Wednesday, November 17, 2010

There and Back Again - a blockade runner's tale

Life in Haiti is many things. It is never boring.

A friend of Marc's was in Haiti this week working with Samaritan's Purse at a cholera treatment center in Cabaret. We wanted to see her and I wanted to get some exposure to this disease. Not to infect myself, obviously, but to know what it really looks like and how treatment actually works. We walked in and before we even saw Marc's friend, we were grabbed. "You're Rhoda's friends, right? You're a nurse and you speak Creole? Great! We need you in triage!"

Thus I spent the next 2 days running the triage tent, which essentially consisted of figuring out who truly had cholera, who needed oral rehydration, and who needed an IV. Some people would show up complaining of symptoms that I could happily tell them were normal old diarrhea. Go home, folks! Many others, particularly the young men, only needed a few hours of ORS there in our triage tent before they could be released. And some arrived close to death or violently vomiting and had to be moved immediately into the hospital tents to receive IV rehydration. It was intense and incredibly busy - going back and forth between holding buckets for people to giving out ORS to admitting new patients to yelling at family members to please sit somewhere other than the triage benches...My highlight was a 9 year old girl who came in looking like she was going to crash pretty soon, but after 5 hours of consistent ORS, she was laughing at me and sitting up. I was able to discharge her at the end of the day.

Samaritan's Purse asked us to only take general photos so I apologize for not being able to show you my 9 year old girl or any of my other patients. Frankly, you don't want to see what many of the victims looked like.

Robbie and I shipped out to Gonaives next, where we spent some time looking in the ghetto for cholera victims. One elderly woman was a classic case: she had just started having explosive watery diarrhea 15 minutes before we arrived but she was already too weak to walk. We transported her to the hospital and then I spoke to the staff, hoping that I would be able to assist them for the duration of my stay, but they were dealing with political issues between the US aid workers and the Cuban doctors who run the hospital, so I was politely told that they would call if they needed back up. I did get to do a brief teaching with the Haitian nurses staffing the ORS tent, but then I left. I went back to the ghetto, stitched up a boy's foot, and hung out with the kids under the gorgeous sunset.

On Tuesday morning, I'd planned on doing more home visits in the slums, but I got an urgent call from my boss, Vanessa Carpenter, ordering me to go back to Port-au-Prince immediately. Vanessa had gone to Cap Haitien with a team of doctors from Maine and a reporter from Virginia to help with the cholera epidemic at Bon Samaritan Hospital in Limbe. Since their arrival by helicopter, the streets had erupted in rioting, a desperate people's response to a disease they fear and blame on the United Nations. Vanessa and the team needed to leave the hospital because they were due to fly out on Wednesday and because with upcoming presidential elections, it was only going to get harder to travel.

I am sheepishly happy to admit that I did not obey my boss. Instead, I got into a truck with my good friends Emory, Kathy, and Bryan. Robbie and a Haitian pastor named John also came with us. We knew that there was rioting and road blocks the whole way there, but we prayed and felt a distinct peace to go and rescue to medical team.

We hit 6 road blocks on the way to Limbe, with escalating violence each time. At the first one, it was just a large truck pulled sideways across a bridge. At the next, there was a truck, a barricade of large rocks, and a small mob of teenagers hurling rocks at us from the hills. There was glass all over the ground, but apparently they had run out of bottles by the time we arrived. At another one, burning tires completely blocked the road and an angry mob leader paced around waving a wooden club and threatening to smash windows if we tried to go through. And the last one had trees down across the road and a crowd that swore at us, threw rocks, and waved machetes.

But each time we stopped, we watched God open doors. Bryan and I would jump out of the truck, and start explaining that I was a nurse and we had medical supplies in the truck and we needed to get through to Limbe. Situations that would normally made me really skittish seemed like a walk in the park. Keys to trucks blocking the road would mysteriously appear after block leaders had assured us that the key and driver were nowhere to be found. Rocks would fall near us, but not hit us. At the tire burning block, we literally drove through fire. I have no explanation for how we got through 6 road blocks without any injuries or major violence except that God was moving things for us.

Again, I apologize for the limited photos but Haitians under normal circumstances hate having their photos taken so I didn't think photographing angry Haitians was a great plan.

We reached the hospital in the mid-afternoon. The docs were happy to see me, to say the least. So we piled back in the truck and drove through only 3 road blocks to get back to Gonaives (appears that some of the crowds had gotten bored and simply given up). The team spent the night at Emory's place in Gonaives and drove into Port-au-Prince this morning. Of course, the great irony of the morning was that the US Embassy, having heard about their predicament, wanted to help. They did not have security clearance to come rescue the doctors from Limbe, but once they were safely in Gonaives, a convoy could be sent. So we met 2 Embassy vehicles on our way into PAP and got the royal escort on the completely safe roads home.

And this is why my life in Haiti is never boring.


'Gina' Hoai-nam said...

Thank you so much for helping them get home!

Jim Schneid said...

I agree . We really appreciate you spunk and the fact that your risked a lot to save out team

David Ray said...

Kez, your heroism continues to inspire, humble and amaze me. There is an article in today's Portland paper describing the rescue. You are something else and I am honored to be your uncle. Stay well. Love, Uncle David.

l weber said...

Stay safe, Kez!

Sondra said...

I will continue to say it...
God is so good~ and Kez is an amazing Super Hero!