Sunday, January 31, 2010

A new life

I used to have a life. It is gone. Can you imagine that? Everything that you knew, everything that made up your day – gone. Now, I have a new life, but it does not resemble my old life.

I used to have a job, several jobs actually. They are gone, buildings disappeared into piles of rubble and patients disappeared to the countryside. Now, I have a new job, but it does not resemble my old job.

I used to have friends. They are gone: dead, injured, or evacuated. Now, I have new friends, friends that I love, but they do not resemble my old friends.

I used to have a home. It’s gone, replaced by a dormitory for relief workers and a storage room constantly filling and emptying. I have a home, but it does not resemble my old home.

I used to have a community. It is gone, shattered by death, fear, forced evacuation, and insecurity. Now, I have a new community, made of amazing neighbors and little children, but it does not resemble my old community.

My new life is strange. It is different. It is not what I expected my life to look like as a 24 year old single white woman alone in Haiti. Yet, for all its strangeness, this new life is a good one. I am more connected to the community of Delmas 91 than I would ever have become had the quake not occurred. My new friends are people that I would never have befriended had the quake not occurred. My new job and my new home, as hectic as they are, fit me, my experiences and my personality.

I am still reeling from the emotional and spiritual toll of all that I have seen and done in the past 3 weeks. There is so much to process and so much to forget. Some things are a total blur; others are branded into my memory and will always be there. I wish I could forget them.

A dump truck full of corpses driving past me. The sinking feeling in my stomach when I looked at that woman with crushed legs and told the men to cover her back up, there was nothing I could do for her. Standing at the edge of a massive refugee camp and feeling too exhausted to treat a single patient. The smell of rotting bodies emanating from collapsed buildings. Lying on a pad on the floor as the building shook from aftershocks and assuring Bill that everything would be OK even though my heart was beating a mile a minute. The panicked screams on the streets of Delmas and the cloud of dust that cloaked the city. Watching TiPatrick shiver and thinking, “He’s going to die tonight because I was not more experienced.” The look of death on a little boy’s face after he was rescued from his home only to die 10 minutes later in his mother’s arms. My bloody hands at dawn after that never-ending first night.

It happened. An earthquake hit Haiti and my life vanished. But I am alive. I am unharmed. And I have work to do. Lots of work to do. So I embrace this new life and step forward, one dusty, tired step at a time.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Beauty in the midst of destruction

The past 2 weeks has taken me all over Port-au-Prince, to little corners of the city that I never would have seen if this silly quake had not happened. And though most of the time, I want to cry because of the destruction and chaos that I see, every now and then, I catch a glimpse of Haiti underneath and I want to cry because of how beautiful it is.

My new best buds!

Jean-Andre aka "G", my assistant, bodyguard, mother, guide, tickler, chef, best friend. I will tell his whole amazing story someday when I have lots of time.

And Frann, a little orphan boy who is being taken care of by people in my refugee camp. He is the most adorable thing I've ever met. Look at that dimple!!

Baby steps

On Saturday Commander Strong got me into Ground Zero and I was able to convince the US Army contingent there to send me a load of food for my refugee camp. They loaded up 2 SUVs with water and meal packets, enough for 2 days. Men and children from the camp helped me unload it and G distributed it over the weekend.

Our next big victory came yesterday. A large building collapsed at the top of my street making my neighborhood difficult to access by car and especially difficult for large vehicles. So we had been unable to get a water truck to come down and fill our cisterns. My biggest fear was that we would run out of water for bathing and for filtering into drinking water. G and I worked on the issue for 2 days until we finally maneuvered a truck up our street and all the way to my Shoebox. We were able to fill my cistern and the cistern in the field where my refugees are camped out. Now we will all have water for a month or more. It was a good day!

Monday, January 25, 2010

January 25 - Keziah update

(Posted by Keziah's mother)

We received a 30-second phone call from Keziah last night (Sunday); we tried to call her back many times with no success. About 1/2 hour later, we got a text message saying she was back on the USNS Comfort.

This is good news because we know that when she is on board, Kez is taken care of and that she will likely get a good night's sleep. Right now, her plan seems to be to alternate between translating for the medical staff on the Comfort and returning to her neighborhood to feed and provide medical care to the 200+ who are still camped out there.

We'll post more info as it comes in.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

My emotional state

I want to be honest with you all about my emotional state. I am crying a lot more than usual, I find myself getting irritated with others, and I have periods in which I'm unable to keep working with the injured, when I just have to remove myself from the situation and sit alone. I am trying to take care of my own needs -- I"m eating when I should and I'm getting enough sleep -- but still, being constantly in the midst of such destruction and such overwhelming need is taking its toll.

The interesting thing for me has been the bond that exists between me and anyone that has been living through this with me. People like Commander Strong (below on right) and my neighbors at St Joe's, who other than Bill, I never knew that well, make me incredibly happy. Every day, Walnes at St Joe's gives me a full minute long hug. It's the best part of my day. Lele, also from St Joe's, makes me smile. That's rare these days. And my assistant G...well, he would die for me and I would die without him. That's all I can say about that.

TiPatrick, one of the youngest St Joe's boys, was hurt badly when the fourth floor collapsed on him as he ran down the stairs. He went into shock that first night and though I did everything I could for him, I feared that he would die or at least suffer severe long term damage.

Three days ago, the boys came to see us on their way to Jacmel and TiPatrick looks great. Seeing him and hugging him did my heart a whole lot of good!

Fignole, one of the older St Joe's boys, is the one who rescued TiPatrick from the rubble. Another of my heroes!

Aliston was stuck on the fourth floor but the boys were able to rescue him with a ladder. He had head injuries, but nothing too serious. I had just finished treating him when they started screaming to me that they had found Bill's body. Thus started the longest night of my life.

Vanessa made it here on Tuesday night. The surgeon she brought with her did some work at St Damien's and then got sent back to the US (again, bureaucratic nonsense). For me, the best thing he did was filter water for 3 hours. I now have enough drinking water for a week.

Up at the refugee camp, there is an orphanage of 27 kids. They are consuming most of the baby formula I can find.

Haitians are helping Haitians. No other aid is getting to us yet. Someone bought a car full of water bottles and brought it to the camp 3 days ago.

G and I continue to buy food for everyone, cook and distribute it. Contrary to what you are seeing on the news, people in my camp are quiet, grateful, and in perfect harmony with each other. The men monitor the neighborhood at night to make sure it's safe and G checks on my house during the night. I am proud to be part of this community.

All that to say, my sanity is fragile but it's there. More time with the Haitians and less time with relief workers seems to be a better fit for me right now. I still cry very easily and at some point, I will need a very long debrief and a very long cry. But for now, today, I am OK. We are working our way along, one day at a time.

Back on the ground

I went back on the ground yesterday to try to get some kids onto the Comfort for treatment. Thanks to bureaucratic frustrations, it didn't happen, but we did end up moving some to the Miami University Hospital base at the airport. The man who authorized the move? Senator John Edwards. I carried stretchers with him all afternoon yesterday. And frankly, as nice as it was to have an extra set of hands, I could have done without the camera men and the news reporters.

I made it home last night around 8pm. My wonderful assistant G was anxiously awaiting me with a plate of macaroni and a big hug. It was nice to be home. Today, G and I have been out delivering formula to Dorothy's (her kids are all doing great) and later, we are going to keep trying to get food donations to our refugees. The UN and US Army are handing out food in specific locations such as the palace and Ground Zero (a refugee camp on Delmas 48 that has probably 15000 people). A few banks and Western Unions have opened. The lines are dreadful.

A day of paradise

On Thursday I made it to the General Hospital, connected with some of Comfort staff and was able to convince them to let me on board. They threw me in a Humvee, and when I climbed out at the other end, I found myself standing on the lawn of the presidential palace. That was a surprise. We airlifted from the palace and took three patients and me to the ship.

Many of the physicians that I worked with last year are still on board, so they were very happy to see me and put me to work translating. It was nice to be in place where patients are getting the best possible care, even if things are hectic and overcrowded.

My friends on board pampered me. Lt Commander Marino did my laundry for me. He even folded my underpants :) Commander Donahue gave me milk. Oh happy day. Dr Scouten gave me chocolate and a wheelchair so I could hold my little adopted patient and wheel around the ER. And at night, I got to sleep in Donahue's bunk with a fleece blanket. I slept a full 8 hours. Amazing. Every time I walked onto the deck where his quarters are located, I walked past signs forbidding female personnel. These are the perks of being a VIP with the head honchos.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A little reprieve

I got helicoptered onto the USNS Comfort this morning. I translated most of the day until wonderful Commander Donahue realized how exhausted I was and sent me to his quarters for a nap. Now, I have had a glass of milk, some sleep, clean clothes (first time in 10 days) and hugs from several friends, I am feeling much better. And less prone to burst into tears at the slightest act of kindness.

I'll spend the night on board tonight and then go back on the ground tomorrow to get a few patients from St Damien's Hospital onto the Comfort. I have sweet connections :) Hopefully, I will be able to go back and forth from the Comfort over the next few weeks, so that I can be useful to them, get my own patients the care they need, and keep providing for the 200 refugees who remain in my camp.

My favorite moment of the day: Tom Olivero, the head nurse in the OR, told me that when he was being interviewed before the Comfort left Miami, someone asked him why he was eager to go back to Haiti to help. "I have a friend there," he answered. "A nurse that we worked with last time we were in Haiti." And then he started to cry and couldn't continue talking. Wow. I can't believe how many people care about me. Thank you everyone!

Keziah update, Thursday Jan. 21

(Posted by Kez's mother)

I just spoke with Keziah. She is on her way to the General Hospital in Port-au-Prince, hoping to connect with someone who can get her to the USNS Comfort. Communication is very, very difficult and she has not heard from anyone on the Comfort. Kez has a cell phone that receives, but cannot make, calls.

Commander Strong came to see her again last night. He brought more supplies (Thank you!!) and spent time having the kind of talk that people who have been thru trauma need to have. Pray for him, please, to be encouraged and strengthened for the weighty task ahead.

People have asked about the patients in Kez's photos. Re. the man with the burned hair and scalp, Kez packed the wound, gave him an injectable antibiotic and sent him to the hospital. The dust-covered man died. The woman with the crushed feet and lower legs died. The woman with the face wounds died. The boy with torso bandages died.

On a happier note, the two men who are joyously hugging are G, Kez's faithful assistant and bodyguard, and his father -- reunited after several days of not knowing each other was alive. Today's photos include one of Keziah and G standing together as a mighty team.

Hopefully, Kez will get on the Comfort today; but if not, she will continue working wherever she is. There is still much to be done.

My smiling face :)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Alive & well!

(Posted by Kez's mother)

Thank you once again for your prayers.

I just got off the phone (after about 25 attempts to get thru) with Keziah. When today's shock hit, Kez jumped out of her bed, grabbed Vanessa Carpenter and the doctor and got all three of them into the most protected room in the house. She knew it was an aftershock, but didn't think for a second that it was any stronger than the many felt all last week. When I told her that it registered over 6. on the Richter, she was just amazed.

No damage to her house, no further damage to the St. Joe's buildings, no new injuries. In fact, when I finally reached her, Kez was taking a break from her nursing rounds and sitting on a roadside "enjoying a beautiful, sunny morning with a lovely cool breeze"!

Kez had wondered why I missed our daily morning call, never thinking that the phone lines would be jammed from all the concerned people trying to get through to their Haitian relatives after yet another scare. She is looking forward to today's arrival of the USNS Comfort and to joining their medical team's efforts.

The three most badly injured of her patients have gone to hospitals. The children at St. Joe's will be moved to Trinity House in Jacmel today. Vanessa and the American doctor with her will get to work on medical visas for children and with opening their surgical center.

It is a good day in Port-au-Prince!

Wed. Jan. 20 New Quake Update

(Posted by Keziah's parents)

We have been trying all morning to reach Kez by phone - no answer. Yesterday Keziah told us that since the quake she had been sleeping in the most well-protected room in her house, but that annoying dog barking was contributing to her lack of sleep so she had just moved back into her own bedroom -- next to the half-fallen St. Joe's building.

Please, please, please be in prayer for Keziah's life.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Answered Prayer!

(This post is written by Keziah's mother on Tuesday, Jan. 19)

When I spoke to Keziah early this morning, she sadly reported that she would be distributing the last three cans of baby formula today and that she had nearly depleted her stock of medical supplies. No aid had arrived; there was no word of any help forthcoming. What would she say tomorrow when the mothers held up their hungry babies? What would happen to those who needed fresh bandaging? I heard fear and despair in her voice. There was nothing I could say except "Keziah, everyone is praying and I know help is on its way."

I called again at 5:00 pm -- Prayer had prevailed and help had arrived!! Keziah's friend, Commander Dave Strong (Chief Liaison Mission Officer with the US Embassy) had come to check on her, bringing with him medical supplies, soap, shampoo, sanitary pads -- and a warm hug & good cheer. It was the most happy of reunions, giving Kez a much needed psychological boost, not to mention enough medical supplies to keep her nursing for another day.

Then, her friend Michael came over. "Kez, look what I just found in one of our rooms. Could you use some baby formula?" Keziah estimates that it's enough to get them thru the next three days. (Some for Dorothy's orphans and the rest for Kez's neighborhood babies.) Baby formula! More precious than gold!

Finally, with money given to her, Kez was able to buy enough pasta and corn (at a local outdoor market) to feed her 300 in the field. The food was cooked, distributed on plates, and gratefully and peacefully received. At the same time, Kez and her helpers were able to provide clean water to the people using a water purification system given by Bill Nathan's friend.

It is no wonder that the Haitian people continue in all this to praise God, singing, praying, and preaching even as their world has crumbled around them. And no wonder that Keziah wants to be there with them.

As seen on ABC World News Sunday, Jan 17

[Posted by Keziah's parents]

Keziah was on national TV Sunday night, on ABC World News! The story is online here.

The story is about Bill Nathan, former child slave and current anti-slavery crusader who runs the St. Josephs' orphanage across the street from Kez's house, who saved his life by jumping from a 5th floor roof as it collapsed, and whom Keziah nursed for the next three days until help arrived. During the story, you see Bill being supported by Keziah and Ben Skinner, an American who hired a charter plane to bring Bill to the US for medical attention. Here's part of what Ben wrote to the ABC News reporters and producers:

"As many of you know, Bill is the remarkable antislavery activist, and a survivor of child slavery himself, who runs Maison St. Joseph's, a shelter for homeless children on Delmas 91. The shelter is completely destroyed, save for the first three floors, which will have to be demolished, where I slept on Fri night with Bill and Kez Furst [sic], the young American nurse who kept Bill alive to this point. Kez is my new hero: she's 24, just graduated Northeastern, and since then has volunteered as a solo nurse in Haiti treating desperately injured homeless in ravines and gutters. She treated Bill alone for three days before I showed up, along with everyone else in a 5 block radius--all with less medical supplies than the average public school nurse. I played nurses aide to her as she treated wounds at the nearest encampment. She has wisdom and talent well beyond her years."

How to Help

People have been asking how to help. In terms of giving, the three large organizations I see that are already being effective are:

Catholic Relief Services
American Red Cross
Doctors Without Borders

Some people have asked how to make a donation that will most directly support my work. For that, give via:

Angel Missions Haiti is the organization whose building I live in, and with whom I volunteer doing coordination for visiting medical teams. It's a small organization focused on medical needs of children that is well connected to volunteers who know how to make every penny count.

Thanks for anything you give!

Monday, January 18, 2010