The following account comes from Health Services Technician First Class (HS1) Larry Berman. HS1 Berman serves as “ship’s doc” aboard the CGC Tahoma and was one of the first medical responders to the Haiti earthquake. The words that follow are his and we’ve included Coast Guard photos to try and help tell the story. As Guardians continue to report in from Haiti, we will do our best to bring you their stories here at Coast Guard Compass.
UPDATE: Click here to watch a video of HS1 Berman live from Haiti.
Today (Saturday) was day three that the Coast Guard Cutter Tahoma and Mohawk manned up the small Haitian Coast Guard Medical Clinic. All three days, we have treated the local Haitian people for broken bones, lacerations, huge open wounds, etc. The outer court yard is filled with desperate people wanting medical attention.
Myself and HS2 Elias Gomez have taken the lead on who gets treated and who has to wait. Both boats are helping in some capacity or another, medical treatment, security, supply room, small boating Coast Guardsmen back and forth from the ships. So, many people from the two boats are helping. Some have to man the daily operations of the two boats, but everyone is eager to volunteer to come ashore and lend a hand.
HS2 Gomez and I, and a couple of people with EMT experience, have training on mass casualty scenarios, but in that situation there are helos and ambulances to take people to hospitals. Not so here. Until today, we have treated the people and they stay. Their homes are wrecked, the streets are clogged, and there have not been any medevacs.
Today, day three, was the first day that we got a few people out; I think the count was 10. The primary goal each day has been to treat and evac those needing amputations. My happiest moment came this morning as one man with a left crushed arm, 30 medical staples and sutures to the face, and a scalp wound was evaced to a hospital. The first day, as triage goes, we thought he was near death so we deferred to stronger amputations who were a mess, but much alive. The following day, when we saw that he was still alive, HS2 Gomez and I decided that he would be our priority. That was yesterday. I scrubbed what was his arm with Betadine, tourniqueted the arm and wrapped it in a red contamination bag. HS2 stapled a huge facial wound with the medical staples and sutures. HS2 Elias Gomez was a master, caring for the patient. I cleaned maggots from his scalp wound and sutured that up. We also hit him up with antibiotics. As I said, today he flew to a hospital. That my friends was an outstanding moment for HS2 and myself.
We have treated more patients than we can count, then they go out to sit in the outer court yard.
The scene includes about 30-40 Coast Guardsmen and about 20 Haitian volunteers with various experience. A couple of Haitian nurses and doctors have joined us, but the leadership of the clinic has been HS2 and myself. I believe that the Haitians have recognized the discipline and order that the Tahoma and Mohawk have demonstrated. OS1 Sweetman, YN1 Winslow and ETC Frownfelter have lead the security for the compound. They keep order. The Mohawk has taken leadership over the supply room. I wish that I could tell you their names, but there is one Chief that has done a great job with the stock room.
Both Mohawk and Tahoma crewmen are willing to do anything. I have seen our Engineering Officer LT Sanzo out in the courtyard bandaging people. I saw our Executive Officer LCDR Fisher hold the hand of a little girl while her wounds were being painfully scrubbed. I was able to come and administer a small amount of morphine to the little girl which made the XO’s job easier.
Today was the first day also that the decision was made to use morphine. The compound fractures and skin ripped off some of their bodies warranted it as we had to clean the infected wounds. Morphine is mercy.
For the past 3 days, Tahoma and Mohawk have had to make hundreds of decisions on how to help these people. We are all exhausted. We are all running on adrenalin. We are working in the heat, sweating. No one goes to the bathroom until be get back to the ship from 0830 to 1715 Hrs. Both Gomez and I have been ordered to take breaks. It is non-stop. Today, I had to ask what day it was. I had no idea. Thank God we are starting to get a few people out. Tomorrow we hope to get at least 12 of the worst out.
Today at about 1430 I finally obeyed our XO and YN1 Winslow to take a break and eat. Then after about 15 minutes I was called on the radio to get back to the clinic. Someone was going to have a baby! I ran from the pier to the courtyard, about 200 yards to see a 21 year old Haitian woman sitting and looking weak with people holding her hand.
She told me that the baby had not moved since that morning. I felt her abdomen and could not feel the baby move. She appeared to be full term. Gomez, who from here on out I will call by his first name, Elias, brought her into the clinic and got her up on a table. We examined her to see if she was crowning which she was not. We could not feel the baby move at all. We both placed stethoscopes on her and could not hear a sound from the baby. As best as we could we were beginning to think the worst, so after we were told that there would not be any more flights out, the command listened to us and got her and one more amputee to the Tahoma for medevac.
A short time later, I was shouted to by OS1 Sweetman to get to the small boat back to the Tahoma, a baby boy was born on the flight deck! What?
As I got in the small boat, a Lieutenant who I had never seen before was in the boat next to me. After 3 days of prayers God sent us a Flight Surgeon. Elias and I and many of our church members have been praying for a surgeon to help us. I apologize, as I write this at 2339 Hrs, after a long day, I can not recall his name.
The crew of the Tahoma delivered the baby. I know that OSC Watkins and DC2 Schrewsbury and about 15 others had parts in the delivery. The Flight Surgeon and I got there and assessed the health of the mother and baby boy. I took the vitals and listened to the baby’s heart. It was making sounds now Elias! Pink, warm and well. The flight Surgeon lead the delivery of the placenta on the flight deck and several of us cleaned the baby after its first BM. Then they were medevaced off the hospital.
To my great joy, the Navy arrived. Two surgeons from the USS Carl Vinson and 3 Medical Corpsmen came to join us. Help has arrived. Tomorrow fresh minds will lead the clinic. To be honest with you, Elias and I could run the clinic for a 4th day, but we are slowing, just a bit, after making all the decisions at the camp involving medical care. I do not think I could pull a day 5.
Tomorrow, Elias and I will be able to perform the way we prefer. The Medical Officers make the tough calls and we follow their lead. Tomorrow we will get a break, I think, and take lesser roles. However, we are told that we are starting earlier. Rather than leave for the clinic at 0830, tomorrow, which comes in 7 minutes, we leave at 0730.
I am writing this to wind down. Everyone on the CGC Tahoma and CGC Mohawk has a story to tell. There are dozens and dozens of stories of brave acts from the crew and the Haitian people. Oh, we all felt the earth shake today. It was a small but noticeable shake.
HS1 Larry J Berman
Independent Health Services Technician
USCGC TAHOMA (WMEC-908)
United States Coast Guard