Into a void we filled

I had a bunch of difficult shifts midweek last week and a lot of charts to complete, afterward. That, plus some other obligations, and I had fallen behind on emails -- to say nothing of the news. So while I had heard a little bit about the earthquake in Haiti, I hadn't really reflected on it.

Gmail had grouped the following messages last week from CNN -- all sent within a few hours of each other -- into a thread:
  • CNN Breaking News: Hundreds of thousands of people have died in Haiti's earthquake, the prime minister told CNN today. 
  • CNN Breaking News: President Rene Preval tells CNN that Haiti lacks capacity to hospitalize quake victims, asks for medical aid. 
  • CNN Breaking News: R+B singer Teddy Pendergrass has died at age 59, CNN has confirmed. 
So forgive me, I knew something terrible had happened but I was having difficulty putting it into context.

This isn't necessarily new territory. But, much like with Katrina, the enormity really only sinks in, for me, when I read physician's accounts from the front lines. Something about comparing the challenges of working in my electronic ED with the endless supplies, state-of-the-art equipment, and an army of readily available specialists, to what these doctors are going through, conveys the horror more than a thousand breaking news updates or footage of crumpled buildings. 

Some informative, and responsible, medical accounts are available online (1,2). 

Here's a dispatch from a former colleague with ties to the area: 
My husband and I hitchhiked it to port au prince from the domincan republic; the devastation is of incredible magnitude; [X] and I both have family here; his father was pulled from the rubble alive after having been trapped for 16 hours; fractured ribs hand and leg ; his brother and stepmother killed;  we are still looking for 2 nephews; [X] and I stay on opposite sides of town since food and water are scarce; we are helping our families to ration; at night we sleep on the roads the only safe place since after shocks are still being felt daily; hospitals have turned away thousands so I care for whomever I can in the meantime; I delivered a baby on the sidewalk this morning; please send this email out to our colleagues and ask them to send whatever resources they can; the various teams deployed have still not covered a large portion of the city that is in need of assistance; I have still not been able to get in contact with my medical mission group for lack of communication.
People have been bellyaching about disaster journalism cliches for close to 40 years, but the physician-as-reporter is a new wrinkle that's coming under some scrutiny. From my perspective, I find the physician dispatches very helpful for contextualizing the disaster -- at least, until these doctors' heroics start to become the focus of the story, instead of the lens from which to view it.