“We were performing so much surgery–about 320 operations in 2 weeks–that sterilization was a real challenge. But I was determined to give patients the standard of care we had at home, at Hadassah,” explains Reuven Gelfond, Hadassah Operating Room Nurse and member of the Israeli rescue team in Haiti.

An émigré to Israel from the former Soviet Union and graduate of Hadassah’s Henrietta Szold School of Nursing, Mr. Gelfond was prepared to handle the physically challenging circumstances he encountered in Haiti since he had just practiced setting up a field hospital in November. In addition, he explains, “In Jerusalem, we are unhappily experienced in the mass trauma of terrorism. In particular I remember the Saturday night when a terrorist attacked the Bar Mitzvah crowd in Beit Yisrael, near Mount Scopus. The patients were brought straight into the operating theater from the road.”

During his long flight to Haiti, he and the other members of the Israeli team discussed possible scenarios they would encounter and how they would deal with them. It took about six to eight hours to set up the first six-by-six operating room, he reports. Because they met up with such a wave of patients, they had to set up a second one almost immediately. To ensure sterility, they created a system of gathering all the equipment, cleaning it, and sterilizing it. “Not a single patient was operated on without sterilized equipment,” he says.

Creating Medical Screws out of Nails

Because so many of the patients had injuries to their lower limbs, the Israeli team started to run out of the medical screws that are essential for external fixations. “We had only 26 screws left,” Mr. Gelfond relates. “Each patient needs 6 and we had 15 patients waiting outside the tent. I had medical nails, but they’re not replacements for screws.”

Mr. Gelfond saved the day: “I don’t know how I thought of it, but I decided to take a walk to see what I could find,” he explains. “I saw a metalworking factory in ruins. I started opening boxes to look for equipment that could turn nails into screws. True, I’m a nurse, but like many people who grew up in the old Soviet Union, I have experience as the handyman in my own home. I was thrilled when I opened a box and found exactly the machine I needed to cut the nails into screws. I don’t know how I thought of this and found the right container in the ruins. God must have helped me. There is no other explanation.”

He and his team made 30 medical screws–enough to last them until a new supply arrived from Israel!

“When you are in a third-world country,” Mr. Gelfond comments, “you have to remind yourself that we, too, were once a third-world country and it’s because of institutions like Hadassah that we have risen to a leading position in the world.”