Views & Reviews

Haiti: I want to go back

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: (Published 04 February 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c695
  1. Richard Villar, consultant orthopaedic surgeon
  1. 1Wellington Hospital, London NW8 9LE
  1. rnv{at}

    After three earthquakes and as many wars, I should be in control. Yet fresh back from Haiti I am not. As I grow older emotionally I become more involved, not less. As I become more experienced I find it harder to detach myself from my surroundings. The callus, hard young man who first went to war in his 20s has become something of a softie three decades on. My job, as part of the United Kingdom’s emergency response, is to enter disaster zones while the locals leave. Haiti is a classic example: as five of us stride from our chartered aircraft towards the airport buildings in Port-au-Prince, 5000 inhabitants are hastening in the opposite direction.

    My job is outwardly simple. Reach the disaster zone by the most rapid means and set up a field surgical facility for the team that is hot on my heels. The situation is pitiful: bodies line the streets, limbs protrude from shattered buildings, and those who survive stagger aimlessly with fixed gaze. There is no water, no food, and little fuel, and aftershocks are frequent and unpredictable. Orphaned children scream for their parents, while parents shout for their offspring. Where can they go? Where can anyone go? The smell of death is everywhere. Smoke and dust rise from the city while white United Nations vehicles in their hundreds hurtle almost haphazardly, soldiers with weapons drawn.

    Making sense of such a situation is difficult, but I realise that …

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