January 25th, 2010
10:55 PM ET

Medical Dispatch: Venting of compassion

Dr. Sanjay Gupta | BIO
AC360° Contributor
CNN Chief Medical Correspondent

In the aftermath of natural disasters, there is what I call a “venting of compassion.” It is a term I coined a few years ago after reporting on the tsunami in Sri Lanka. I was there for a few weeks, and I soon saw a rush of aid to the devastated regions. Seemingly more water bottles than the nearby Indian Ocean, more t-shirts than the entire population of the country and aid organizations flying, driving and shipping in with relief supplies in hand, earnest to help. For me, and many people, seeing the images on tv and hearing the stories of anguish, stirs something deep in our humanity. We have an innate, instinctive, almost reflexive need to help. It is as if the world start to vent compassion.

It is a galvanizing thing to witness, and I remember being so fulfilled to work side by side with these generous souls, and report on their healing hands. It is a good thing, and it is happening now in Haiti as well. Even as I write this blog, there are humanitarian planes circling overhead in Port Au Prince, hoping to get a slot to land. If they can’t land here, they will likely land in neighboring Dominican Republic, and convoy across the border. Anything to lend a helping hand, and have a therapeutic impact in a place that could really use it.

That is why it might not be that surprising that after a few days of limited help, there is now such a surge of surgeons, people are being turned away from some of the big hospitals in Port Au Prince. “We appreciate your efforts, but we have more surgeons than we need,” is being repeated at the General hospital in downtown. I was told of one neurosurgeon from Oregon, who started crying upon hearing these words. “Surely, there is something I can do,” she sobbed. The director of the hospital had her changing dressings and helping clean up the area, and she happily complied. Anything to help, anything at all, anything – to vent compassion.

To be sure, there are medical needs here in Haiti, and the need will be persistent in the months and years to come.However, as I am learning, some of the unmet needs are further away from Port Au Prince and in the mountain areas, which are often forgotten. Mobile surgical teams are now being created to help there. And, while there may be adequate neurosurgeons in some area, there are hardly ever enough of the true work horses of any hospital, nurses. Most places still need both acute and chronic nursing care. And, what of all the amputees, having lost their limbs while being extricated from rubble or due to gangrene. They will need rehabilitation and prosthetics to walk, run, and even dance again.

Yes, the venting of compassion is undeniably a good thing. But, it must be a productive, effective and organized venting as well. Perhaps, planning a humanitarian trip in a few weeks or months would be a smart strategy for you, if you are considering this. In a short time, TV’s are likely to go dark on this story and you will have to flip through many pages of copy to get to a story about Haiti, but continue to vent your compassion. I will be right there with you.

For more from Dr. Sanjay Gupta, go to the Paging Dr. Gupta blog.

Filed under: Dr. Sanjay Gupta • Haiti Earthquake
soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. Mike

    Dr. Gupta, you deserve a humanitaria award for your work and dedication. Thank you.

    January 25, 2010 at 4:55 pm |
  2. Marilyn Tbeur

    Dr Gupta, you are so right! I could not believe it when I saw those medical professionals take off! You stayed an assist those patients as a Doctor should. Kudos to you Dr. Gupta, for being there for those human beings. May our Heavenly Father continues to bless you and your family! Keep up the fantastic work Dr Gupta, and CNN!!!

    Marilyn Tbeur, KC MO

    January 25, 2010 at 4:34 pm |
  3. KATHY--- Colombia

    thanks Dr Gupta for your help and information haiti.
    Great job , God bless.

    January 25, 2010 at 4:22 pm |
  4. Harry Saintil

    Thank you CNN for all you are doing to help the Haitian people through this devastating moments. You were fisrt to brake the story in the US and the Haitian diaspora is so thankful to your great work.History shows how united Haitians always stand when it comes to protect and rebuild their contry, and because of our love for Haiti and our undefeatable spirit we will recover from this again. Keep it up CNN, you are the # 1 in the news. THANK YOU...

    January 25, 2010 at 3:33 pm |
  5. Toebin

    Ohh so true Dr. Gupta,

    And with so many new amputee's there is going to be a huge amount of follow up care that is needed for months and years to come.

    One can only hope our compassion doesn't lessen as this disaster drops from the spotlight!!

    January 25, 2010 at 2:55 pm |
  6. Sara

    Thank you for your coverage in Haiti. You have done a wonderful job and we appreciate all of your hard waork. You clearly are a generous sole that cares about all of the people of the world. I love your style of reporting and will be watching your weekly show now, although probably by DVR as it is on way to early for the west coast.

    January 25, 2010 at 1:34 pm |
  7. Gayle McCauley Malden,Mass.

    I also feel that need to vent compassion.I cannot do anything to physically help these poor people,and I was distraught about it..Glad I'm not the only one! Perhaps the instinct is for us to give because we have so much.Most Americans have the most comfortable lives of any of mankind, ever ! I realize and appreciate this daily.We turn on a switch and there's light.Turn on a faucet and there's clean water!We get sick and we can go get effective medical help.... etc. etc. etc. Maybe those of us who want to help,but are unable to travel there and lend a hand ,could help all of humanity by having a grateful ,loving,appreciative spirit! We should all count our blessings every day,because we are blessed! Even with the economy so bad and what ever people have lost here,we still have so much more than a lot of others.I can vent my compassion to every human I encounter and hopefully spread smiles! It costs nothing and the rewards are tremendous! Thank you for going there to help.You took the place of many who could not! Bless you!

    January 25, 2010 at 1:08 pm |
  8. Jane

    Right Dr. Gupta, "continue .... compassion." Glad that you plan to continue. I am not a nurse or doctor just an unknown artist by calling with very limited resources at this time .. but this event and it's effects will never be forgotten by me. It has reawakened a higher level of compassion in me that I will never forget and will always continue to care about, even if all I can so is make a donation to Unicef, the Red Cross, Doctors without Borders or some of the other aid organizations, not just now but long term. I was relieved to watch you last week go to the airport and get medical supplies and deliver them quickly.

    January 25, 2010 at 12:53 pm |
  9. amy

    Dr. Gupta,
    I praise you and your team for all you have done. You have helped save hundreds of thousands of lives by your reporting alone not to mention those you have physically saved by your medical knowledge and experience. However,
    Is anyone organizing a medical relief schedule for the future? What I mean exactly is: For the thousands of trained medical volunteers wanting to come down in the near future to help, is there a number they can call to connect with someone who is in charge of organizing it.
    Someone who is keeping track of when the current medical aid there will be leaving and able to contact the next group of volunteers to come to replace them.
    Someone who can inform the volunteers of where they are needed, what they should bring and give any other important info that is needed.
    With so many medical providers wanting to help there should be NO reason for a lapse of care for any survivors of this horriffic nightmare.
    Thank you for listening.

    Please help getting the idea of allowing US citizens to be a "Host Family" for the younge and old and injured survivors while their country is being repaired. That alone will save lifes by helping reduce the spread of disease.

    January 25, 2010 at 12:50 pm |
  10. rosa

    thanks for the story..

    January 25, 2010 at 12:37 pm |
  11. Elaine C., Ambler, PA

    Great work Dr. Gupta.
    Your are right, just showing up to help in many ways creates more confusion. The CNN Impact site has listed many charitable groups, but who are the overriding organizations orchestrating all this??

    I work in architecture/construction and would like to help once the immediate needs are taken care of. It seems there should be a governing body that would quickly evaluate my skills, experience and availability, then dispatch me to the proper group/location to be most efficient.

    I will look for any info on this on the Impact site or TV reports.

    January 25, 2010 at 12:32 pm |
  12. Ladis

    "Human compassion " may it always be endless...
    Bless all...

    January 25, 2010 at 12:21 pm |
  13. Cindy

    Sanjay's work in Haiti has been excellent! You can definitely see that he truly cares about people and what he is doing and that it is not just a job. Looking forward to more from him.

    I can't see why the Haitian government is now trying to turn help away. To me that just seems dumb since they have just barely begun to get in enough help to matter. You would think they'd send those extra people to the outskirts of town and on out where they haven't been helped yet.


    January 25, 2010 at 10:58 am |
  14. carol

    So happy to hear this good words...I just hope we do not abandon them in a near future!!
    Thanks Dr Gupta for your help as a doctor and as a jornalist!!

    January 25, 2010 at 10:52 am |