“Haiti...just another death by cholera”Thursday January 20, 2011, Amy E. A. Osborne, a medical student volunteered in Haiti over the Christmas break and wrote to CBC’s Dispatches
Excerpt, minor editing by Carolyn Bennett
“Cholera treatment centers are easy to set up. It just takes resources — people and supplies… Someone actually caring,” Amy E. A. Osborne wrote from Haiti —
“…Our driver came up, tapped me frantically on the shoulder. He tells me there is an emergency. I follow him to the other ward and find a teenage boy lying half-naked on one of the cholera beds. I think to myself that he must be mortified to be lying there, so exposed, his naked buttocks hanging over the hole cut in the cot so his diarrhea will simply fall into the bucket placed below his bed.…
“I get closer and see that he is not mortified because he is barely conscious. His eyes have sunken into his head; the skin on his face pulled taut over his now-prominent cheekbones. I rush over and feel for a pulse in his right wrist. It is not there and his hand is cool. I grab his other wrist and there is still no pulse.…
“I notice something white coming out of the boy’s mouth and I look closer — white foam is bubbling out. It begins to pour out of his mouth and both nostrils. At first, I wipe it away, but then I notice that he is not choking on it because he is no longer breathing. I sit back and just watch it flow out. The doctors arrive and one of them stands back and observes (he has a tendency to be less than inclined to touch cholera patients) while the other doctor does a few half-hearted chest compressions. We have not been able to find a vein and there is nothing more to be done. It is over.
“There is little time for compassion in a cholera outbreak. The ‘corpses’ are highly contagious and need to be quickly cleaned with disinfectant and then put in a body bag to be buried. I want to give the family time to grieve — they just lost a 19-year-old boy — but the families of the other patients want him gone immediately. Someone runs for a body bag.
“I pull the sheet over his face as people are gathering around to gawk. His mother is in shock and does not seem to believe that he is really gone. She goes over and pulls the sheet down. She touches his face. She pulls the sheet down further and touches his stomach. Then she touches his feet, one at a time. I do not know what she is looking for, but she does not find it. She sits down beside him and looks incredulous. I am about to be the only person in the room to cry so I step out onto the balcony and take deep breaths. I manage to pull it together.
“Someone arrives with the body bag and Kanako lays it out on the bed … Together we open it and [the 19-year-old’s] mother and brother take his arms and legs and lift him into it. Kanako and I reach in, take his hands and lay them on his chest. Then we zip the bag closed, over his still open eyes.
“He does not look dead. He looks like even he cannot believe that he has gone — that one day he was a normal teenage boy and the next day he died the most degrading death a human being can ever experience.
“Cholera is merciless. It robs you of any and all dignity you once had. Untreated, you can lose up to 20 liters [5 gallons or 21 quarts] of fluid a day in the form of diarrhea and vomit. You will lose all of your strength and you will literally lie in a pile of your own diarrhea until you die. The management is simple. You need fluids. It is just that easy. Cholera treatment centers (CTCs) are easy to set up. It just takes resources — people and supplies. It just takes someone actually caring…
“What is happening [in Haiti] is unjust.”
January 27 and 30, 2011 letters, Dispatches with Rick MacInnes-Rae, http://www.cbc.ca/dispatches/the-view/your-dispatches/2011/01/20/haitijust-another-death-by-cholera/
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