Sunday, April 4, 2010

Leaving Haiti

Leaving Haiti
April 2, 2010

I must admit, it is always nice to get on an air-conditioned jet after sleeping or trying to, in a hot room, mosquitoes swarming, and sweat dripping for 9 days. It wasn’t hard to get up at 5:30 am to get ready for our 9 am flight. I was already awake. Flying to or from Haiti from the western US always makes for a long journey. We awakened today at 4:30am MDT and will get home tonight at just after 11 pm MDT. Haiti has a new airport building with an escalator in it. So now, Haitians will have experienced a moving stairway in their own country before traveling to the US. We did see one gentleman try to walk down the escalator and nearly fall on his head.
It has been a good team this year. It has also been a different trip because of the “katastrof”. Half had been to Haiti before and were shocked at the devastation, half were new to Haiti and were shocked at Haiti. All worked hard and were glad they came. One of the hospitals CDTI where we worked in January and where half of the team worked this time closed yesterday. I’m not sure why. Prior to the earthquake, it was the nicest hospital in Haiti, privately owned for wealthy private patients. They hospital turned into an acute trauma center on January 12th, and our teams have helped them with surgeons, therapists, nurses and supplies. It was a sad day when they closed their doors. Whispers about running out of money, government pressure, who really knows? Our team came home talking about how the mood was getting surly among the patients getting ready to be discharged to the streets. Some of our team left the hospital early because they were beginning to feel unsafe. A woman with an external fixator on her leg wondered how she was ever going to get it taken off, a 12 year old boy in a body cast for 2 more weeks was going to be put out on the street. Patients crying softly in their beds, in the tents, and out on the lawn. I don’t think I have ever been worn down as much emotionally as I have in the last two trips since the katastrof. All those who could, got out of town this weekend for Easter. They just needed a break for a few days after living with what they do each day. After 9 days of seeing so much, listening to so many stories, and suffering along with the people I treated, I need to get home to my wife and family. I have so much to be thankful for, all of us do who can get on a plane when we want to and leave Haiti for “a break”. My heart, my thoughts and my prayers will remain in Haiti, especially with those who get no break, those who are living in tents, who wonder when their next meal will be, and those who can see no end in sight.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Cap Haitian

Flew in tonight from Cap Haitien. Stayed in the Mont Joli Hotel. I love to stay there because it is on the hill right above the house where I lived 27 years ago as a missionary. For 4 months I used to fall asleep to the sounds of the Twoubadou bands playing Guantanamerra, sweating in my sheets, waiting for the fan to rotate from blowing the mosquitos off of my mission companion and blow them off of me. And sure enough, just as it was 27 years ago, we were sitting by the pool eating dinner and the two wizened old twoubadous started singing the song that used to drive me crazy, but now takes me right back to Cap-Haitian and those long, hot nights.
We flew up to Cap to help Haitian Hospital Appeal. They are run by a young Englishman who came to Haiti to do what he could. He got involved running a new mother and pediatric clinic. He and his bedraggled group of volunteers were doing fine until the "Katastrof" which is what the Haitians call it. There is a hospital in Milot which is a hard bumpy 30 minute ride from their clinic. 19 spinal cord injury patients (think Christopher Reaves) were flown up from PAP for care in the Milot hospital. Some of them got surgery some of them did not. Some of them were incomplete (chance of recovering at least some movement and sensation) and some were complete (almost no chance of ever walking again).
When it came time to discharge them from the acute hospital no one would take them. Carwyn was just building a new clinic and thought they could house 19 patients there. He is not medical so he had no idea how difficult caring for a new spinal cord injury is. It is highly specialized care and requires an entire team of nurses, therapists, doctors, social workers, and psychologists. A complete spinal cord injury (sci) patient has no sensation below the level of her injury and has no control of her bowel and bladder. If I sit on my butt too long it will start to hurt and I will shift my weight. Sci patients have no way of knowing that they are cutting off blood supply to their butt or back, or hips or heels. If they are not turned every two hours they will develop a pressure ulcer. If these ulcers aren't treated, they will quickly deepen until the wound goes through the skin, the fat, the muscle and down to the bone. It's never good when you look inside an ulcer and see white bone staring back at you. That usually means infection, and weeks of antibiotics, a surgery to replace lost tissue, then months on an expensive low pressure bed, lying on your stomach while you hope that the muscle/skin transplant takes. The first 6 patients we examined at the HHA hospital had pressure ulcers-- some bigger than your hand, many with white bone showing through. My heart sank. Some of these patients will die, and fairly soon. We were too late. Some had ulcers when they came to HHA and some developed them there. We couldn't blame the staff. They have a general practice doctor and nurses who were trying their best, but had no training or experience in sci. Prior to the earthquake, sci patients without sensation or bowel and bladder control just didn't survive. Most facilities in the states or Canada would fail at treating sci patients without training or experience. We held classes and did rounds with the nurses to teach them that it is easy to prevent a pressure ulcer, but so difficult to heal them once they have gotten down to the muscle. Carwyn and his head nurse Madame JeanFrancois were eager to learn whatever they could to give these 19 patients the best chance at surviving. For two days we worked with them and made plans to send back teams to do more treatment and training. That's what Healing Hands does. We support rehabilitation efforts any where we find them in Haiti. The University of Toronto is gearing up to send sci expert teams to HHA hospital for the next 6 weeks. We are not too late to save the lives of some of these patients.
It was a tough two days. Almost all of the patients were from Port-au-Prince and don't know anyone or have any family in Cap Hatian. Some don't know if their families are alive. At regular intervals throughout the day, some of the patients would burst in two tears. Tears for the fate of their children, tears of mourning their injury, and tears for fear of the unknown. We wanted to cry with them. We tried to give them hope and courage. We had three young Haitian-American volunteers working with us. One is a nurse, the other two, just wanted to help where they could. They were great. It is people like them who give me hope for Haiti. It is people like them and like Carwyn and his friends who give me hope for humanity.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

March 28th,2010

March 28, 2010

Noel, our driver took us out yesterday. Normally when we bring a team to Haiti we try to expose them to some of the culture and beauty of Haiti. The music, the art, a bit of voodoo, a bit of Haitian history, a night club or going to see Richard Morse perform with RAM at the Olofsson Hotel, the quintessential Haitian experience. The memory of a night under a full moon, the shadows of voodoo icons rising and falling with the flickering kerosene lamps, a hundred Haitians swaying to RAM’s mizik rasin, preceded by a meal of tasso on the verandah will sustain you through the long, cold winter months of your life. On Sunday evenings we take the team for the buffet at the Hotel Montana and watch the red ball of sun drop into the cool blue waters of the bay. Our last weekend we spend at the beach as a reward for their hard work and a decompression from all the emotional stress a rehabilitation mission to Haiti invariably creates.
The Hotel Montana was destroyed in the earthquake. There are still bodies entombed in the rubble. Richard Morse and RAM haven’t played since January 12th. No one on our team felt much like going to the beach this year. We did go up to the Mission Baptiste de Fermathe to buy machetes, paintings and otherwise contribute to the Haitian economy.
On the way, Noel took us past his house, or rather his roof. That’s all that is left of it. He also took us past the market where his daughter and niece were trapped for 3 days. He now lives in a tent in the street with his wife and children. And the 6 kids ages 13-18 who lost their father, mother and uncle who was paying for their schooling in the earthquake. Noel’s wife worked with their mother so Noel and his wife took them in….. well, took them to the street where they have their tent. Joel, our other driver goes home to his family who live in a tent pitched in the soccer stadium. They both told us that they feel lucky because they have jobs and a place to go each day.
They drove us past St. Vincent school, the school for disabled children where we worked before we had our own clinic. It looked like a blue cake that had been sliced in two with a knife, and half of the cake was carried away. All the children inside were killed. My heart fell as we turned onto Blvd. Jn Jacques Dessalines, the main street. Not only was the formerly busiest street in Haiti deserted, ALL the buildings had crumbled. I had to ask Noel twice if we were really on Dessalines. Building after building crumbled or gone. The 6 story Teleco building, the police station, all the shops I used to know as a missionary were gone. There was nothing but dust, and rubble. I almost threw up. Noel told us there were still hundreds of bodies underneath the rubble. We turned down past La Ravine de Bois de Chaine a trickle of a river filled with thousands of Styrofoam take-out meal boxes and plastic water bottles. I wondered where the next million empty plastic water bottles would go. For the first time I wondered if Haiti could ever really recover.
As we drove in silence past row after row of destruction, dirt and despair, Noel said, “You know, I only smile when I’m with a team. Then I can laugh and joke with them, and I can help them help my people. When I go home, there is nothing to smile about”. We will keep sending teams, and if the Haitian people still living in the street after 3 months, can find hope, we will find hope too.

March 28th,2010

March 28, 2010

Noel, our driver took us out yesterday. Normally when we bring a team to Haiti we try to expose them to some of the culture and beauty of Haiti. The music, the art, a bit of voodoo, a bit of Haitian history, a night club or going to see Richard Morse perform with RAM at the Olofsson Hotel, the quintessential Haitian experience. The memory of a night under a full moon, the shadows of voodoo icons rising and falling with the flickering kerosene lamps, a hundred Haitians swaying to RAM’s mizik rasin, preceded by a meal of tasso on the verandah will sustain you through the long, cold winter months of your life. On Sunday evenings we take the team for the buffet at the Hotel Montana and watch the red ball of sun drop into the cool blue waters of the bay. Our last weekend we spend at the beach as a reward for their hard work and a decompression from all the emotional stress a rehabilitation mission to Haiti invariably creates.
The Hotel Montana was destroyed in the earthquake. There are still bodies entombed in the rubble. Richard Morse and RAM haven’t played since January 12th. No one on our team felt much like going to the beach this year. We did go up to the Mission Baptiste de Fermathe to buy machetes, paintings and otherwise contribute to the Haitian economy.
On the way, Noel took us past his house, or rather his roof. That’s all that is left of it. He also took us past the market where his daughter and niece were trapped for 3 days. He now lives in a tent in the street with his wife and children. And the 6 kids ages 13-18 who lost their father, mother and uncle who was paying for their schooling in the earthquake. Noel’s wife worked with their mother so Noel and his wife took them in….. well, took them to the street where they have their tent. Joel, our other driver goes home to his family who live in a tent pitched in the soccer stadium. They both told us that they feel lucky because they have jobs and a place to go each day.
They drove us past St. Vincent school, the school for disabled children where we worked before we had our own clinic. It looked like a blue cake that had been sliced in two with a knife, and half of the cake was carried away. All the children inside were killed. My heart fell as we turned onto Blvd. Jn Jacques Dessalines, the main street. Not only was the formerly busiest street in Haiti deserted, ALL the buildings had crumbled. I had to ask Noel twice if we were really on Dessalines. Building after building crumbled or gone. The 6 story Teleco building, the police station, all the shops I used to know as a missionary were gone. There was nothing but dust, and rubble. I almost threw up. Noel told us there were still hundreds of bodies underneath the rubble. We turned down past La Ravine de Bois de Chaine a trickle of a river filled with thousands of Styrofoam take-out meal boxes and plastic water bottles. I wondered where the next million empty plastic water bottles would go. For the first time I wondered if Haiti could ever really recover.
As we drove in silence past row after row of destruction, dirt and despair, Noel said, “You know, I only smile when I’m with a team. Then I can laugh and joke with them, and I can help them help my people. When I go home, there is nothing to smile about”. We will keep sending teams, and if the Haitian people still living in the street after 3 months, can find hope, we will find hope too.

Friday, March 26, 2010

March 26th, 2010

I went to Handicap International and the Medishare tent hospital today. Handicap International is a French foundation which does acute rehabilitation care for international disasters. They have set up a prosthetic shop and have hired our prosthetic technicians until we are able to get our shop rebuilt. It was nice to see that some of our equipment and our technicians are being put to good use. Prior to the earthquake we were doing 6-8 prosthetic limbs/month. With our help, HI has done over 60 this month. That is still not nearly enough. We met with the director of the International Committee of the Red Cross this afternoon. We are hopeful that they will help fund the rebuilding of our prosthetic clinic. Project Medishare was inspiring. They have several large tents with over a hundred hospital beds, ORs, NICU, and ICU. It appears to be staffed with volunteers from all over the US who come for a week or so at a time. Most of the earthquake victims have already been treated. The guy that I talked to with the external fixator from his femur to his tibia had been in a motorcycle accident. There were palm-sized newborns, kids with diarrhea, and a lot of infected wounds. The nursing staff made an urgent request for pediatric ICU nurses and as luck would have it we picked up two of them at the airport this afternoon! We will have them down at the Medishare hospital for the 7 am shift.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

March 25th, 2010

Haiti is starting to recover. Not so much physically-- there are still hundreds and hundreds of flattened buildings, rubble in the street and large formations of concrete and rebar dangling from tilted houses like man made stalactites. No, the recovery is in the people. There are smiles again. As I greeted our staff at our guest house, the one remaining building HHHIF has, I was met with hugs, smiles and just a bit of the old familiar sparkle in their eyes. It did my heart good. The people are why I keep coming back to Haiti. They have a spirit of resiliency and even joy in the face of living conditions that would drive the average North American right over the edge. Every single person that I greeted today had lost a family member --Every single one. Either, an aunt, a cousin, niece or nephew, father, mother, brother or sister. "Min, moua memn te sove, gras a Die" (But I was saved, thank God). Most of us would find it hard to thank God for anything after what they have all been through.
We showed the new members of our team around our compound. The 70' tall trees are still standing and beautiful. If you go to the bottom of our compound you can't see the collapsed 5 story apartment building or the precariously teetering clinic building. Our MASH tent is set up underneath the trees in the grass. There is enough beauty left for our first time team members to get a glimpse of how nice our clinic compound was before the quake. If you squint your eyes, look up through the trees, and avoid looking at the garbage strewn in the river below our feet, you can imagine a Haiti that could be: tropical foliage, hibiscus and bougainvillea, bright blue skies and an even bluer ocean off in the distance. But, if you open your eyes you will see that the people who lived in the bidonville across the river from our compound have crossed the river and erected new wooden shacks with blue tarp roofs right up next to our fence. We have had to put up razor wire to keep them out. This represents one of the moral headaches of Haiti. We feel badly about keeping the children off of our property. They used to come over at dusk and play on the grass under our trees. Gail, our volunteer team coordinator had a stable of 16 who would come over in the morning, help her open the tent, pick up garbage and do other errands in exchange for a vitamin tablet and a glass of Carnation Instant Breakfast. Since we put up the razor wire they don't come over anymore. If we didn't put up the razor wire, no doubt one bold soul would have put up a shack, then another and over night we would have 200 squatters on our property. When it came time to rebuild, we would be faced with destroying the homes of hundreds of people.
I went to a meeting of all the groups focused on rehabilitation in Haiti this afternoon. If they stay in Haiti (there are rumors that most will be gone by the end of July), then working together, we can make a real dent in providing rehabilitation to those thousands who need it. If they don't stay, then Healing Hands for Haiti will do the best we can with what we have. We always have.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

March 24th, 2010

Headed back to Haiti.

Our tee shirts for my 12th team are brown instead of our traditional white. Fitting I suppose. Somber, subdued and won’t show the dirt and grime from hard work as much. A medical trip to Haiti is never easy, but this year’s trip will be much, much worse. I learned that when I was there in January a week after the earthquake. Our shirts read “Send your love to Haiti”. We are certainly doing that. It is a true labor of love to leave your family, your work, your responsibilities, your creature comforts and pay your way to travel to a place that is not just broken, but crushed. From Utah it is not an easy trip. We met at the SLC airport at 4 am to take a flight to Dallas/Ft. Worth. A two hour layover then another flight to Ft. Lauderdale. Once there, we have to wait overnight, before getting up at 3 am to get on the early flight to Port-au-Prince. Even with commercial flights now going to PAP we still arrive sleep deprived in Haiti.
I have been humbled and touched by all the donations that have come in the mail or on our website since the earthquake. There ARE good people in this world, people who care about their fellow human beings who are suffering, people who want to help. Large corporations have given thousands of dollars to Healing Hands, donations on our website have come from as far away as New Zealand. Two children, a 6yr old girl and an 8 yr old boy decided on their own to raise money for us, one by making valentine’s packages for sale in her neighborhood, the other by organizing donations at his school. When I think of these two children, my hope for a better Haiti, my hope for a better world burns brighter.
My five year old son asked me the other day, “Daddy, are we rich?” I told him what someone once told me: ‘He who has friends is rich’. Our team is made up of two doctors, three physical therapists, four nurses, a social worker and three support volunteers two of whom are HHHIF board members. Since the earthquake, I would bet that our board members are averaging close to 20 hours/week doing Haiti work on top of their jobs, families, and other responsibilities. I am in awe of how much they do in spite of their busy lives because they care.
One of the greatest benefits I have I have gained from my involvement with HHH is the association and friendship I have developed with so many caring, compassionate people in Haiti and in North America. Most are people whom I would never have met or whom I would have only known on a casual basis if not for their commitment to make a difference in Haiti. They are people who truly put “love thy neighbor” into practice. I count myself extremely fortunate to call them my friends.
Albert Schweitzer said, “You must do something for your fellowman, even if it is only a little thing. Do something for others, something for which you get no reward other than the privilege of doing it”.
It is a privilege for me to travel to Haiti and work with such wonderful people.