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.

1 comment:

  1. great post, jeff. you're awesome.
    hey, i'm running a volunteer trip to haiti in june and am wondering if your guest house is available 1-7 june. i know this might not be the best way to contact you but i've tried to email through your site about the house and haven't received response and thought since you're there, you might be able to find out in the next while.
    god bless. shannon cox (haitian roots)