To the best of my knowledge, we were the first team of chiropractors to provide organized on-the-ground aid after the devastating earthquake hit Haiti. It all began on Jan. 20 after I checked my e-mail at lunchtime, which I rarely do.
I noticed an e-mail forwarded to me from Dr. Ellen Coyne. She had helped organize relief efforts at Ground Zero following 9/11, so I trusted that what she was sending was legitimate and warranted my attention. The e-mail was a call for volunteers from a Manhattan chiropractor, Dr. Peter Morgan. I called him and listened to what he had to say about a relief effort plan for the people of Port-au-Prince. Dr. Morgan told me he had sent out numerous e-mails to local and national chiropractic organizations and over a thousand e-mails to individual chiropractors. He said the relief effort would involve bringing food, water and water filtration devices, chiropractic care and hope to the people of Haiti.
Mobilizing a Chiropractic Relief Team
Helping Hands in Haiti I told Dr. Morgan I had to see if I could cover my Connecticut and New York practices before committing. Within 15 minutes I had the two offices covered and donations for my trip. Within 24 hours, on Jan. 21, I had met six other chiropractors, a chiropractic intern and two missionaries from Stepping Stones Ministries in The Bronx (Stepping Stones has a ministry in Haiti and helped coordinate our visit) at the airport and was on my way to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. (As you recall, Haiti’s main airport was inconsistently accessible in the days following the quake.) From Santo Domingo we drove for 10 hours to the Haitian border and spent the night with friends of the missionaries. We left at 5:30 a.m. the following morning for Port-au-Prince. What I experienced next was a life-changing event.
In 2001, 9/11 introduced me to the horror and devastation of terrorist attacks. In Haiti, I expected to see destruction and sadness, but not at the level at which it was etched on the face of every living soul I encountered. As we crossed the border into Haiti, the despair on the people’s faces was complete. There were many people reaching out toward our vehicles as we traveled into Port-au-Prince, pleading with their eyes for some sort of assistance. But at that point, we could not give it, because the military was maintaining crowd control.
When we arrived in Port-Au-Prince, the first thing I noticed was the total physical mass destruction of the area – buildings, sidewalks and people. As we ventured farther into the city we became aware of this awful smell; the smell of decaying bodies trapped within the destroyed buildings. Everywhere you turned there was nothing but rubble and soon-to-be rubble. Multiple-level buildings had “pancaked” to one level. We saw buildings that had probably been homes totally destroyed, personal belongings strewn about what was left of the front doorway; we saw baby cribs crushed, children’s toys destroyed and clothing hanging from the crumbled structures. We saw numbers spray-painted on building fronts or on pillars denoting the number of human lives lost in that building or area. When we spoke to people in the city, they would tell us about their experiences and how many lives had been lost right next to them, and about how many family members they had lost.
Delivering Water, Food, Chiropractic and Hope
Our first order of business was to go to the refugee tent areas and deliver food (rice) and water, which we had purchased in the Dominican Republic, to as many people as possible. We started at a tent city about a quarter of a mile behind the U.S. Embassy. As we entered the field, the Haitian people were clearly a little skeptical of what we were doing. But when we started to give out water and food and they realized we were there to help, the crowd grew tenfold.
We then started to treat the people on the portable tables we had brought with us. As the first person was treated and rose with a smile on their face, speaking Creole to the people around them, the line started to grow and trust progressively formed. Next thing we knew, we were adjusting and treating person after person for a couple of hours straight. The eight of us took turns evaluating injuries and administering adjustments for whole-body injuries including neck pain, low back pain, leg pain, shoulder pain and rib pain. We also helped apply simple bandages and clean wounds.
When we were finished at that location, we headed into the city, just a couple of minutes away. We stopped at another tent city one block away from the presidential palace. When we pulled up and took out our tables, it felt like we were already seasoned veterans at this. We all started triaging and treating the people right away. It was like we were all on auto drive; we did not even have to talk to one another to work as a cohesive team.
At this location, we were treating people on the portable tables, on the park grounds, and anywhere we could sit or stand a person. Soon the crowd grew and now people were bringing others from the area over to us to treat them. Through interpreters they asked if they could bring family members and friends. One person even asked if he could carry a friend over who had been hurt and couldn’t walk.
We kept going for several days, treating the Haitians and bringing water and rice to them at different spots throughout Port-au-Prince. It was exciting, rewarding and sometimes a little unnerving; one time when we stopped and started giving out food and water, the crowd grew so fast it was scary. I had a few strong Haitians males help with crowd control as the rest of the team worked feverishly making portions of rice and handing it out to the hungry masses.
Throughout this journey, we slept in our sleeping bags, in the vehicles we had rented, and some of us slept in a house belonging to one of Dr. Morgan’s patients. There was no running water or proper bathroom facilities anywhere. Children in the community helped us by carrying water to our area in large buckets from a community-watering pump a few hundred yards away. We used this water to cook, bathe ourselves and for an outhouse-type facility. We were thankful to the community for sharing what little they had.
One night, after we had finished working, a huge prayer session started; the Haitians are very religious, and this was their way of thanking us. Although we could not understand their language, we could tell that they were singing their prayers and acknowledging us. This was perhaps the most touching moment of all.
An Unforgettable Experience
Although this relief trip was one of the toughest experiences for me, it was also one of the most rewarding, particularly as a chiropractor. During the Haitians’ great time of need, we were able to provide for them – not only food and water, but also chiropractic care. In every person I worked with (several hundred), I could see and feel their appreciation for what we were doing. After each treatment, the person would have a big smile, get up and start moving around, and then reach out and shake my hand; no words were necessary. It did not matter if it was a young child or a very elderly person; the results were the same: chiropractic care at its best. We were treating not only the injuries, but also the individual as a whole. This was truly an example of mind, body and spirit being enhanced through chiropractic care.