Photo by Steve Shelton © copyright 2010 Steve Shelton
A blind man sings ballads on the street about life and loss and old Port-Au-Prince. It was the only music to be found and surreal given the smell of death in the air. CLICK THE IMAGE TO SEE MORE PHOTOGRAPHS All images © Copyright 2010 Steve Shelton. Used with permission.

SLIDESHOW: West Seattle photographer captures images of devastation and hope

Haiti: A lesson in pain management

Editor's Note: Steve Shelton is a native West Seattleite and professional photographer whose profession has taken him to Kosovo, Nairobi, Sudan, Sri Lanka and many other destinations. When the recent earthquake struck Haiti it was only a question of when he would go. He flew to the Dominican Republic and taxied overland to the scene of the disaster.
His own estimate is that it will be "ten years before they can fully rebuild" what was destroyed and recover from this event.
His photographs tell an incredibly powerful story. Click the image above to see more photographs.

Like photojournalism, going to Haiti was a calling.

True, an earthquake of such proportions is rife with compelling pictures. And pointing your lens in nearly any direction is going to render a wrenching picture.

Likewise, doing a quick google search gives you all the facts you need from competing sources to back up those pictures--they don't lie.

The bottom line is the the 7.0 magnitude quake's epicenter hit just 10 miles west of Port-au-Prince, the poorest population in the western hemisphere, at a depth of 6.2 miles (10 km) below the earth's surface--very shallow. The fault system, called the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault system, involves Caribbean and North American plates slipping along a strike-slip boundary in an east-west direction.

My job on a day to day basis rarely involves such reporting. But because of the quake's proximity to the United States I knew there would be a huge infusion of US aid leaving to help.
Such a deployment of volunteer services also renders compelling pictures. I knew I would be able to make good company quickly on foreign soil. Birds of a feather.

During my ten days in Port Au Prince, Haiti, I based myself at Kings Hospital where medical professionals volunteering for Medical Teams International performed surgeries, amputations, and primary care for earthquake victims. MTI is based in Portland, Oregon, and relies on medical volunteers throughout the northwest.

In addition to the earthquake victims, patients' faces and their broken lives, it will be the services performed by these medical professionals who also leave a lasting impression in my mind.

Eighteen hours from Seattle, a variety of emotions can easily overwhelm ones focus while documenting the life changing, often spontaneous decisions made by these surgeons working in 90 degree operating rooms with no ventilation or electricity. After five minutes, with five people in the OR, the medical staff was dripping sweat. The floor needed mopping every ten minutes. Dr. Tim Brown from Montana, and Dr. Lewis Zirkle, from the Tri-Cities, repaired broken limb after broken limb. It seemed a never ending stream of stoic faces and fractured femurs.

And this was seven days after the quake. What type of pain were these patients feeling for the last six days? Many hadn't been seen yet at other area hospitals.

What was seen was fear and trepidation on faces of patients as they arrived. Some arrived at 6 a.m. after walking miles, many being wheeled or carried, along dirt roads where trash burned openly stinging the eyes, providing more discomfort--and resolve to live.

But they arrived. Many with harrowing stories if you asked.

They arrived with only their clothes and their lives, and then placed those most precious things in the hands of strangers--surgeons who themselves looked very different. Their only hope was for repair.

During a conversation I had with several doctors the question of living with pain came up. In the United States we have a multitude of means available to manage our pain, let alone entire wings and departments dedicated to pain management.

In Haiti it became apparent that pain, in a variety of forms and manifestations, is a force in life one must each day learn to control and suppress. Nothing is easy, and on the street only foreign aid--or water--is free.

If there were few jobs before there certainly are fewer now. And there are precious few standing schools to provide education to a population of which 23.3% is between the ages of 5-14 years of age; 21.9% aged 19-24 years of age. That's half of Haiti's population under 25 years of age with no foreseeable opportunity.

My translator, Ferdinand, who I happened to meet in a camp for the displaced, spoke eloquent Spanish, Creole, French, and English, and, at 25, had more hunger in his eyes than I will ever know. He spoke directly with me and was never afraid to ask a question.

Last week, as I said goodbye, he beamed as he told me he was going to tell his mother, in Florida, that an American journalist had hired him to translate for a week.

I received a call this a.m. from Florida. The voice was shaky and unclear, but certain to say, "Thank you for helping my son."

Steve Shelton is a professional photographer and photojournalist.
You can contact him at steve@ssheltonimages.com and see
his other work at www.ssheltonimages.com
To donate for Haiti relief and development please visit http://american.redcross.org/

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Comments

Slideshow

Powerful story and photos. The images are haunting and moving. Thank you for bringing this story home to us here in Seattle.

Haiti Slideshow and story

Thanks very much for your comment. It is our sincere hope and this goes for Steve Shelton too, that we have motivated people to consider donations to the Red Cross. The process of rebuilding Port Au Prince will be a long one and the road ahead is clearly not easy. Please share the link to this story and photos with others. Now is not the time to look away and just move on.

Patrick Robinson
West Seattle Herald