After the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti six weeks ago many of us saw YouTube videos streaming from CNN and other news sources displaying the heroism and organization of the Israeli field hospital in Haiti. But who were these fast acting, compassionate individuals?
This morning I had the unique privilege of meeting Dr. Ofer Merin, Director of Shaare Zedek Medical Center Emergency Preparedness & Response Program, who served as the head of the surgical and intensive care unit in Port-au-Prince.
Dr. Ofer Merin, a composed and humble man, explained the mission which took the world by shock but left Israeli’s unsurprised at their fellow countrymen. Dr. Merin explained that the IDF is constantly training for disaster response scenarios and had just carried out a training a month earlier in Israel.
Some highlights of his talk included a slide entitled “Ma nishtana?” or “What made the Israeli’s different from other disaster response groups?” The list included the word “chutzpah” which Merin translated as ingenuity. Merin explained that when 16 babies were born, there were no cradles, or carriages in sight. The team improvised and procured large salad bowls lined with blankets to keep the infants comfortable.
After treating hundreds of people over the course of five days, the Israeli medical team ran out of the over 1,000 casts they has brought. Some good old Jewish chutzpah once again came to the rescue after a Moroccan-born Israeli searched throughout Port-au-Prince until he discovered over 2,000 casts in the basement of the Moroccan Embassy. When the Israeli’s ran out of special surgical nails, they headed into town and had a blacksmith create nails in order to be used in surgery.
Beyond these moments of chutzpah which separated the Israeli field hospital from others, the Israelis simply came prepared. They had a miniÂ blood bank, an imaging center, an OBGYN, a pediatric surgeon, bar code identity cards, and other amenities that other field hospitals did not have. Dr. Merrin described that “nobody in Haiti has identity cards, photos were used to keep track of patients and for loved ones to identify them.â€Â A total of 1,111 wounded and sick were treated, and 315 operations were performed. Sixteen babies, including a set of twins and a boy who was named Israel, were delivered.
As one CNN reporter put it, the Israeli field hospital was the “Rolls-Royce of Emergency Medicine.”