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USNS Comfort's Medics Ready for Incoming Patients

U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort

U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort

The U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort is expected to arrive in Haiti on Wednesday, but has received two critically injured earthquake victims by helicopter from the USS Carl Vinson, an aircraft carrier late Tuesday. Meanwhile, as VOA's Suzanne Presto reports from onboard the Comfort, medical teams are performing drills to prepare for influx of patients.

It was a 40-second elevator ride from the Comfort's flight deck to casualty receiving. This patient is 37-years-old and unconscious. His pelvis was crushed during last week's earthquake.

The medical team cuts open his shirt, checks his airway, calls for X-rays and supplies. They work with a sense of urgency in this hot space, shifting to make way for specialists and equipment.

Navy Corpsman Yves Henry strides beside the gurney as the medical team hurries the patient down the corridor, arriving at the intensive care unit. Henry speaks Creole and today he serves as a translator. But his patient is unconscious, so when someone calls for a hand to hold a monitor, he springs into surgical technician mode, grabbing hold of the monitor's handle so the medics can see the screen. The patient's kidneys are failing.

There are chest compressions, calls for medication. There is the call no one wants to hear.

The doctors and nurses raise their hands in the air and step back from the bed. Henry lowers his head and shakes it.

The exercise was role-play, preparing the medics for the flood of patients who will be helicoptered in from the U.S. aircraft carrier Carl Vincent and from triage centers in Port-au-Prince.

Soon the elevators and corridors will be full of earthquake victims. They will be rushed from casualty receiving to surgery or to X-ray or to intensive care, and, ideally, to the recovery ward. The drills help the personnel function as a team in this adrenaline-fueled atmosphere. They also prepare the medics for the worst.

Haitian surgical technician Henry says it is difficult to come to terms with the fact that the patients will be his countrymen. But he says that as a health care provider, the feeling of sadness from losing a patient is the same, no matter the patient's nationality.

"You do your best to help that person," said Henry. "But then, you know, they don't make it, so I'm sure you feel bad because your hope was for the patient to live, to survive."

There is little time left for drills. The Comfort is expected to arrive in the vicinity of Haiti on Wednesday, and officials expect to fill its 1,000 beds.