By Elizabeth Cohen
CNN Medical Senior Correspondent
Tuesday afternoon, Dr. Louise Ivers, an infectious disease specialist at Harvard Medical School, was at a meeting of the World Food Program in a United Nations building in Port-au-Prince when the earthquake hit. She escaped to the building’s driveway unharmed. Within minutes of her arrival 350 injured Haitians gathered in her driveway, looking for medical help.
Ivers was the only doctor.
“It was overwhelming,” she says. “Several people bled to death while I tried to treat them. One girl’s skin was ripped off her hand and forearm, and you could see all the muscles and tendons. Then a father handed me a baby who was minutes away from dying, and I had to say ‘I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do.’”
Ivers, the country director for Haiti for Partners in Health and an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard, got to work. She and Kim Cullen, her research assistant, set out to find materials they could turn into medical supplies.
“We ripped license plates off cars to use as splints. We took shirts off of people to use as tourniquets,” Ivers says.
Early the next morning, Ivers heard about a makeshift clinic with about fifty patients in a tent on the United Nations compound next to the
Port-au-Prince airport. She gathered together about 100 of the injured people she’d been treating, and set out for the clinic.
“I thought this was going to be an actual clinic with doctors,” she says. “But when I got there, I asked who was in charge, and someone said ‘Toi’ – you, you’re in charge. I said, ‘Really?’”
Again, she was the only doctor.
About fifty more patients arrived that night, bringing the total to about 200. A few physicians came and went for short periods, but she was basically on her own.
“It was overwhelming, the amount of trauma and injuries. I’ve worked in Haiti for seven years and I’ve never seen such suffering,” Ivers says. “To be a human being and see such suffering is bad enough, but to be a doctor and have no tools, no pain medication, is a horrible, horrible feeling.”
Finally, Wednesday at 5pm, help arrived in the form of Dr. Enrique Ginzburg and Dr. Daniel Pust, trauma surgeons from the University of Miami.
“For the first time, I thought to myself, ‘maybe these people have a chance,’” she says.
At 2 am Thursday, Ivers rested. She’d gone 48 hours without sleeping, eating, or even sitting down.
How did she handle being the only doc?
“I don’t know,” she says. “I think automatic mode kicks in.”