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After the devastating earthquake struck Haiti on January 12, Aliane St. Louis, Nurse, Medical/Surgical Day Unit and Red Cells Disorders Program, UHN, along with colleagues from Quebec, rushed to the country to provide assistance. Aliane recounts her experience to UHNews:
It was a last minute decision: we did not have time to plan our course of action, but we knew we had to help. When we landed at the airport there was so much destruction that it looked like a war zone. I told myself that it couldn't be worse than this, but as we drove deeper into the city, the more catastrophic the scene became.
Bodies were left unattended; lost and naked children cried out for help and comfort. Men, women, rich, poor were all helping each other to remove their loved ones from underneath the rubble, even though those men and women were injured themselves.
Everything — I mean everything — was destroyed. What you saw on TV did not compare. Everything, gone. All the churches, faculties of medicine, engineering, science, law, the palace, parliament, commissariat, nursing school... you name it, vanished. Ninety-five per cent of Port-au-Prince citizens were in the street, afraid to sleep, rest, eat, or find shelter under the buildings.
In the chaos, my colleagues and I were separated. I felt as though I was in a nightmare. I saw bloodied, injured people lying on cardboard, no mattress, quietly waiting for help. Rocks were used as pillows; IVs hung on trees.
I walked for as long as I could remember until I found an American nurse. I grabbed her hand and told her that I was from Canada and here to help. When I told her I spoke French, she hugged me with tears in her eyes and said, "You are an angel." The nurse brought me to her quarters, which were full of injured, crushed people. First thing I did was communicate with the Haitians in Creole to reassure them and explain to them the medical procedures.
One situation, in particular, touched my heart. There was a little boy with a leg injury, lying on the floor and crying. Nobody knew his name or age. As I approached him he was scared and backed away a little. I reassured him that I was here to help him, that I loved him. That God was with him. That he was handsome. I gave him juice and Tylenol.
He calmed down and told me his name was Paul and that he was nine years old. His parents had died in the earthquake. I took care of him as best as I could and by the end of the afternoon we were able to place him in an orphanage.
There were hospital camps set up all over the city from different countries: Cuba, the US, Canada, China, Japan, Brazil and others. I met so many good people who generously opened their hearts. Many students from the Faculty of Law and the Medical University had limbs amputated. The wounded were sent to the US and others countries like Martinique.
It taught me the value of life. How I, we, are blessed in Canada. We have a good and coordinated system in place; we take things for granted until traumatic events happen. An earthquake is a natural disaster. It's not like a hurricane you know will come. It can happen anywhere.
In one second. It only takes one second for you to lose everything: your house, legs, arms, daughter, son, father, mother, husband, wife... We are blessed.