Wednesday, February 24, 2010

More Haiti Blogging

Today was a relatively slow day at the hospital because got 10 new nurses in from the Dominican Republic today. They have been taking over the tents, leaving some of the more interesting tasks to some of us who have been here for a while. Today, I got to do the procedure on my patient Joshua's arm. The anesthetist sedated him with some Fentanyl and Versed, and then I was able to flush and debrid the inside of his arm, pack and dress the wound. I felt like a doctor today! It was great! Later in the day, the ladies from Kenscoff (a midwife and a nurse) who are trying to build a clinic with a specialty in women's health in a small mountain town came by to meet me for some medications. I was able to pass on all of the supplies that were gathered by family and friends to them to start their clinic. With 2,200 doses of antibiotics, we were able to give them a pretty good start for their supply. I think I'll end up there during my time in Haiti to help them set things up and treat some of the incoming patients. As a matter of fact, as I write this in retrospect, we just found out that a man came in after being attacked with a machette on his head and the stitches we had donated were the ones that provided closure on his head laceration.

At the hospital today, things went pretty smooth. It's great to start seeing the patient's progress in their healing and therapy. We are lacking in physical therapists, but the ones that are here are doing the miracles. They are getting the people up and out of bed and giving them the confidence to walk with crutches and walkers. Our little boy Joshua is making great progress too. He is smiling and laughing. I continue to debride and pack his wound every other day. Between that and the rocephin he's getting, he's completly coming around.

After work today, Alex came and picked our team up for a little sight seeing. He drove us out past Carrefour to the epicenter of the quake in Leogone, which is 95% destroyed. It looks even worse than Port au Prince. On the drive there, passing through town, you'll spot plenty of roaming animals... dogs, goats, cows, horses, and giant pigs. One of the horses was just hanging out in the median. Other things you'll see on the ride between PAP and Leogone are the city buses that are filled to the brim with travelers. People travel however they can, holding on to the back, in a seat, or on the room. I just have seen about 50 people on the roof of the bus at one point.

On our way to Leogone, we stopped at a Rum Distillery. This factory is one of the two out of 60 factories still standing since the earthquake. We ate some fresh sugar cane straight from the fields and watched the process of taking the cane, processing it, taking the sugar and boiling it, letting it ferment, and then getting distilled into world-class Haitian rum. The rum here in Haiti is well-known to be some of the best in the world. After our little rum farm tour, we plucked some fresh mangos from the trees and chowed them down. We tore into them exposing the bright orange pulp on the inside. The juice was all over our arms and faces and none of us cared. It reminded me of when I was a kid and would crawl up under the tangerine tree with the neighborhood kids eating tangerines while they dripped down our chins after a long day of playing in the orange groves.

Anyhow, this trip to Leogone was short because we had already worked a days work and it was starting to get dark once we got there. The town was so interesting with rubble and destruction that we decided to head back in a couple of days. Driving back at night was interesting to see the candlelit sidewalks sihloutte the figures of wandering Haitians in a cloud of dust from the dry clay roads.

This morning we took Elizabeth and Victoria to the airport for their flights out. It was sad to see them leave because they've been here with us nearly since the beginning. It's interesting at the airport because there is a noticable decrease in US military. Instead, the Haitian police have started taking over parts of the airport. Perhaps that is because the commercial flights in and out of PAP resumed. The roads to get to the front are being rerouted and detoured. Police are out directing traffic and moving things along. However, it seems to be causing more confusion than good. It is nice to see that order returning to the country though. Even at the hospital, some order is beginning to return. We're using official medical administration records now instead of scribbling on the back of a piece of cardboard or something. With the rules and order comes greater responsibility for all.

I've been feeling pretty tired and sluggish throughout the day and been fighting a nagging headache. Overall, though, I still feel pretty good though- not like I'm getting sick, just worn out and probably a little bit dehydrated. After work tonight, the ladies from Kenscoff called wondering if Josh and I wanted to go down to the palace for a concert. I wreally wanted to just go home and get to bed early, but I figured that it would be good for me to get out and have a little fun and I also had a sneaking suspicious that there was something I was supposed to see or learn while I was there.

The concert was being held just by the palace. An organization has come together to help start rebuilding the moral of the Haitian people through music, spoken word, videos, cartoons, dancing, and more entertainment. There was a stage with 2 large projection screens. Our friend Justin from Kenscoff got up on stage and spun fire for a while. The crowd loved it. Folks got a chance to talk to their people into a microphone while their image was projected on the big screen. There must have been at least a couple thousand folks out enjoying the entertainment. It was a really special night because it was the first night of these hope spreading concerts. Instead of doom and gloom everywhere you go, there was music and smiling and people getting to speak their minds and feel heard.

At the end of the live music, they played the new music video for Haiti, "We Are The World". It was really beautifully put together by about 80 various music artists. Some of those artists include: Michael Jackson, Pink, Wyclef Jean, and more. As we were watching it and chatting, Josh and I looked up at the same time and then over at each other and said, "did you just see that? that looked like Joshua!" When they replayed the video again later we recorded the part where we thought he came up in the video and sure enough, there was the little boy we rescued from the side of the road. It was his wheelchair, his smile, and his eyes! It was our little boy! I started crying immediately, one of the first decent cries I've had since we got here. What are the odds of that, truly, that we would rescue the little boy in that video and then be there at the palace square that night to see it. That's God working! I feel like it's him saying, "you are exactly where you are supposed to be, doing exactly what I want you to be doing... keep it up." The rest of the song was so meaningful, standing in the palace square with thousands of raw Haitians singing along to we are the world, arms around one another, and for that instant feeling hopeful and not so alone.

I had my first real entire fun day off today since I've been here. Josh, Shane, Marissa and I went back to Leogone for a day of adventure and picture taking. It was fun driving through before, but it was almost painful for me because we'd see something completely amazing, but not be able to get out and get a shot.

Before departing, we were all meeting at the hospital. We really wanted to show Joshua and get his reaction to his appearance in the new "We Are the World" music video. We carried him into the office area, sat him down beside the computer and played the clip. When he saw himself in the wheelchair, his eyes lit up. He knew it was him and he was happy about it.

On our way out of town, we stopped by the Port. The ports have been pretty much destroyed. It's no exageration. The docks leading into the water have massive fissures running through the concrete and asphalt. I stood in one and it came up to my waist. Giant cargo containers are upturned like carelessly scattered legos. Some of the cargo containers are still laying toppled into the harbor and one sat anchored on a reef several yards off shore. We crawled over a few of the cargo containers off the side of a warped warehouse to get a better view. There's no activity, but plenty of boats anchored off shore. In fact, it looks like we're in the middle of a war or something. There are enormous naval ships like I have never seen before... one's where aircraft can land, one's with massive steel encasements like something you'd see only in pictures, and of course, the US Comfort hospital ship. Getting to shore to see these boats up close is nothing short of amazing. As we were leaving, the guards didn't want to let us out because we were apparently supposed to have a badge to have gotten in. They had just flagged us through when we arrived there, so we weren't sure why we were having problems leaving. It was a bit unnerving, but then they just said, 'okay, you can go'.

Continuing our drive Southwest to Leogone, we passed a number of tent cities that have popped up along the beach. This is where I would want to build my tent if I had to stay. The water is aqua blue, the breeze is refreshing, and your on a transportation route. We stopped off to see the tents and accomodations along the beach. The locals were selling a lot of local food delicacies including friend plantains and goat. Goat? Yes, goat! I ate me some goat! Surprisingly, it didn't taste like chicken, but more like beef instead. It wasn't too bad. I'd like to try goat jerky next. The kids were also selling little plastic cups with some sort of sea creature in them. We found out they were baby conch shells and when I looked over along the shoreline I realized it was littered with thousands of little bright orange conch shells about the size of my fist. There again is some beauty amid the chaos. We also stopped off along the way at the Rum farm so that Shane and Marissa could see the operations and try some of the best mangos in the world. It was a nice little pit stop along the way.

The closer you get to Leogone, the worse the roads got. Driving along, suddenly the road would just drop a couple of inches. Entire slabs of road have sunken, shifted, and massive fissures now like the asphalt. In one of the more hazardous crevices, locals have stuck palm fronds and plants to warn people. The plants were also accompanied by several signs that profoundly expressed the state of the community, "We are angry," said one. Another read, "People are dying". Still another one, in several pieces after getting run over by a vehicle pleaded "We need help!"

Continuing into the city, you see the police station destroyed, an 18th- century church collapsed, and a bank reduced to nearly dust. One thing I noticed that was pretty interesting as I looked through the rubble is the enormous amount of coral used in construction. Many of the key structural supports are formed using massive blocks of hardened coral. I would have never guessed that coral would form a strong enough material for construction. However, by the looks of things, it apparently wasn't strong enough.

We ventured over to the main graveyard in Leogone and had some real eye-openers. The cemetery is a mess! With the way the earth shook and warped beneath the burial plots, entire tombs and crypts have either crumbled, been knocked over, or completely unearthed. There are wild goats running through the cemetery as well, one I saw trapped inside one of the crypts. Gravediggers tirelessly work under the hot Haitian sun repairing and piecing the cemetery back together. Leaving behind an enormous death toll, the earthquake has created a problematic situation of where to place the dead. Space is limited. In one instance, we saw where a man's coffin had been removed from his tomb and replaced with a new body, resealed with freshly poured concrete, and inscribed with perhaps a stick or something in the cement the day Haiti changed forever 2-12-10. It was a very eerie sight. The efficted coffin that lay next to what should have been its final resting place, lay completely open, the skeleton inside exposed. You could tell it was a man, he was wearing a suit that was nearly disintegrated, a pair of rotting socks, and was holding a silk flower that had lasted longer than he had.

A few plots down from his, there was a huge pile of bones. The crypt keeper explained that you only get a lease of 5 years when you die here. Then, they can exume your body, pile up your bones and personal affects, clean out the grave, put your remains at the bottom, and pile a new person on top. That's what was being done here. Three skulls lay atop a pile of bones, resting on a tomb next to that was a pile of dentures and other small personal affects like a flask, a comb, and a little bottle of perfume. What an eerie thought to know that many of these graves are recycled over and over again.

As we were leaving the graveyard, we saw a much lighter sight. Some guys had just got back from fishing with 3 huge spearfish. Each one was about 4 or 5 feet long. The guys pulled the fish from the top of the tap tap (a sort of bus/taxi here) and put them on the back of a motorcycle already carrying two people. The motorcycle took off, the fish got bumped by the tap tap, and all the fish went flying. We were all laughing, it was such a random sight. You just never know what your going to see down here.

On our ride back into town, we stopped at an old tuberculosis sanitorium. It had suffered major damage in the quake. This is perhaps one of the eeriest places we've seen since being down here. Respiratory medications, nebulizers, and inhalers sat scattered throughout the rooms. Tuberculosis is still endemic to these parts of the world and it's still just as deadly and contagious as ever. As we walked through the various wards, we were amazed at the damage. Entire walls now laid on patient beds, a pile of diapers and pill bottles filled a back room, and sharps containers now had plants growing out of them. One thing that was rather hopeful though was that every room had a faded picture of Jesus on the wall. It was another little piece of hope among the rubble.

Continuing our journey back to town, we stopped off at a massive river bed where despite being filled with trash and rubble, children ran around as though no tragedy had ever happened. Several kids had made kites out of plastic bags, a tin can, and string. These are some of the shoddy kites I've ever seen, but boy could these kids fly them. Some of them floated so high you could barely even see them anymore. Down a ways, was a dozen or so kids buck naked swimming in the little water that still flowed through the river bed. I suddenly realized I was walking through a national geographic movie. It was entirely sureal. The kids were splashing, and running, and jumping, and laughing. It was really sweet to see them all so happy.

One last stop on our way into town, we stopped along one of the slums along the shore. We had to navigate our way back through the houses and rubble to get down to the shore. The view was amazing, as we could see the US Comfort up close and the many other boats that lined the harbor. However, the shore line was anything but pretty. It was cloudy, merky, and smelled. A few yards away, a girl popped up her head from a makeshift steel port-a-potty that hovered over the ocean. This is where they poop and pee, and suddenly I understood why the water was so murkey. A neighborhood of people stood back a few yards amid the damaged homes having a huge community bathing party. Everyone was scrubbing up from and cleaning themselves from what looked like a broken pipe. Can you imagine taking community showers with all your neighbors? Things are so different down here. While walking back to the car, we passed a few baby goats. I was able to pick one up and hold it... so sweet. Suddenly, I felt guilty that I had eaten goat several hours earlier.

Last highlight of the day, we pulled into downtown Port au Prince on our way back to the hospital and our driver went to do a U-turn in the road becasue there was a parade of some sort approaching from down the way. Just as he got perpendicular to the road, his car died. Of all places to have your car die, in the middle of the road for an approaching parade is one of the worst places for it to happen. I was laughing so hard as the parade approached and started going slower and slower, and then suddenly realized we weren't going anywhere and marching around us. It was pretty funny and eventually we got the car started after a few of us pushing it and popping the clutch, and our first real full day off was a wrap.

We were extremely short staffed today. In the ER sedation room, it was just me, another nurse, and an EMT to take care of all the dressing changes. It was very nerve-racking. We sedated them, removed staples, opened up some massive wounds down to the bone, debrided them, repacked them, and dressed them. It was intense, but at the end of the day we didn't kill anyone and everyone had fresh dressings.

After work tonight, it was about 8 o'clock and our ride never came to pick us up, so Josh and I had to walk a mile and a half up the hill to our place through the pitch dark. I was totally freaked out because I didn't have my mace on me and was carrying a bag with my laptop, ipod, and all my money in it. I picked up a big piece of rubble in my hand and I was ready to use it on somebody's skull it they tried to mess with me. Some parts of the town still don't have electricity and the parts of town we walk past that are just rubble certainly are dark... pitch dark. Fortunately, we made it home safe and sound, but I won't ever do that again- not unless I have no bags and a container of mace.

At about 4:35 in the morning, I was awoken from a deep sleep to my first earthquake I've ever felt. It was like someone was just gently shaking the floor. It took a couple seconds for me to compute what was going on, coming out of a dead sleep, but once I realized it was a tremor I jumped out from under my bug screen, grabbed my passport, and went running out the front door in about 2.5 seconds! It woke everybody else up too and they all came outside as well. Fortunately, it was just a little tremor at 4.7 so no damage here, but you always wonder if it was much bigger somewhere else for some other town. How scary that must have been for these people January 12th.

At work today, everybody was abuzz about the earthquake last night. Everyone was going around talking about how it had josteled them awake and how it was kinda scary. We had not heard of any injuries from it, but we did hear of a few houses that finally gave up and fell to the ground. Around 10 or 11 am, some additional tremors started happening around the hospital. They were very small, but enough to evacuate the operating room on the top floor and close it off for the day. Emergency repairs are being made on the hospital as we speak, repairs that should make it structurally safe at least enough for another big one. However, until those repairs are finished, the hospital is simply unsafe.

Guess who showed back up today? Joshua's mom. She and the grandma showed up wanting to take Joshua away. He still is getting heavy duty antibiotics and on an every other day dressing change under anesthesia. He's got a gaping hole in his arm that has the potential to cause major problems if he goes back to the lifestyle he came from. She explained to us all that she didn't care for him or like him, but that they needed him in order for the family to eat. She explained that they used him to get money from people so they could feed the family. I'm standing there taking to her through a translator and a few other nurses are standing around and we're so frustrated. This child is being neglected, if not abused as well, he's completely vulnerable right now fighting an infection and open wound, and we're supposed to just give him back to the mother?! That's like taking a goldfish and throwing it into a pond of sharks. The frustrating thing is that there are no systems in place here to protect children. If a child is being abused or neglected, then it's just too bad. There's no social services, HRS, or crisis hotline you can call. There's no one to report anything to. Even if there had been some sort of a system before the earthquake, it's not in place anymore. It seems so messed up to me that it's just as acceptable here to neglect and abuse a child as it is to abandon it in a dumpster as we have already seen. Where is the protective services? Where is the court system? Where are the advocates for those that can't advocate for themselves? I seriously contemplated the idea of just taking him to a good orphanage and heading back to the states, but realized that would be wrong as well. If there was anything I could do it would have to be through spreading awareness of the problem that exists, being part of solving the greater issue at hand, and perhaps before Joshua leaves us providing his mother with some education and training that will allow here to be more competent in her care of him. Other than that, it's a sobering reality of the problems that still exist in the world today and the gratitude we should have for the systems that we do have in place back home. I talked the mom into coming back to take Joshua on Thursday, but I know he won't be ready even then.

That afternoon, I went with Josh for a walk down to the palace to meet a couple his friends on their way to the Dominican Republic. We stood outside the palace gate chatting with them and the locals. Seeing such a great huge palace cracked and crumbled was so humbling. Many say the pride of the country went down with the palace when it fell. One man told us a very eerie story from the day of the big earthquake. He said that in Leogone, the epicenter, that in some places the ground actually opened up swallowed up houses and families whole, and then closed back up. He said people ran over to start to dig for the family, but not the people or the house could be found. Isn't that an unsettling though that the ground just swallowed structures whole? Who knows if it's actually true, could be the start of disaster laden urban legends, but either way, it scares the crap out of me.

Walking back up to the hospital, we passed the Plaza Hotel. We decided to go inside and check it out. This is like one of the nicest Americanized hotels in Port au Prince. It's also where all of the journalists are staying. Inside, you would have never known that an earthquake had happened. It felt tropical, had a huge swimming pool, a restaurant and bar that was opened, and a courtyard that was shaded and cool. It kinda caught me off guard because this one lady came over to me and said, 'hey there, I know you, aren't you that news anchor that quit her job to come down here?' She even knew my name! What a strange experience to be minding my own business in a third world country and be recognized by someone I've never met!

Back to the house tonight, again I started trying to type away journaling and found it difficult to keep my eyes open. I used to be somebody who could easily go to bed at 1 or 2 in the morning every night, now I'm out by 9:30 and up by 6.

Speaking of getting to bed and waking up early down here, this morning had a particularly early awakening. For the second day in a row, more earthquakes rattled the city. At 10:30pm I woke up to a quick tremor that got me up on my feet and just enough to get totally freaked out and not want to go back to bed. I laid back down anyhow, and again at about 1:30am, awoke to another quake. This one was another 4.7 like the night before, but it shook a lot harder. All of us went running outside the house, completely freaked out. We waited for a bit, then went inside and got all our bug screens, sleeping bags, and stuff quickly, counted off paces of the height of the house to the distance away the house could fall and tried to lay back down to sleep. Then, we started getting phone calls and text messages from locals. Josh found out someone in the Dominican Republic had felt this one, Alex up in the mountains had felt it too, and suddenly we started to really worry that a much larger quake had happened somewhere than we realized. We got a text message from someone at the hospital saying the 5 people had been dragged in with major crush injuries to their limbs. Apparently, several structures toppled in this one and caused some injuries to people inside or nearby. We decided we needed to get down the the hospital right away, as there would probably be more coming in. Alex's daughter dropped us off down there and it was rather quiet yet. The injured had left and gone to General Hospital because there was no one at the hospital to treat them when they had arrived. We stayed up through the night checking on other patients, treating a little girl with sickle cell anemia that was in pain, and waiting for the next trauma to walk to walk through the gate or for the ground to shake again. Finally, we all crashed on hospital stretchers for an hour or so and waited for the morning shift to come in. We had done our shift for the day and headed back to the house to get some rest.

It's getting more and more difficult to get rest around here because I keep getting more and more paranoid about the quakes. It was cool at first, but not I've been there, done that, and don't want to really do it again. I'm getting tired of being worried about falling asleep that I might not wake up. Every little noise now has me on edge. Speaking of noise, earthquakes do make a sound. They sound like distant thunder. There's a distinct sort of rumble that accompanies the shaking- it's very unsettling. As we were waiting around at the hospital this morning, a big piece of heavy machinery went driving past. It made the ground shake a bit and had a similar rumbling sound. It was interesting to watch the faces of the traumatized Haitian people. Even though we all knew it was a truck of some sort, their eyes got big and wide, they started to look around at each other, and it was as if a part of their minds were all re-living January 12th.


At February 27, 2010 at 3:54 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Julie, I look forward to your blog every week. You are doing a wonderful job sharing your experience as well as caring for those in need. Thank you. Vonda, Duluth, Minnesota

At February 28, 2010 at 10:48 PM , Blogger Carole Chelsea George said...

Hi Julie,

I just discovered your blog and I love it. My husband's Haitian and I've been three times before. He's leaving for Port-au-Prince next Monday and I'll probably join him two weeks later. It'd be great to meet you.


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