Of the many deeply moving images from the earthquake in Haiti that have flooded TV and computer screens in recent days, one of the most-discussed has been that of Dr. Sanjay Gupta, chief medical correspondent for CNN, treating a 15-day-old infant for severe head cuts.
The video has raised questions for some in the news media as to how Dr. Gupta handles his dual roles of reporter and medical doctor. But in an interview late Friday, Gupta says he is a doctor first when confronted with people in medical need.
Question: Is there ever any confusion for you about the two roles overlapping?
Answer: No, there's no confusion in my mind. The first time this happened to me was when I was in Iraq, and I was surprised that it was an issue at all - that people had raised this as a concern. So, I know it is a concern for some people - I am not naive to that. But in my own mind, I'm pretty clear on this: If people need my help - and I am someone who happens to be trained in a specific area of medicine [neurosurgery] - if they ask me, then I'm certainly going to help them.
Q: Have you been doing quite a bit of doctoring off camera? I ask because it seems as if there is little or almost no medical help there.
A: Yes, in fact, I have, quite a bit. We're not [filming] any of it except for the one clip you are referring to. There is a dramatic need for help here. It is really sad. It's tragic. We bring our own trauma bags as journalists, and I have used all the supplies in my bag and our team's bags - and they understood why I was using it. I mean, they saw these patients that were coming to me and asking for help. And, well, I'll tell you there's just a huge demand. I mean, this is a country that already has one of the [worst] physician-to-patient ratios in the world just as baseline, and now you have done two things: You have lessened the medical facilities that were present; and you have exponentially increased the number of patients that need care. So it's really tragic, and they need a lot of help down here.
Q: Are medical supplies starting to get in?
A: What seems to be the problem is that personnel in small vehicles can get to some of these locations. They can get to the hospitals and some of the more critically injured locations. But the big vehicles that are bringing in the supplies full of boxes of medicines and everything; they are having a hard time simply navigating the roads. Buildings crumbled into the roads, and they just can't get around. ... So personnel are here, but they are frustrated, too. Orthopedics injuries, for example, are one of the most common injuries - crush injuries after the earthquake. And they don't have enough plaster to treat these wounds, so they're literally splinting them together with broken boards from the pallets.
Q: So, they can't get supplies?
A: They don't have enough pain medication. They can't simply ease suffering of people who are getting care. As I'm talking to you, I'm walking over to one of the tents because they're literally doing a debridement [removing dead tissue and skin] on a probably 9- or 10-year-old girl. I'm not sure how old she is. But they had to do this debridement with a medication called Ketamine [a kind of tranquilizer]. ... It's not a pain medication, and no one likes to hear the screams that come out of a 9-year-old girl or anybody when that's going on.
Q: You have been in a lot of these situations. Is there anything to compare it to, or is this the worst?
A: For me, this is the worst. ... I think part of it is that I'm here so much more acutely, and I did cover the earthquake in Pakistan. ... But part of it involves what Haiti is in terms of the lack of resources to begin with - that makes it much worse as well. It has hit everyone very hard. But yes, it is the worst.
A special report on Haiti featuring Sanjay Gupta airs at 7:30 a.m. today on CNN. Gupta's reports from Haiti will continue throughout the week.