Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Day Eight

The day began at 5:30 when Patrick came to our room to say "Hey Troy and Tara, we have to leave now" and we got up to find out what they had going and to say goodbye. Troy and I and Kim and Patrick (friends that live here in Haiti and went through the Earthquake and lost their apartment) were standing in the kitchen at about 5:50 discussing the day (on about three hours of sleep) when the kitchen cabinets started to shake. The aftershock lasted about 15 to 20 seconds - and was strong enough to wake the whole house and send them running for doors. We stood in the driveway in our pajamas for a while.

We recovered from that and all got ready to go to our posts at the medical clinic. The day was less intense in some ways, but much more intense in other ways. We've turned into a hospital and a surgery recover center. We've got patients spread between two houses and we're continuing to bring in new truck loads from Simone Pele. The area is under served ( that is the understatement of the decade) and they are literally laying around with horrible wounds and no plan or ability to get help.

The first few patients that came in were emotionally tough because they were kids that were very afraid to be there. We kept plugging along seeing people and making plans for who could be returned home at the end of the day and who would need to stay for observation. (It sounds a it more organized than it actually is.) The fact is we have medical folks from all over trying to come together and open a hospital from scratch. Oh, and then see things that they rarely (or never) see in their day-to-day work. It has not been without challenges. Yet, by God's grace we got through three days already.

Around noon a lady named Suzanne David came in. She was 75 years old and was so strong and so poised. Anyone who has lived a lot of years in Haiti is a hero to me. She has seen more political unrest, natural disasters, and hardship than I can probably imagine. I loved chatting with her and learned that she has 6 kids and 11 grand kids and lives in Cite Militare. She has advanced breast cancer and is dying from it. She came to us because the hospital she was going to twice a week for dressing changes collapsed. She had a giant open tumor and was in a lot of pain. At first we thought it was an earthquake injury, but once it was undressed we knew we had something else on our hands. For whatever reason she understood all of my Kreyol (and vice versa) and we communicated beautifully and I enjoyed my hour with her immensely. I won't soon forget the strength of Suzanne David.

She has lived a long hard life and now, not only is she dying of breast cancer but her world has gotten much more challenging as her family has lost homes and jobs and even the hospital that gave her a little help for her cancer. With all of those challenges -- Suzanne was sweet, and smiling, and gracious, and absolutely beautiful. The Docs were able to help her with her pain with a patch that will be replaced every three days. Her strength and peaceful spirit touched me deeply today.

Shortly after lunch a woman that had just been hit by a car was brought in. She was critically wounded and died not too much later. The people who brought her to us did not know her and now we have no idea who she is or how to contact her family. She survived an earthquake, a giant aftershock, and died as a result of head injuries in a car accident. In Haiti you have to "dispose" of a body yourself. You don't call the Funeral Director or the county morgue. Last I knew at the end of the day, that particular problem was unsolved.

Mid day there was a major conflict/situation/communication problem between myself and another person (from another NGO) that caused some tempers (mainly mine and his) to flare. We managed to get through it and move on - thankfully. I guess it is bound to happen. I was right and he was wrong (of course) ;) heh heh.

This is where the day went cuh - razy. The Doctors were quickly realizing that even though they were doing some pretty big surgeries and risking a lot --- we still had people on our hands that we absolutely could not do enough for. One of those patients was Collette that I told you about a couple of days ago. (Pa Bliye'm story)

Dr. Jen decided to research how close the USNS Navy ship was to arriving and emailed contacts she has from earlier this year when we got to go visit the Navy ship that was here. We did not hear back and did not hear back and the afternoon was getting away from us. We had 11 people that we hoped to take but could not get the 100% go ahead. On a wing and a prayer we decided to load our patients and try to find the spot to get them on the ship. We had like ZERO information. But off four vehicles went in a row to try to find the right spot in a crazy city of millions.

My heart rate must have been off the charts as I wondered what the heck we thought we might accomplish. I felt sick wondering if we had loaded up these poor suffering people with horrible pain only to aimlessly drive them all over the city. We had trouble and stopped and asked and and stopped and asked and stopped and asked .... and got pretty discouraged.

Finally we turned down a road that we hoped might lead us out to the water. A man rolled down his window to tell us we were heading towards Americans. We pulled in to find about 30 Americans setting up camp. They were unloading dump trucks and starting to set up their first large tent. The two docs that came with the patients approached and asked if they could possibly help us. They told them that we'd heard the U.S. Navy was sending a ship or serious operations and very high need cases. They shook their head a bit and explained they had JUST arrived about 60 minutes before us and they were not even set up. They said they would try to radio the boat, but it was not really yet set to go either. Gently Dr Jen and Dr McKnight asked about getting a helicopter to take our patients. They seemed sort of non-committal - we knew it could go either way. The last thing we wanted was to return to our little make-shift hospital with 11 people that really need surgery.

We waited for our miracle.

All of a sudden out of nowhere a helicopter circled over a time or two ... then swooped in. It landed right out in front of us. Two studly helicopter military guys walked over and said they could take four people. We chose the four worst. They said "We'll be back in ten minutes for more." We could not believe what was happening. They came back ... and back. Three trips to the ship for the people of Simon Pele. I asked a couple of the patients that I had connected with if they were afraid. They seemed to know that something big was about to happen. How humbling it was to watch the poorest of the poor ... forgotten by most ... be some of the very first patients to arrive by helicopter to a US Navy Hospital floating in the Port. I stood there weeping as they took the last group up.

We left Heartline on Jen's hunch - with almost no location information and no certainty we would be received - and we found the American base, that had only been in place for 60 minutes, that led to the helicopter coming, that led to hurting people getting help.

It felt like justice to me.

Hurray for justice. Hurray for miracles.

Click HERE for more - we just found this. So amazing.


I think Jen took some video and photos. If she has them I will ask her to let me post them here later tonight. Check back.

There is more interesting truth coming out about the many aspects of the ridiculous politics involved- even in disaster response - but I will end this on a positive note and leave that rant for another day.