John W. Poole/NPR
HHS Regional Emergency Coordinator Tom Bowman makes a last call out before wheels up in Atlanta.
HHS Regional Emergency Coordinator Tom Bowman makes a last call out before wheels up in Atlanta. John W. Poole/NPR
Here it is Friday afternoon, and I've been on my way to Haiti from Atlanta for more than 24 hours. The trip so far has included a heart-stopping plane stall when we got caught in the wake of another plane landing at Port-au-Prince last night. I've also had far too many Diet Cokes.
I'm traveling with Georgia-3 DMAT—that's a Disaster Medical Assistance Team. There are five or six other teams going to Haiti. After the group I'm with was unable to land, we turned around and spent the night in Providenciales, part of the Turks and Caicos.
It's a beautiful island, believe me, but everyone on the trip is anxious to get to Haiti and get to work. The Massachusetts contingent we were traveling made it out on a C-130 Coast Guard plane around noon today. There wasn't room for the rest of us, but we hope to meet up with them tonight.
The DMAT folks include doctors, nurses and pharmacists. They've all been at other disasters, and I must have heard the term "hurry up and wait" at least five times today. They're used to this, and at the same time they're frustrated. Georgia team leader Wendy Nesheim, a nurse, said her folks reminded her of racing greyhounds—they're at the gate, pumped up with adrenalin, but they've got to wait.
Though she's helped out at several U.S. disasters, she knows the one in Haiti is going to be tougher. There's no medical system on which to build. There's a definite limit to the amount of care you can give, she says. You can't just evacuate someone to a high-tech hospital in the next state. Still, working is easier than waiting, and she wants to get on with it.
Right now, we're scheduled to take off for Port-au-Prince out in a few hours — if the plane that carried the first group over this morning gets back soon.