Rene Steinhauer, RN, EMT-P, is an accomplished nurse with skilled disaster training experience. He has practiced medicine on all seven continents including working as a flight nurse in Antarctica, a combat medic in Iraq and a disaster manager in Hurricane Katrina, the Asian Tsunami, the Haiti Earthquake, and Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines. Most recently he worked as the Chief Nurse in an Ebola Treatment Center in Liberia.
Saving Jimani: Life and Death in the Haiti Earthquake is about Rene Steinhauer’s experiences working as a nurse and disaster manager in the Haiti Earthquake. It was published in October 2014 and is available for sale on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
The earth shakes, buildings fall, hundreds of thousands of people die in minutes. Others lie broken and infected in the streets of Haiti begging, and waiting for help. An empty orphanage is the battleground for life and death in the Haiti Earthquake. Two hours from civilization, a small team of doctors, nurses and paramedics frantically struggle to save two thousand patients as the hope of survival dwindles minute by minute. The battle has just begun. And the medical team asks, “Can we save any of these people?”
Managing the twelve-person team, Rene Steinhauer, a weary combat medic, stands witness to human suffering greater than he ever encountered in Iraq. Rene partners with Danya Swanson, a “daddy’s girl” with a nursing degree who thinks she has what it takes to save the day and suddenly finds herself as the disaster manager for Jimani. Rene dries his tears and gets up to fight in a brutal battle where amputated arms and legs are piled up until somebody, anybody, has time to drag them to the fire pit. The battle rages, hopes are raised and dashed and thousands of lives hang by a thread. Can an inexperienced nurse, with no disaster experience, really save Jimani?
“Saving Jimani is so much more than the reporting of life and death in the Haiti earthquake. It is a story of raw human emotion, grappling with the reality of hundreds if not thousands of people with broken bodies and spirits seeking medical help in an area where there was none. It is the story of heart break, faith, failure and triumph.”
“This is an insider perspective from someone who did not need to be there but chose, in his role as a volunteer disaster medic, to take part in the mission to save lives.”
“This book provides a glimpse into what is experienced and felt emotionally by disaster volunteers who willingly go to places in the world where everyone else is trying to flee.”
“Rarely does a book capture the true inside story of a mega disaster and the advance medical team sent to “hold the fort” until other rescue teams and supplies are mobilized. Utilizing his past military skills and disaster experience, Rene takes charge and quickly organizes a cohesive team in the midst of chaos. With everyone working twenty hour shifts, chaos is quickly transformed into a smooth operation and countless lives are saved.”
Excerpt from Saving Jimani:
Third degree burns to the face and chest are life threatening. However these types of burns also suggest an inhalation injury to the lungs. People with burns like this do not live. They certainly do not live without the best care from a burn center. The fact that he was alive six days after the earthquake was an absolute miracle.
The story about how Eric Louis ended up in the back of the pickup truck was never clear. Somehow his wife found him and carried him for miles before someone put him in the truck. He had been outside the hospital parking lot for most of the day. I called for a stretcher and some local medics helped us bring him into the parking lot.
Chris and I immediately started a more detailed assessment. Normally, with such an injury, the lungs would be damaged and full of fluid. His lungs seemed to be in great shape. During the initial treatment of a burn, massive amounts of IV fluid would be pumped into the burn patient to keep his kidneys from failing. This had not occurred, and we weren’t sure if his kidneys had already failed. If they had, there was no chance of survival for this man. If the lung damage or kidney failure were not going to kill him, his next likely cause of death would be infection. Eric was not likely to live more than a day or two.
The local hospital doctors said that they would not be able to care for him. We could have tried to find a place in Port-au-Prince where he might receive medical care, but at the time, we didn’t know where to find functional hospitals, field hospitals or medical resources. However, we had the Puerto Rican team, which was ready and able to help. Since we had more doctors than patients, it made sense to take Eric Louis and his wife back to Jimani.
To describe an individual as a patient is a medical way to lessen the human component of medicine. Patients need treatment, people need care. Patients have medical complaints such as a femur fracture; individuals have feelings and pain. A femur fracture has a specific treatment; the individual has needs that go beyond pain control and physically connecting two ends of a broken bone. Every casualty is more than a patient. Every casualty is an individual.
For a medical provider to agree to accept a patient, he must believe that he can provide the care the patient needs. However, it is not simply an agreement to manage the patient’s injury. It is an all-encompassing agreement that the medical provider will care for the person. The caregiver is now responsible for the patient. To accept Eric Louis as our patient, we affirmed that we had the resources to provide care — care not available in Port-au-Prince — and it was a personal contract with Eric and his wife that we would care for his individual needs.
With the decision made, we had the sending hospital give Eric a shot of morphine and we gently placed Eric and his wife in the back of the pickup truck. Eric’s wife sat with her back to the wall of the truck cab and pulled Eric to her chest to hold him during the long and rough road to Jimani.
She looked to him with concern in her eyes. She knew her husband was not likely to live, but her tears stopped with renewed hope once we promised to care for Eric. As the truck hit each bump, she tried to minimize the impact of the road. She did not speak a word to him during the drive, but her gentle touch spoke of a love that was likely to encounter the tragedy of death. Whatever the outcome, she was going to be with her husband until the end.
It was nearly sunset when we returned to the clinic in Jimani. Dark clouds hugged the rim of the valley as sun buried itself behind the mountains. As the truck pulled into the compound I realized that the clinic we left a few hours ago was not the clinic to which we returned. The calmness of the day evaporated with the morning dew. Large numbers of casualties arrived while I was gone. Now people were briskly moving in different directions. Activity was everywhere, but none of it coordinated. Groups of people huddled near the corner of a building, near a truck or a patch of dirt. They surrounded one or two nurses or doctors desperately trying to bandage and splint the injured.
The Haitians had learned that the American doctors were in Jimani and they flooded the compound with the injured. The clinic had been overwhelmed and new casualties were now being collected at the orphanage about 200 yards down the hill from the clinic. People were lying in the dirt around the orphanage. Others were moaning and bleeding on the cement slab of the building. Families were tugging at the arms of every American they could find. I was stunned.
The faces of the injured were the most difficult to see. These people were suffering from terrible physical pain. They had spent days waiting for assistance and had lost hope. They left the government hospital in Jimani hearing that there was hope at Good Samaritan Hospital, but their last hope was destroyed as their tears and blood intermingled with the dirt that was their new bed. They expected, and even wanted, to die just to be relieved of their pain. The pain of desperation was greater than the pain of an angulated fracture. When I looked into their hollow eyes, I felt their agony. Many had no tears left to cry.
As the light breeze moved across the field of casualties, an overpowering aroma attacked the senses. The cries for help and the cries of mourning filled my ears. I felt my heart racing in my chest. The deep breaths I took made the smell of death stronger. I had never worked in such a demoralizing disaster. For a moment my chest and heart were stinging as I tried to grapple with the enormity of the situation.
The organized medical clinic of the morning was gone. I was standing at the epicenter of hell. In less than twelve hours the medical team had been overwhelmed and the supplies were critically low. Certainly, the change from calm to chaos was from something other than an overwhelming number of casualties arriving at the medical clinic. Something had gone terribly wrong at Good Samaritan Hospital.
As I scanned the area, my heart sank with the realization that I should never have brought Eric Louis here. There were doctors at the Port-au-Prince hospital and they did not have as many patients as we had in Jimani. But I accepted personal responsibility for this man. I drove him across the border to this place of death. As I looked back at the couple and saw the tears running down Mrs. Louis’ face, I asked myself, “What have I done?”