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Haiti earthquake diary: Hospital visits

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Monday, Jan. 18

I go into Cité Soleil in the morning to see what health services are available. The complex operated by Doctors Without Borders is, at least, open.

The last time I was here was probably in 2002 or 2003. After that, it became impossible to enter Cité Soleil, Haiti’s largest urban slum - maybe the largest urban slum in the Western Hemisphere. It’s a square mile of landfill, organized in the 1960s when then dictator François Duvalier wanted to get all the “scum” off the streets in preparation for a visit from the pope.

I think there are more nongovernmental organizations in Cité Soleil than anywhere else in Haiti. But all the attention seems to have only marginally improved life for the quarter million residents.

What has improved is the security.

During the 2003-2004 period, it was the hub for gangs – kidnapping central. It took a united effort on the part of the Haitian government, the international community, and the United Nations peacekeepers, but eventually the gang leaders were extracted or forced out. Now life seems to have returned to “normal” – whatever that means in Haitian terms. But that was before the quake.

As I stand at the entrance to the hospital, looking at the rows of makeshift cots, a young man and woman dump a wounded person in front of us before fleeing. The man is at my feet moaning, his shirt splattered with blood. I run to the emergency ward and bring back a nurse. A doctor is already looking at his gunshot wounds. Hard to determine the circumstances, and I don’t ask. Perhaps it was a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or maybe he was shot while trying to loot. I leave not knowing. Not knowing things is a familiar feeling here.

In the afternoon, I go to the General Hospital. It’s a mess. Not that it was ever in good shape. I remember seeing it for the first time 20 years ago, not believing the minimal services: people sharing beds, mattresses on the floor, patients responsible for their own medicine, syringes, food, even bedding.

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