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Dispatches From Haiti

Respect for Life in the Slums of Cite Soleil

by JOHN CARROLL, MD

Port-au-Prince.

Do four pound babies in one of the worst slums in the world really count?

It seems they do at St. Catherine’s Hospital in Cite Soleil.

This precious little girl was born on Friday morning (three days ago) but was having trouble breathing by mid-afternoon.

So the nurses in the OB Ward wrapped her in a baby blanket, handed her to her sore sixteen year old mom, and told her to go to Pediatrics.

Mom carried the baby alone as she ambled over to Pediatrics which is in a different building about twenty yards away.

A Peds nurse unwrapped the baby and casually pronounced the baby dead. The baby was cyanotic and not breathing or moving.

Another “health care provider” immediately grabbed the baby and administered “bouche-a-bouche” (mouth-to-mouth) resuscitation.

The baby was placed carefully on the nurses charting table. Her young mom watched showing no emotion whatsoever. And parents in the Pediatric Ward stretched their necks and silently watched from their own baby’s miserable cribs.

The little baby with no name started to breathe and move and she turned pink.

A tiny nasal prongs was taped into the newborn’s nostrils and attached to a huge five foot paint-peeling green oxygen tank near by. Three liters of oxygen streamed into her airway.

A tiny bore nasogastric tube was passed and the baby’s abdomen was decompressed to help her diaphragm work easier.  A 24 gauge IV was placed on one attempt into the back of her right hand. Sugar water dripped in.

The baby opened her left eye and looked around.

Her respirations were fast but her color was good and pink.

Throughout this effort, the Haitian nurses and doctor talked like usual, even joked, but no one screamed or yelled or went crazy. There was definite respect for this little life on the edge.

Life is important in the slum.

John A. Carroll, M.D. is a physician working in Port-au-Prince.