” of my whole life.”

In Barth Green the surgeon’s calm amidst crisis and attention to present, necessary detail is coupled with an understanding of long term needs. He knows that the deepest despair and the greatest distress may arise only when the immediate crisis is over; and he recognizes the importance of CMBM’s commitment to helping caregivers deal with their own stress and trauma and to teaching them to help the Haitian people to help themselves. He reads over our annual report and our tentative Haitian work plan, and shares them with Carl Eisdorfer, the former chair of Miami’s department of psychiatry, and present director of its program of aging, who has just arrived.