Sunday, February 28, 2010

Lucky number 13

Last week, Angel Missions hosted a team of 13 medical personnel from Roanoke, Virginia. I got to work wtih them daily, running clinic and a mini pediatric ward on Delmas 24 at the site of the soon-to-be Surgery Center. We had 2 inpatients, discharged from the USNS Comfort to us: Christopher, an infant with hydrocephalus, and Ois, a 9 year old who suffered a broken femur and a severe head injury. When we picked him up, he was mostly non-responsive and very lethargic, but by the end of a week with our stellar team, he was obeying commands, communicating his needs, bonding with his caregivers, and sometimes being downright demanding! It was a very emotional group of Americans who saw him off to another hospital when it came time to leave.

The team did a great job balancing the needs in the ward with the daily work in the clinic. We had at least four docs or nurse practitioners seeing patients at all times and each one had a nurse assisting with meds and dressings. For them, I think it may have been a bit disappointing that most of the complaints were simple everyday Haiti issues, but for me, it was a wonderful sign that we are recovering. More heartburn and less gruesome wounds!!

Since their departure, I have heard several patients asking for the "white doctors" and many more expressing their gratitude for the many days of clinic. And now we await their return to Haiti!

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Ravine post-quake

My Ravine on Delmas 31 also suffered badly in the earthquake. Many of the tiny homes lost a wall or a roof, and some were completely flattened. Some rebuilding has already started, but most people are living in camps all over the area. Others have fled to their families in the provinces, but are starving there as the little villages cannot support the influx of refugees.

I visited 2 of the many camps in the area around the Ravine and saw several of my regulars there. They were very happy to see me and I was very happy to see them. It is hard to not be able to do more for them, but I just don't have the tents, tarps, food, and jobs that they need. Of course, I did not only treat my usual patients; there were many that I had never seen before. It changes the program - instead of a consistent pattern of seeing the same children every week and being able to stay on top of each individual's health, I am seeing crowds of kids in each camp and may not be able to return to any particular camp more than once a month simply because of the quantity of camps and the high demand for medical care.

I have heard confirmation of 4 deaths among my little patients: Memene, Orel, an unnamed newborn, and Lovenide. Lovenide was one of my favorite kids. She always sat on the stairs beside her house or behind the grate on her porch and watched me coming with her big eyes and a quirky smile. Her mother, a charcoal seller, was more concerned with my health and my well-being than with her family's needs, which clearly were numerous. Their house collapsed so completely that I almost didn't recognize it. A neighbor told me that everyone died: Lovenide, her mother, and her older brother.

Life is not fair. Why did that sweet little girl and her darling mother and her shy brother not survive? Why did they lie rotting under concrete blocks and scraps of metal for days until someone dug them out only to dump them on the street where a truck could pick them up and take them to a mass grave miles outside Port-au-Prince? Why do things like this have to happen?

I hate the word "earthquake".

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Sherrie's post-quake

Sherrie Fausey's school on Delmas 31 was my home base for my work in the Ravine. It did not fare well during the earthquake: the entire back portion of the school collapsed. Miraculously, Sherrie survived, despite being in her bedroom, most of which is now a pile of concrete blocks on the ground. One little boy, Peterson, the son of a long term worker of Sherrie's, died. But all 30+ orphans in the new orphanage on the first floor were unharmed, and none of the students were hurt.

I have a large pharmacy on the third floor at Sherrie's and it has been killing me that all my wonderful meds up there are inaccessible to me due to the dangerous state of the house. Three weeks after the earthquake, I stood below that little third floor window and almost cried. Imagine how excited I was to see Sherrie a few days ago and hear that she rescued almost all the meds during the first 3 days after the quake! In fact, it was the first room that they emptied.

God provides. If the quake had occurred a few years ago, Sherrie, her staff, and all the Gonaives orphans would have been homeless, but instead, they have merely moved down the street to the new school building that was under construction. Everyone is living there and they are also holding school for nearly all their students under tarps outside.

The children are doing remarkably well considering what they have lived through. Perhaps the earthquake didn't seem too bad compared to 2 days stuck on an 8x8 foot roof while the city of Gonaives washed past in a horrible flood. Patrick, a little boy rescued from Gonaives, who was showing clear signs of PTSD last year due to the flood and all the subsequent changes in home and family, was all smiles and games when I called his name. Phew!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

This week on Delmas 91

The day of the earthquake, when I climbed over the rubble of my street, Delmas 91, I assumed it would be months before it was cleared. I was amazed to walk up the street exactly one month and one week post-quake to see my street clear. It had been done by hand by a few men. Likewise, my neighbors finally cleared a path alongside my house to get to the Ravine below me and a path to get into St Joe's without having to rockclimb.

We were incredibly lucky to get a donation of rice, beans and corn meal - 11 bags!!! - for the refugee camp. It came through my friend Karen Bultje who got a donation of 105 bags but did not need them all for her people. The men carried them up to the field yesterday and gave out half to the families. They will distribute the other half on Thursday.

Up in the camp, people are settling in for rainy season. It has rained a few times since I've been back and everyone has gotten wet. A friend of Angel Missions gave us 4 tarps this week, so that has helped, and many people are using wood and sheets of metal to make slightly more permanent structures. I am still one of very few people sleeping inside a building. I felt completely comfortable until the three rather large tremors (4.7s) that we've had last night and the night before. I am staying inside, but have moved to the front room where it shakes less. Even when I tell myself, "Don't worry, your house can handle this," each quake takes me back to the nightmare of the first week and my heart starts going a mile a minute.

Today, we got a donation of food and water from Foster Fuels, a random connection that Vanessa made at the airport one day. Because we had given out rice yesterday, we only gave out water today, but everyone was very grateful. Thanks Foster Fuels!

I continue to marvel at how the quake has brought me together with the people in my neighborhood. And it's not just because I have been able to provide for them physically. We had a community meeting on Saturday and they told me that they particularly appreciate the fact that I simply stop by to say hi and to chat. When Vanessa was getting ready to leave yesterday, making me the lone resident in the Shoebox, the men came down to assure her that I would be completely safe. "She's our sister!" they proclaimed.

Haiti moments

John's story

Now that I am back in Haiti, I continue to see people with horrible earthquake wounds and horrible stories, some of which end in tears and others in gasps of amazement.

John, a patient I treated, told me one such remarkable tale. When the earthquake hit, he was on the fourth floor of a six story building. Everything around him collapsed, but he survived in a little pocket with only his left foot buried in 2 floors worth of rubble. He tried and tried to pull it out but was unsuccessful. He called for help, but concealed as deeply as he was, no one heard him. Above him, a tiny sliver of light told him where freedom was, but he was unable to move towards it.

After three days, John heard bulldozers demolishing the building. He was terrified and, in a moment that he calls “God-driven”, he ignored the agonizing pain and dragged his crushed foot from under the blocks. But he was still stuck in his concrete cave. Mercifully, the bulldozers stopped before they reached him and John began yelling.

People responded and used sledgehammers to knock down a wall, then another wall, and finally a third wall, but they still could not reach him. Meanwhile, putting his hope in that little sliver of light, John was yelling, “Up top! Up top!” but no one could hear him clearly enough to understand. At this point in the story, John grinned at me, “And then I was so lucky,” he said. “An intelligent person came. He made everyone stop talking and he walked around pressing his ear against the walls until he could understand what I was saying. Then they all ran up top and through the little opening, they could hear me well enough to know exactly where I was and they dug me out. I am so blessed!”

Monday, February 22, 2010

Keziah on the radio

(Posted on 2/22 by Kez's mother)

While Keziah was home for her R&R, she was interviewed by Magic 106.7 radio station.

Here's the link to hear it again.

And for those who are wondering, Kez sent us a text message at 4:45 am today to let us know that she felt the 4.7 quake/aftershock, but was OK.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Angels in disguise

Sometimes I look at my life in Haiti, especially post-quake, and I wonder if certain people I interact with are really people. Maybe they're angels in disguise. Commander Strong, for example, who kept us supplied with baby formula and diapers and kept my spirits up. Lieutenant Campbell, who did not have to give food to anyone who was not part of his designated food drop list, but who gave me two truck loads despite that. The nursing student who appeared with a needle driver at midnight on the first night just as I ran out of large needle suture material and would not be able to keep stitching without one. A stranger who gave up her seat on the plane and insisted that it go to "the Haiti nurse" so that I made my connection to visit Bill.

When I flew out of Haiti, I met another of these random knights in shining armor. I was the only passenger on a private flight to Florida and the pilot, Christian, could have spent the whole time peppering me with earthquake questions, but as soon as he heard where I had been and why I was leaving, he gave me the silence I craved at that time. I'm sure he noticed that I spent most of the flight crying, but he didn't ask questions except to offer me food and water. When we arrived, he found out that I was planning to sleep in the airport lobby. He immediately made arrangements for me to stay in the pilot's lounge instead where I got to sleep in a real bed and take a hot shower. I remember climbing into bed and thinking, "I don't have to worry about aftershocks anymore." What a fantastic feeling.

For my return to Haiti, I needed to overnight in Florida. Again, I planned on the airport lobby until I remembered Christian. He met me at the airport and took me home to stay with his family. His wife and sister-in-law were waiting up for us and gave me a warm welcome and a comfy couch. In the morning, I met his sons, Ashton and Zach, and by the time I left, I felt like I'd been a lifelong family friend. Once we got to the airport, though, my charter flight to Haiti had been cancelled and it appeared that I would be forced to wait an extra 3 or 4 days in Florida. I was devastated, but Christian came through for me and arranged for me and 5 members of my medical team to fly to Haiti with his charter company. I was hugely grateful!

I wish I could show the photo of Christian's whole family, but I promised his wife that I wouldn't post it. It was early morning and though I can attest that she looked absolutely beautiful, she did not feel ready for public portraits. Kristi, Christian and company: Thank you for all you did for me!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Chez moi

I made it safely to Haiti with the help of some amazing people...more on that later. I am working with a team of US doctors on Delmas 24, doing my usual team coordination: translating, explaining Haiti, referring patients, transporting patients, arranging food and water, getting clothes for those whose bags were lost in transit. I am already quite tired.

Coming back has been bittersweet - hard to arrive and remember that all my pre-quake friends are gone, but comforting to be reunited with some of my post-quake friends. It is still a difficult place to be but I am glad I made it back.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

I'm going back

I am leaving Boston tomorrow and flying into Haiti on Saturday afternoon. It has been a good visit and a mostly successful recovery. I still have my dark moments and my very emotional moments, but I am ready to start working again, and that is what matters most to me right now.

Many people have asked me about donating supplies to Haiti. At this time, due to transportation difficulties, we cannot accept any offers of supplies. I know that I could load an entire ship with your generosity and I wish I could, but for now, we can't. I will keep my blog updated and as needs change and arise, I will post those needs, but for now, all we can truly accept is financial donations and most importantly, prayer.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you for your prayers and your support during this extremely difficult time. I would not have been able to do what I did without the encouragement and strength coming from my family and friends in the United States, Canada, France and elsewhere. Please continue to remember me and my community in your prayers. We need them as badly today as we did on January 12th.

Thank you!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Bill's story

Bill Nathan was orphaned as a little boy and was badly mistreated by the family who took him in. He was a "restavek", a child slave, not allowed to go to school, forced to do much of the household work, and beat viciously for any mistake or misbehavior. After a few years, a nun rescued him and sent him to St. Joseph's Home for Boys in Port-au-Prince. He was given an education, a family environment, and the encouragement and love that a child needs. When he graduated from the program, he was offered a leadership role at St Joseph's, and today, he is acting director. He also travels the world speaking against modern day slavery and performing the drums with St Joseph's world-renowned dance company, Resurrection Dance Theatre of Haiti.

Bill happens to be my next door neighbor and a member of the board of Angel Missions. When I am out of the country, he takes care of the Shoebox for me; he also manages my rent, my electric bills, and pretty much anything else that I don't know how to do Haiti-style. By January, we had become good friends.

On January 12th, the day that changed our lives forever, Bill and I had walked part of the way up the hill together before going our separate ways to run errands. Three hours later, the quake hit and I immediately tried to call Bill because I knew that with its height, St Joseph's would have been particularly vulnerable. He didn't answer. I hurried home and when I got to my street, sure enough, the top 3 floors of St Joe's had completely collapsed. Michael, the executive director was in the street, looking quite calm, but when I asked him if everyone had gotten out OK, he turned to me with a look of death and said, "Bill...we lost Bill somewhere on the roof."

Something inside me died.

I'm not sure what happened during the next hour. We couldn't look for Bill or Ben, the other victim that was buried somewhere on the roof. Ben's wife, Renee, and his cousin, Jon, along with 2 other Americans, had survived on the dance floor, and we brought them down with a ladder onto my roof and then onto the ground. A little while later, we succeeded in pulling Aliston, a 13 year old St Joe's boy, out of a pocket on the 6th floor. I was in my Shoebox, just finishing his bandages when I heard Michael screaming.

"Get Kez! Get Kez! We found Bill!"

I think that might have been the happiest moment of my life, but also the scariest. I grabbed my emergency kit and ran up to the field where they had carried his body. I was terrified of what horrible injuries I would find, but he had virtually no external wounds and all his vital functions seemed reasonably OK. He was moving his extremities and had good reflexes. His vital signs were stable. He was only semi-conscious, but his pupillary reflexes were OK and he was responding to me in English, a very good sign.

All night, as I cared for scores of victims, I checked on Bill regularly, waiting for some serious change in consciousness or sign that he was bleeding internally. Nothing. He was in agonizing pain all night, but he was stable. I finally found a bottle of vicodin at 4am and gave him enough to put him to sleep.

In the morning, Walnes and some of the men took Bill to the hospital. I wanted to go along to make sure he got proper care, but I just couldn't justify taking care of one patient when there were so many in desperate need. G and I did rounds all over Delmas that day until the late afternoon when I went to join Bill and TiPatrick at the hospital. The hospital, of course, was overflowing. Bill was lying in a corridor with a dozen other patients. They had given him some kind of shot but nothing else in the 8 hours that he had been there. So I spent the night catching a few hours sleep on the floor in between caring for Bill and the other patients near us, and trying to shut out the crying and the moaning and the wailing all around us.

In the morning, we finally got an x-ray of Bill's back, but the Haitian doctor looked at it and essentially told us, "There's nothing I can do. Go home and maybe you'll be able to find a white doctor who can give you advice." Bill had regained enough strength by then (36 hours post-quake) to walk a block to Wings of Hope, St Joe's sister home for handicapped children. From there, we went home to the Shoebox.

The next few days followed the same pattern. There was really nothing I could do for Bill except keep his pain under control with ibuprofen and vicodin, and try to keep him lying down all the time. I was frustrated, not knowing exactly what his injuries were because we didn't have hospital diagnostic equipment, and frightened, not sure if I was going to let him get worse by missing some serious symptom. At the same time, with all of my friends evacuated or dead, it was nice to have someone to talk to and someone to make me smile. Tremors were particularly terrifying because I knew that if my house started to come down, I would never be able to carry him to safety by myself, but when they hit, I tried to reassure him and act unconcerned. I did not get much sleep those days.

Relief finally came in the form of Miles Wright, a long term supporter of St Joe's, and Ben Skinner, a Times writer who had used Bill's story in his book about slavery. They managed to charter a private jet to take Bill to the US for medical care. On Saturday morning, we packed up and went to the airport, prepared for a battle. At that time, only American citizens were being permitted to leave. Even though Bill has a multi-pass visa to the US, they were not going to let him out.

As we waited in the blisteringly hot noon day sun, Ben argued with the military and worked on connections he had on the inside. I supported Bill, who was getting weaker and weaker from the long wait on his feet. Eventually, Ben found some sympathetic officers who brought us inside. But right then, Bill collapsed. Ben and I carried him into the airport and medics rushed over to get an IV into him and, at my request, a large dose of morphine. It's all a blur until someone was yelling at me, "The plane is here and we're cleared to go. Get him up!"

We got Bill into the tiny plane. He and I had a moment for a tearful good-bye and then they were gone.

Why was Bill on the roof that afternoon? He told me that he felt like someone was telling him that there were kids up there and he needed to go check on them. So up he went and sure enough, 5 boys were playing there. It was their chore time, so Bill sent them downstairs and paused for a little peace and quiet in his favorite place, the garden rooftop. The quake hit seconds later. All 5 boys survived; the two who dawdled in obeying Bill are the only two St Joe's boys who were injured.

The 7 story building started to sway and fall, hurling Bill towards the neighbor's roof, 2 stories lower. He hit that lower roof, bounced off and fell 4 stories to the roof of a shed. Again, he bounced off and landed on the ground. Lying there, unable to move his legs, he looked up and saw the rubble of St Joseph's roof falling on top of him. Something gave him the strength to get up and run. Again, he collapsed, and again saw rubble falling towards him. This time, he grabbed a clothesline and pulled himself to safety. He lay in that yard and somehow, amazingly, had the presence of mind to answer his phone when his friend Jefthe called. He told Jefthe where he was and a group of men found him and carried him to the field.

Bill should not be alive. But he is. And that is a miracle.

I had the opportunity to see Bill on my way to Boston. He is resting and recuperating at a friend's house and hopefully will be ready to return to Haiti sometime this spring. The doctor's report shows that he had multiple contusions, 2 broken ribs, broken transverses processes on 5 left lumbar vertebrae. Remarkably, they do not think he will need surgery. Physical therapy and a lot of rest is the prescription right now.

It kills him to not be in Haiti, helping with reconstruction and taking care of the St Joe's boys. But he understands that he needs to heal fully before he can be useful down there. We are both still processing so much and it was good for us to see each other again, to be able to talk about everything that we lived through in those horrible 4 days, and to start to look at Haiti's future with some hope.