January 16, 2010 10:36 a.m. EST – CNN.com
Port-au-Prince, Haiti (CNN) — Earthquake victims, writhing in pain and grasping at life, watched doctors and nurses walk away from a field hospital Friday night after United Nations officials ordered a medical team to evacuate the area out of security concerns, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta reported.
U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said Saturday that the world body’s mission in Haiti did not order any medical team to leave the Port-au-Prince field hospital. If the team left, it was at the request of their own organizations, he told CNN.
Gupta assessed the needs of the 25 patients, but there was little he could do without supplies. And more people, some in critical condition, were trickling in.
Gupta monitored patients’ vital signs, administered painkillers and continued intravenous drips. He stabilized three new patients in critical condition.
“I’ve never been in a situation like this. This is quite ridiculous,” Gupta said.
He reported that the doctors and nurses began returning Saturday morning.
Search and rescue must trump security. … They need to man up and get back in there.
–Retired Army Lt. Gen. Russell Honoré
With a dearth of medical facilities in Haiti’s capital, ambulances had no where else to take patients, some who had suffered severe trauma — amputations and head injuries — under the rubble. Others had suffered a great deal of blood loss, but there were no blood supplies left at the clinic.
Gupta feared that some would not survive the night.
He and his television crew stayed with the injured all night, long after the medical team had left, long after the generators gave out and the tents turned pitch black.
At 3:45 a.m., he posted a message on Twitter: “pulling all nighter at haiti field hosp. lots of work, but all patients stable. turned my crew into a crack med team tonight.”
There have been scattered reports of violence throughout the capital.
Gupta said the Belgian doctors did not want to leave their patients behind but were ordered out by the United Nations, which sent buses to transport them.
“There is concern about riots not far from here — and this is part of the problem,” Gupta said.
“What is striking to me as a physician is that patients who just had surgery, patients who are critically ill are essentially being left here, nobody to care for them,” Gupta said.
Sandra Pierre, a Haitian who has been helping at the makeshift hospital, said the medical staff took most of the supplies with them.
“All the doctors, all the nurses are gone,” she said. “They are expected to be back tomorrow. They had no plan on leaving tonight. It was an order that came suddenly.”
She told Gupta, “It’s just you.”
A 7.0 magnitude earthquake flattened Haiti’s capital city Tuesday afternoon, affecting as many as 3 million people. Tens of thousands of people are feared dead.
Gupta sent out another tweet before dawn:
“5a update. we lost all generator power. sun will come up in about 30 minutes. now confident we will get all these patients through the night”
Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, lacked adequate medical resources even before the disaster and has been struggling this week to tend to huge numbers of injured. The U.N. clinic, set up under several tents, was a godsend to the few who were lucky to have been brought there.
Retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, who led relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina in 2005, said the evacuation of the clinic’s medical staff was unforgivable.
“We can’t be leaning so much toward security that we allow people to die,” he said Saturday.
“Search and rescue must trump security,” Honoré said Friday night. “I’ve never seen anything like this before in my life. They need to man up and get back in there.”
Honoré drew parallels between the tragedy in New Orleans and in Port-au-Prince. But even in the chaos of Katrina, he said, he had never seen medical staff walk away.
“I find this astonishing these doctors left,” he said. “People are scared of the poor.”