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Soon there were 150 volunteer nurses, doctors, and EMTs who rotated every three days in and out of Medishare's giant tents. Three hundreds cots were overflowing with patients. But when the rainy season began, floods wreaked havoc on the field hospital. A patient on a ventilator died when a nighttime fire forced occupants into a nearby field.
On June 6, five months after the earthquake, Medishare moved into Bernard Mevs, a small, private hospital near the airport. Although it meant downsizing to 50 beds, Bernard Mevs provided security, steady electricity, and sturdy walls for an emergency room, intensive care units, and a laboratory.
Now there are ventilators, a CT scanner, and world-class doctors. The hospital saves dozens of lives a month, yet unpaved roads and contaminated water still conspire against Haiti's poor. By the time they arrive at Bernard Mevs, it's often too late.
One Wednesday afternoon when New Times visited the hospital, a tall, slender 15-year-old girl walked up to the metal gates. Natanael Louissant wore a brilliant sky-blue skirt and a white, striped blouse, as if headed to the small church in outlying Siloe where she sang in the choir. But her face was smudged with dirt and marked by exhaustion. And she could barely stand without the help of her father, Fanes, a deeply religious electrician with dark skin and simple clothes.
Fanes explained that his daughter had come home from school on Friday with a fever. A local doctor had diagnosed her with malaria and given her pills, but her breathing had grown worse.
Ginger Hart, a young nurse who had worked in China and India before volunteering in Port-au-Prince, checked Natanael's blood oxygen saturation with an oximeter. The young girl looked healthy, but the machine gave a reading of 58 — barely half the normal level.
"Piece of shit," Hart said to herself and flung it to the side. "It's always crapping out." But Natanael's temperature was a cool 96.1 degrees Fahrenheit, and her lungs gave off a pneumonic wheeze. So Hart walked her back to the emergency room and tried another oximeter. This time, it gave an even worse reading of 52. Natanael's lungs were failing, she realized. Hart would have to stick a tube down the girl's trachea and pump her lungs by hand.
But before Hart could intubate, Natanael coughed. A bead of blood hung from her wide lower lip. Then she coughed again — spots of crimson stained her blouse. It happened a third time. Suddenly there was blood dripping from her ears and nose.
Hart pulled Natanael upright, but it was too late. Blood poured from her mouth and onto her lap. The nurse ran to look for a doctor. When she returned seconds later, Natanael's pulse had disappeared. She fell back onto the ER bed. And when Hart shoved a tube down her throat and squeezed a bag to make her breathe, blood spurted up like a fountain.
Doctors and nurses grabbed their gloves and tools.
"I need suction!" yelled Dr. Stuart Horak.
Then the electricity went out. A minute passed in the dark. When the lights came back on, Natanael was dead.
"What the fuck just happened?" Hart asked. Pneumonic anthrax, someone suggested. Hemorrhagic dengue fever, said another. They collected blood and tissue samples to send to the Centers for Disease Control's lab in Port-au-Prince.
Pugmire and Hart wiped down Natanael's body with disinfectant and covered her with a white sheet. Then Pugmire and Horak carried her small body on a stretcher through the ER's back door and across a courtyard to the hospital's hidden morgue: a dirty, broken tent underneath a sagging mango tree.
In the waiting area, Fanes Louissant collapsed on the ground when Horak told him that his daughter, alive only minutes before, was now dead. He huddled against a low wall and rocked uncontrollably, occasionally wailing with grief. As friends tried to console him, he tied pink and yellow clothes around his arm as a prayer for strength from God. Out of sight, Pugmire mopped the bright-yellow stretcher where Natanael had lain, alive, just minutes before.
"Just another day in Haiti," Hart said.
Despite the high technology, death is no stranger at Bernard Mevs — even if it visits less often than elsewhere in Haiti. No one knows this better than Marlon and Jerry Bitar, the twin Haitian surgeons who run the hospital. They were residents at General Hospital in the '90s.
"Out of every 100 people coming to General Hospital for critical care or trauma, we lost 77," Marlon Bitar says. "At Bernard Mevs, only 22 percent of those patients die."
"Before, being in the operating room was like conducting an autopsy," adds his brother. "We knew that the patient would be dead afterward. Because after the operation, we were finished. We couldn't do anything else for them."
"Now, when a patient comes to us for critical care, we have an entire department to keep them alive," Marlon answers. "A normal Haitian hospital doesn't have that. They can't do the follow-up, and the patient dies."
"It's very sad, because if you look on the map, Haiti is next to Florida," Jerry says, ticking off the five leading causes of preventable death in Haiti: heart attack, stroke, severe trauma, severe burns, and maternal emergencies. "We are two hours from Miami, but here they all end up dead."