David Burda: So when did you go, and how long did you stay?
Chris Van Gorder: Very tail end of January. My chief medical officer, Brent Eastman, and I went in first supported by the CEO of MedAssets. He was able to use his own jet from a company. Got us a time slot of 2:30 in the morning 'cause there were 15-minute slots to get in and out of Haiti. And we flew in with the intent of determining where we would work, so we wanted to make sure that we had a mission and didn't deploy a group of people that had no mission. We wanted to make sure it was secure and that we had transportation set up. So we flew in—I think it was on the 28th of January. We made contact with the papal nuncio of Haiti—the Vatican's representative to Haiti—who picked us up in their diplomatic vehicles, took us up to the compound, and told us of a hospital—the St. Francis de Sales Hospital—one mile from the epicenter that was virtually, completely destroyed and absolutely needed help. And the next day, we were down there working.
David Burda: After you assessed the situation, what medical services were in most need right at that moment?
Chris Van Gorder: Well, when Brent and I—Dr. Eastman and I—who happens right now to be the chairman of the American College of Surgeons, so literally there was a team of Belgian and German physicians that were there just planning on leaving. They'd been there for over a week, and at that point they had been doing primarily amputations. The patients were all out in an open compound. They couldn't go into the hospital. A four-story hospital had collapsed. There were over 200 bodies still entombed inside the building. Frankly, they still are there today. And it was all surgical at that point—really not much medical need. Literally, the Belgian physician said, asked Dr. Eastman if he could take care of this one crush injury that needed a fasciotomy. And he took out a red ribbon, the Belgian doctor, tied it on the end bed post, and said, ‘This is the preop order.' This patient's next to go.
David Burda: Color-coded ribbons.
Chris Van Gorder: Color-coded ribbons. And Brent said, it looks like you're my scrub nurse, and I ended up being his scrub nurse for the case, and the two of us went in and did the fasciotomy on this patient. So we literally were working within an hour of coming to the hospital.
David Burda: Now do you have staff there now, or everybody back at Scripps?
Chris Van Gorder: Right now they're all back, but we're going to send another team down. Brent and I, after about five days there, flew back home and got two anesthesiologists, another trauma surgeon about three nurses and one orthopedic surgeon and flew back our team again. This time with more equipment, because when we were there we were only doing anesthesia with ketamine. There is no anesthesia machines. Patients were asleep but eyes open, looking at us, literally drooling. And that was the way we could tell that they were still alive during the surgery. This was not Civil War medicine, but I would call it World War I medicine at best. And it was horrendous.
David Burda: What will the second group do then in terms of different types of—
Chris Van Gorder: The second group did go in, and this time though we were doing a lot of orthopedic surgery, we were starting to repair the amputations that had been done in an emergency situation, set up triage. We literally got a schedule going for the operating room. We were coordinating our efforts with the University of Maryland, who also appeared. So again it was virtually all extremity surgery or orthopedic surgery. By this time it's about two weeks after the earthquake, and there's still patients coming in with open fractures, untreated fractures, because they hadn't been able to access any care. We sent back a third team. Now they were dealing mostly with medical. This time it was malaria, tetanus, a lot of [Unclear 4:54] type of issues that were coming up. So by this time now, by the third team, most of the traumatic injuries had been taken care of or the patients had passed away.
David Burda: Now how many days total did you, yourself, spend in Haiti?
Chris Van Gorder: I was there about 11 or 12 days that I was there.
David Burda: Now you were blogging from Haiti. Is that something you had done before or is your first experience with social media?
Chris Van Gorder: Well, you know I started doing that during Hurricane Katrina. Our team was sent down to the Gulf by the surgeon general. And we had so many Scripps employees that wanted to volunteer. I decided one night to pull out my BlackBerry and I sent to all Scripps employees a note that we had arrived and really thanked everybody for volunteering even though at the point I think we took down about 20 people. And I received about 300 e-mails back the next morning from employees wishing us well, and indicating that they were really proud of the organization for doing this. It was such a positive response, I started getting stories and blogging every night back to all the employees. So this time after Haiti, I knew going down there that employees expected to hear what we were doing. And I started sending them a note every day and getting stories from our doctors and nurses and sharing those, and it had the same response. A lot of people e-mailing us back. As I understand it, my e-mails were kind of forwarded pretty much around the country.
David Burda: How would you describe your writing style?
Chris Van Gorder: [Laughs] You know, I started my career as a cop many years ago, and when a police officer arrives on the scene or is taking a crime report, you go from start to finish. And you literally try to describe what you see, and that's how I write. So it was: This is where I am, this is what I see, this is what I smell and that's pretty much the way I write. I'm not a writer. I don't consider myself a writer at all, but I guess I can tell a story.