Monday, April 27, 2009


How did you spend your Sunday afternoon? Here's how I spent mine:

Boiling my clothes to kill the parasite that has given me a lovely case of scabies. Yes, I am a bit itchy, to say the least. I hold children with scabies all the time; I sit on beds in little shacks that are infested with scabies; I even live with a few babies that have scabies. So I knew I would get it eventually. I guess I can just say I'm blessed to have made it nearly 9 months without it.

That's not all I did on Sunday. I also walked to church with 4 adorable children. We made it without anyone falling down and with only one dress shoe going into a muddy puddle. And then some folks from Wiscosin visited and helped me paint all the girls' nails. All the girls, including Cha-Cha.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Little bird

Cheez-it Baby's feeding tube finally came out 2 weeks ago. Her face suffered from the constant tape but it's healing.

She has started to crawl with encouragement.

Her favorite activity is still braid-rubbing.

She is up to 13 pounds and a much happier baby. Her one great concern in life is trying to figure out where Casey has gone. Every time she sees me, you can tell she's thinking, "Wait a minute. You look a little bit like my white mama, but you are so not her. What did you do with her? Give her back!"

Come home, Casey!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Happy Haitian Birthday to me!

My birthday is August 19th but I am never in Haiti in August, so the kids at HFC created a Haitian birthday for me on April 19th. I'd mentioned that jokingly to my roommates Casey and Dannae and then forgotten it while I was busy on the ship. I got home on Thursday evening, made a sandwich and collapsed on my bed to eat it. Then my door burst open and there were my wonderful roomies with a peanut butter brownie birthday cake! They wanted to celebrate with me before I left on retreat and Casey left for 10 days in America. We had a wonderful evening eating scrumptious brownies and getting me dressed up in preparation for the funky fashion show. Thanks girls!

Girls' retreat

Last Friday after I got back from the Comfort, I went to Wahoo Bay as a chaperone on girls' retreat with Quisqueya Christian School. It was a great time - Haitian tablet (peanut brittle cookie) on the way, facials on the beach, lots of pool time, a funky fashion show, deep discussions and prayer time with some girls that I've really been wanting to get know better.

In good Haiti style, we got a flat tire on the way home. I had made it all weekend without a sunburn, but the hour that we stood by the road nailed me. It was funny to see most of the girls dancing and singing to music and then see Joy by herself, catching up on homework. That would have been me in high school. Yes, Joy and I are kindred spirits.

Wahoo Bay is a beautiful location, full of flowers and trees, very peaceful. It was a nice was to recuperate from my crazy week with the Comfort. Granted, it was a girls' retreat, so we talked more than we slept, but I did steal a few hours our first afternoon for a long nap and spend some very refreshing time in the pool. It was one of those rare moments when I remember that I am in fact living on a Caribbean island!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Part 2 - USNS Comfort

(Click here to read Part 1 - Killick Coast Guard base).

I arrived at the base on Tuesday with my overnight bag and when our work day was over, I climbed onto the transport boat with all the navy doctors and staff. Commander Taylor, the site leader, had pulled the necessary strings to get me cleared to come aboard for a few nights. I was prepared to help out in the operating rooms and the wards wherever they needed a Creole speaking nurse.

However, when we docked alongside the immense ship and the HM checking me in asked what my role was, the doctor escorting me said, "She is here as our guest!" I was led around the ship, given a bunk, taken to dinner, ordered to take a "Hollywood" shower, and greeted with big smiles. Walking around the Comfort was surreal. Here I was anchored 15 minutes off the shore of Haiti, but I was surrounded by nearly 1000 Americans. There were things like water fountains and soda machines, trash cans and exercise bikes. It was reverse culture shock a few weeks early.

Things got really wild at the evening debrief. I walked in, past rows and rows of men and women in uniform and found a place to hide in the back. Across the room, a doctor that I vaguely recognized noticed me and gave me a big grin and a nodded "Hello". I smiled back. Halfway through the meeting, that same doctor appeared beside me holding 2 ice cream cones: "Vanilla or chocolate?" I checked the name tag and realized that he was Commander Donahue, looking rather different in scrubs and a white jacket instead of fatigues and a navy cap. A second glance at the name tag gave me a little shock. Donahue is the director of surgery on the USNS Comfort. The man that I yelled at, insisting that he do something about the rioting at the gates, is one of the 4 most powerful men on the ship! Yikes!

Obviously my forwardness had not upset Donahue. For the next 3 hours, he was my very gracious host. He took me to the meetings I needed to attend. He introduced me to everyone we encountered. He smuggled peanut butter into my bags. He gave me a the grand tour of the restricted sections of the hospital ship. He took me downstairs to visit my friend and her son who were awaiting surgery in the pre-op ward. He explained some of the mysteries of navy-speak and asked me a million questions about living in Haiti. He offered me ice cold diet Coke more times than I can count. The director of surgery on a 1000 patient hospital ship spending 3 hours with Kez Furth, first year nurse, unofficial volunteer with the Comfort - it was crazy.

As Donahue was showing me around, we met Captain Ware, the Commanding Officer, the number one man on the ship. Donahue introduced me, then he and Ware launched into a discussion about how important it was to work with local contacts like me. He insisted over and over that I stay in touch with Donahue and Safford, the future director of surgery. It all boiled down to this simple fact: Ware wants me to be closely involved with the planning and execution of Comfort's return visit to Haiti in 2011.

Over the next 2 days, it was the same story. Everywhere I went on the ship, I was treated like a VIP by Donahue, by all his staff, by all the doctors I'd worked with on the base, and by my everyone I met. From my point of view, I would have been happy to just not get kicked off the base after my rather deceitful entrance, but for some reason, the ship's crew had decided I was something special and they wanted me to know it. I even received an official certificate of appreciation before I left the ship.

I loved being on board the Comfort. I had the best shower I've had in 9 months. I made friends with volunteer nurses from Project Hope, the chaplain, the Air Force band, and lots of doctors. I ate amazing BBQ ribs. I got to experience some spectacular views of Haiti and watch the sun rise over Port-au-Prince. Whenever I wanted, I could pop into pre-op holding to hang out with Shawn and Victor or to argue with Tom about the Yankees. I was taken onto the flight deck, the highest point on the ship, in the early evening to just stand there and feel the wind and exhilaration of being on top of the world. There was so much to discover and so many people to meet.

One evening, I was sitting in the mess hall, talking with Eric, a wonderful dermatologist who happened to also be a Christian. I was so blessed to meet him - now I finally have someone I can email whenever I am stumped with a strange derm case. Eric was asking me what things I really miss while I'm living in Haiti and I mentioned real fresh milk. "What? We have milk right here," Eric told me. I grabbed a glass but the milk machine was empty. I was so disappointed. "Hold on," Eric said, taking my cup and disappearing into the commander's mess hall. A minute later, he reappeared with a glass full of milk, frothy creamy chilled milk. It was heaven in a glass!

Thursday was my last day on board the Comfort and I left with a slew of emails and requests to stay in touch. My friends in pre-op tried to convince to cancel my weekend plans and stay till Sunday. They finally gave in and hugged me good-bye. Donahue tried once more to get me to drink a diet Coke and then hugged me. I thanked him for treating me like a queen during my stay and he just smiled. "You are a queen, Kez."

I am so grateful for everything that the crew on USNS Comfort did for the people of Haiti and for the amazing way that they treated me. I was impressed over and over by how respectful and truly caring they were to their patients and by how open they were to experience new things. I learned and I taught, I gave and I received, I exhausted myself and was thoroughly refreshed. If I do end up coordinating the Comfort's return in 2011, I know it will be a lot of work, but I am very excited for it. What a week!

Part 1 - Killick Coast Guard base

A month ago, I received word from a friend that a US navy ship named the Comfort would be spending 10 days in Haiti. The ship was medical and they were looking for approximately 500 candidates for surgery. I had 1 day to locate any potential candidates that I knew and email their pertinent information to the ship. Dannae had told me of 2 children at her school that needed hernia and hydrocele surgery, so I enrolled them. Within a few days, I was contacted and asked to report to Killick Coast Guard base in Carrefour on April 10th or 11th with the kids so they could be screened for surgery.

The USNS Comfort is essentially a floating hospital. For the next 4 months she will be visiting 4 countries in the Caribbean, Central and South America to provide free medical care. On this mission, the surgical staff will be using 4-8 operating rooms, and offering specialties such as optometry, orthopedics, pediatrics, plastic surgery, urology, ENT, opthamology, endocrinology, and infectious disease. The ship can house 1000 patients and 1000 crew members.

On Friday, April 10th, we arrived at the base at 7am to find a mob scene. Hundreds of people were crowded outside the gates, with no clear separation between those who had appointments, like us, and those who did not. Haitian coast guard and US military were posted at the gates but they weren't letting anyone in or giving comprehensible instructions. For over an hour, we waited in the hot sun, unsure where we ought to be or how to maximize our chances of getting in.

And then the first little miracle happened. Students from Quisqueya Christian School had been enlisted to work as translators with the navy medical staff and as I stood waiting, the bus pulled up full of students. I have gotten to know a lot of those kids from subbing for them, from youth group, and from playing soccer at the school in the afternoons. So when they saw me, they started clamoring for the bus driver to open the doors and let me on. He did, I jumped on, and seconds later, I was inside the impossible-to-enter gates. My surgical candidates had their parents and Mr. Nickson, the TLC school director with them, so I could safely leave them and go hunting for information.

I quickly discovered where my candidates needed to be, but the line was still insanely long and moving very slowly. So I left them and went to see if the Quisqueya students needed more help translating. For the rest of the day, I went back and forth between translating and moving my candidates along. I got to know some of the navy doctors and some of their support staff, and I got one of my kids confirmed for surgery. The other did not make it through the whole process and we were told to bring him back on Saturday.

On Saturday morning we arrived and I saw through the fence one of the doctors I had gotten to know the day before. I yelled to him to please come let me in. Next thing I knew, he had cleared me past all the guards and was marching me into the middle of a circle of serious men in uniform. "This is Kez," he introduced me. "She's a nurse who works with an NGO here and she was a big help to us yesterday. She'll be here to help again today." And just like that, I was no longer the stowaway who had managed to get through the gates illegally; I was the go-to girl for questions about Haiti, for translation, and for whatever random tasks needed to be done. At one point, the surgeons sent me into the crowd outside the gate looking for cataract surgery candidates. The military were not allowed outside the base, but I was, so out I went. At another moment, I was assigning volunteers to their positions and delivering water to the optometrists. Later, I was explaining to several brilliant physicians how I dose albendazole when I use it for deworming in infants and they were taking notes so they could use the same formulary. I taught an MD how to drain a ganglion cyst with the least risk of infection (and watched her botch it. Oh well.) I also remember going into the surgical screening room, marching straight up to Commander Donahue and telling him, "They're rioting at the gates, Donahue. People are passing out and being trampled. You have to do something!" To which he responded, "Well, what do you think we should do?" By evening on Saturday, it seemed like everyone knew my name and I had been asked to come back daily for the remainder of their stay in Haiti.

Sunday was the same deal. I got a ride to the base with the Quisqueya student translators and spent the day translating, organizing translators, explaining Haitian excentricities to the physicians, and just generally being used everywhere. The surgical staff was all on the ship performing surgeries now that the screening was over, so I was working exclusively with the medical staff and all the support personnel that kept things safe and functional on the base. Several people began asking me why I wasn't staying on the ship, and I got officially invited to come on board later in the week. I assumed that my translation abilities must be needed overnight with the inpatients.

During the morning on Sunday, a woman was brought in with severe uterine bleeding. The attending physician turned to me and Stephanie, a Haitian who was overseeing much of the logistics (buses, water, some volunteers). Together, Stephanie and I were able to get a police ambulance to come and take the woman to General Hospital. From that, my role morphed into the medical point of contact person - whenever a doctor needed to know what resources were available, he or she would call me. "Kez, this patient needs a hernia repair but we can't do it on the ship. Where can she go?" "Kez, is there anywhere to get physical therapy in Port-au-Prince?" "Kez, I'm putting this man on blood pressure meds but he will need follow up. Where should I send him?"

I worked with some fantastic doctors. They were smart and they really knew their stuff. It was such a treat to be able to just be a nurse for a week and to let someone else do the diagnosing and prescribing. I know circumstances were not ideal for them, having to work with a translator in the Haitian heat while people rioted outside the gates every day, but they seemed to genuinely want to serve the Haitian people. I stood with one physician as he cried over a woman with end stage breast cancer and I watched another cry after diagnosing a child with lymphoma. They may have been a bit embarassed, but I was touched and I know the patients were too.

Fun fact: we got a police escort to and from the base every day! It was terrifying but super cool.

Me and the Sunday medical team:

I took Monday off to take care of things here at the house, but Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, I was back at the base, working with the doctors every day. It was exhausting to the point that I completely lost my voice and I am still recovering from the general fatigue. I would go through 3 water bottles in just the first hour of work and I was lucky if I got to take 10 minutes for lunch at midday. Exhausting, but absolutely worth it.