Germain in Haiti: The messy stuff is better described than shown

Anthony Germain spends time in Team Broken Earth's operating rooms, and reflects on why some things are true gruesome to relate.
Anthony Germain reports on operating rooms that have been set up in Port-au-Prince 2:04

[Anthony Germain is on a week-long assignment covering Team Broken Earth, a group of Newfoundland and Labrador nurses and doctors, in Haiti. Each day, Anthony will file observations of what he sees; you can hear his reports on the St. John's Morning Show.]

Day 3

March 31, 17:25. Cafeteria, Hospital Bernard Mevs.

An interesting question has arisen in my mind about how journalists edit for good taste.

I remember covering war zones and not being able to post pictures of what human conflict really looks like.

Haitian anesthesiologist Marie-Judith Jean Baptiste helps Team Broken Earth anesthesiologist anesthetist Sonia Sampson and restorative surgeon Art Rideout prep a baby to have her upper lip re-arranged. This is the first step before correcting the infant's deformed palate in the future. (Anthony Germain/CBC)
The same is true for medicine. How can people really understand how difficult some of these procedures are without seeing a human being split open from the hip to just above the knee?

Don’t worry: I’m not going to test those boundaries here.

The issue of how graphic I should be in this diary popped into my head because I spent the morning in two Broken Earth operating rooms.

One was a smaller OR where Dr. Art Rideout fixed the lip of that 10-month old girl with the cleft palate I mentioned yesterday. Down the hall in a larger (by Haitian standards) OR, Dr. Andrew Furey repaired a hip socket of 30-year-old man in a complicated operation requiring the insertion of a large steel plate.   

Rideout’s OR was as peaceful as a crocheting club; Furey’s was sweating like a noisy Indy 500 pit stop: power drills, mallets, and chisels. An assisting surgeon warned me to stay out of the “blood spatter field.”

I took pictures during both operations and later asked videographer Keith Burgess if the photos were too graphic for a CBC website. He thought about it for a while, then nodded.

Fascinating and impressive

The joy of radio is that there are no pictures. TV and the web make me wonder if I’m being as accurate with the visual media as I am with the word-powered (albeit blind) safety of radio. 

The knowledge that these doctors and nurses possess is bewildering. In Furey’s procedure, the nurse was changing drill bits with the speed of a skilled carpenter in a home reno show. In Rideout’s OR, they played soft Beatles music in the background.

I guess you don’t need to see somebody cut open to the bone, or watch muscle and tissue being sliced away from a baby’s upper lip –let alone witness procedures on the massive heads of babies with encephalitis. 

We non-medical civilians just prefer skipping to the end results, and not all the messy stuff in the middle.

Take my word for it though: the messy stuff is fascinating and impressive. 

This baby has hydrocephalus. Despite his condition, he frequently smiles and chortles in the arms of Broken Earth nurse Jackie Williams Connolly. (Anthony Germain/CBC)

About the Author

Anthony Germain

CBC News

Anthony Germain cohosts Here & Now in Newfoundland and Labrador. He is a former host of the St. John's Morning Show and CBC Radio's The House, and is CBC's former correspondent in China.