Voices from a Haitian hospital: Bullet wounds, shortages and frustration

Since Feb. 7, protests have erupted across Haiti over billions of dollars in allegedly misappropriated government dollars and a devaluation of the Haitian currency, the gourde.

'We refocused our entire emergency room' because of demonstrations

Stanley Cesaire rests in Bernard Mevs Hospital in Port-au-Prince. He says police shot him twice in the legs during protests last week. (Sylvia Thomson/CBC)

Stanley Cesaire manages to mug for the camera, with a smile full of chipped teeth, despite the fact he's recovering in hospital with two bullet wounds in his lower legs. He says Haitian police shot him during protests last week in Port-au-Prince.

 "You see this?" the 21-year-old part-time mechanic says, gesturing to his legs, "The president sent the police to come shoot young people."

Cesaire says he was at a protest "fighting for our rights" when police cracked down and opened fire. For its part, the Haitian National Police say they've been using rubber bullets to squash the protests, not live fire, although they are investigating two gunshot incidences.

Gangs of young men have joined the protests with arms clearly visible.

Cesaire's message, like that of so many others in Port-au-Prince, is clearly directed at President Jovenel Moïse.

"We were standing up for our rights. And now look at me," says Cesaire, "If the president wanted to, he could put work out there for us. That way young people could have jobs. That way you wouldn't have a lot of frustrated youth like us."

Cesaire smiles while recuperating in Bernard Mevs Hospital. (Sylvia Thomson/CBC)

Since Feb. 7, protests have erupted across Haiti over billions of dollars in allegedly misappropriated government dollars and a miserable devaluation of the Haitian currency, the gourde.

More than 10 gunshot victims from those protests were treated at the not-for-profit Bernard Mevs Hospital. It opened its doors to the gunshot victims after the general hospital closed its emergency room when a Molotov cocktail was thrown into its yard during protests.

"They call me whenever there is a situation," says Alexa Brierre, the 29-year-old hospital administrator. She says the victims were bystanders, participants, gangsters, even police.

"We refocused our entire emergency room to treat gunshot victims," she says.

The hospital is now dangerously low in supplies of oxygen, blood, anaesthesia and other medicines.

"We need O positive, we need A positive, we need B. We need everything," says Marlène Dambreville, a lab technician, "I called the Red Cross last night and waited for four hours to talk to someone. Finally I talk to someone, and they tell me they don't have blood."

Hospital administrator Alexa Brierre and chief medical officer Dr. Rivette Monaly, at Bernard Mevs Hospital. 'We refocused our entire emergency room to treat gunshot victims" says Brierre. (Marc Lee Steed)

Dambreville says that even though Monday was quiet, the hospital is still trying to catch up after nearly two weeks of chaos. And beyond the professional challenges she, like everyone working here, expresses frustration over the bigger challenge of how to fix the country.

"We have to fight. We have to fight for the change, you know?" she says, "When you have nothing, you are crying, crying, crying. Nobody saw you. You have to do something. You have to fight, OK?"

Emergency medical technician Roc Wickelson says the relative calm outside the hospital on Monday doesn't mean it will stay that way. 

Rocks thrown during demonstrations litter a street in Port-au-Prince. (Paul Hunter/CBC)

"We don't know what will happen in three hours from now," says Wickelson. "People can't eat, they can't feed their families. The poverty and misery is much worse compared to the last years."

The gourde is running around 86 to $1 U.S. It's worth around half of what it was worth in 2010, after the major earthquake, and salaries have not kept up.

A group of Canadian medical volunteers with Team Broken Earth was working at Bernard Mevs Hospital last week and gave some much needed relief to Haitian staff, who were sometimes unable to even reach the hospital because of the protests and roadblocks. 

"I was so grateful they were here at this time," says Dr. Rivette Monaly, "They slept at the hospital."

For Haitians like Cesaire, though, more of the fix needs to come from within.

"Things are expensive, in this country. Food is getting more and more expensive," he says, " Why are they mistreating us like this? We are Haitians living in a dog-eat-dog world."

Emergency medical technician Roc Wickelson said the relative calm outside the hospital on Monday doesn't mean it will stay that way. (Sylvia Thomson/CBC)


Sylvia Thomson is a producer with the CBC in Toronto. She spent several years as a producer covering politics in Washington, D.C., and Ottawa and has covered major international stories.