Cameron returns from her medical mission to Haiti

Dr. Mercedes Cameron

Dr. Mercedes Cameron
Dr. Mercedes Cameron
RANGELY I After witnessing the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, Dr. Mercedes Cameron said it is like trying to describe the indescribable.
“It’s pretty much overwhelming in about every way you can think of, the amount of damage, the effect on lives,” said the Rangely District Hospital physician, who recently returned from taking part in a humanitarian mission to Haiti. “Just the amount of trauma and the things people are dealing with and the things that are yet to deal with.”
Loaded with suitcases of medical items — antibiotics, dressing supplies, splint and casting materials — donated by the hospital, Cameron arrived in Haiti five days after the Jan. 12 earthquake and joined a team from Heart to Heart, an international relief organization.
“Each team was made up of a doctor with two or three nurses, translators and security and support staff,” Cameron said. “That was early on, so we didn’t have a whole lot of resources. What I brought down is what we had (for medical supplies). The hospitals (in Haiti), most of them were destroyed or nonfunctional, and those that were operating were overwhelmed.”
When she arrived in Haiti, Cameron found the situation worse than she had imagined.
“I felt such despair,” she said. “I did the best I could do with what I had … and I’ve learned there’s hope when it looks hopeless, but it is hopeless. Imagine an entire family living under a bed sheet and then the rainy season starts. There’s no food, no water, no latrines … imagine that. They will be dying in droves.”
Cameron spent one week in Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince and hopes to return again.
“There are (medical) teams coming in frequently. You leave so there will be fresh teams to come in because you’re physically and emotionally … tired is not the word,” she said. “But even while you’re leaving, you want to stay. You feel guilty for leaving. As soon as you’re here (back in the States), you want to go back. But at the same time, you need time home to recover. The emotional toll is heavy.”
While in Haiti, Cameron and the other members of her team treated patient after patient, one after another. They’d see 50 to 100 patients a day.
“I think the vast majority were children. That’s really hard. … I think my third patient was a 10-year-old boy who said he had a headache. When I started to examine his scalp, he had a fractured skull that was already infected. You’re dealing mostly with trauma and infection, because of the conditions, but still a lot of amputations and resetting things,” Cameron said. “Then you start seeing horrendous illnesses that come from not having good water because so many people aren’t vaccinated. There’s a lot of starvation. The kids, especially, are very vulnerable.”
The wounds Cameron saw weren’t always just physical, but emotional as well.
“There are some who are not physically hurt, but are suffering here what would be PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder),” Cameron said. “Though they are not injured, their pain in incredible. One mom told me one of her twins had been killed and every time she looked at the twin who was alive she’d see the other twin who was killed. So, not only does she feel the loss of the one twin, but she feels guilty about how she feels about the other one. What do you do for that? We didn’t have antidepressants. What could that do anyway, since they take a month to kick in, and then we don’t have more. It’s spitting in the wind, essentially.”
It has been more than a month since the earthquake hit, and the news reports about Haiti are becoming less frequent, while at the same time the needs become more desperate.
“I think people get tired of hearing the hard stories and they go back to their own lives, and we forget, because we’re not seeing it,” Cameron said. “I kind of wish every American could go down there. It’s just impossible to really understand what it’s like down there, because we have so much. If every one of us did a little, it would be a huge thing and it would be a solution. But that’s not how it’s going to work. It’s going to be a few of us doing a lot or a little. It should be a lot of us doing a little.”