Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Kidnappngs, Tremors, Presidents, and A Dead Baby

We woke up to rain today. I threw on my rain gear and hiked over to General Hospital with my translator. It was pretty gross walking through the mud, scum, and trash that lines the streets. Now that the rains are starting to come more frequently and fall harder, we're starting to see plenty rubble start to make its way into the roads. At the General Hospital group today, we continued our discussion about feelings. The kids here did their activity about drawing pictures of their life before the earthquake and pictures of their life after the earthquake. Again, the images tug at the heart. Kids before pictures had flowers, sun shining, smiles, sturdy houses, kids playing with each other, dogs running in the yard, and a general happy feeling to them. Drawings after the earthquake showed more dead people, power lines laying in the roads, houses crushed, limbs missing, people living in huts, and a feeling of loss. We continued to walk though the images with the children as they talked about their pain. We closed group with a big prayer in the tent lead by a Haitian nurse, and then sang our hearts out. We gave the kids stickers and candy, which were well appreciated.

Back at CDTI today I did a little bit of nursing care, ate lunch that consisted of some white rice, bean juice, and a packet of honey barbeque sauce from Chick Fillet in the U.S. Yum! Before group, I pulled out some facepaint for the kids and we ended up getting some good laughs in. What started with red hearts and blue stars on cheeks turned into a clan of kids sporting mustaches. Another nurse and I joined the club with curly staches of our own. We were all just being silly and enjoyed lots of laughter. It was another nice activity that pulled the group dynamics a little closer.

We began our therapy group shortly thereafter. Today's topic for this group was dealing with the earthquake blues. We wanted to focus on the sadness component of grieving. Although these kids can laugh and joke around, there is still a very thick layer of sadness and loss underneath it all. I wanted to dig into some of that today. We had a good discussion and activity that followed. The kids drew pictures of the things they lost today. Those images included a picture of half a leg missing, two broken legs, a doll, houses, people, and believe it or not... someone's Playstation (and he was not an American ;-). The next drawing was about things that the kids had gained since the earthquake. Although they have not gained very much, I wanted them to start seeing some of the changes that are starting to take place. One got new glasses, another new friends, one child got a new car, another got a watch, and the girl who had lost her doll had already gotten a new one. We wrapped group up with our usual little group cheer and then got out the instruments to do some music. The kids just come to life when they get to make noise and sing. We got around to realizing everyone knew the words to Felize Navidad. The Mexican Navy was wrapping up their deployment with us at the hospital, and so we pulled them over and my little group put on a impromtu concert for them. Everyone with their little mustaches pained on their face, got their instruments out, and we sang Felize Navidad to the Mexican Navy. It was so very random by all accounts.

After the day was pretty much over and I was able to connect to the wireless service at the hospital, I had a message pop up on my computer that my little sister Anna in Portland, Oregon was on Skype and available to talk. I sent her a video message and she responded. All of the sudden, there she is clear as can be on my screen, moving and talking in real time. It was hard to believe that I was all the way over in Haiti and could see her and talk to her so clearly! I was able to walk through part of the hospital and the main yard with all the tents and show Anna around. Then, I brought the therapy group over to meet her. The kids were so excited to see this kind of technology and excited to meet my sister. Anna showed them her cat and made him dance. Her fiance Jarod, a medical student at OHSU who I dearly wish was here to provide his expertise, got on and said hi to the kids too. Then, all the kids got around, holding hands and connect to the computer screen where Anna and Jarod were holding hands and from thousands of miles away and across the ocean blue, we all said the Lord's Prayer together. Technology is so amazing! The kids were then able to get their instruments back out and give a little concert to Anna and Jarod. We finally all had to tell Anna and Jarod goodbye and I wrapped things up at the hospital before heading back to the house, eating dinner, and am now laying here on the floor under my bug net writing about the day.

One thing that is bugging me right now is the increased security measures going on around here. Last week there were two members of the Doctor's Without Borders group who were kidnapped at gunpoint, held hostage for a ransom, and then later released. Apparently, another kidnapping was attempted or something along the road outside our hospital. This has everyone on edge and making policies about not walking anywhere alone and so forth. Granted, I'm not going to start walking places alone, but I will continue walking back and forth between General Hospital with my translator so that I can carry my program to the kids. I walk with mace strapped on my shoulder that I can easily access it in a one hand grab, change up my route, and walk between parked cars and the surrounding walls to sort of hide in the shadows from one of these suspecting cars with masked gunmen should they decide to target the street I'm on. I am continually aware of my surroundings, who's passing, and where people are in relation to me. I walk confidently, greet those whom I pass and make eye contact with, and stay in the populated areas. I also let people know where I'm going and when I should be back. It's a choice I make as an educated and independent adult. I'm not under the liability or care of anyone's organization or relief team, but my own. Sure, there is risk to my decision, but my gut truly feels okay about this. Jumping from an airplane is a really stupid idea too, but you do it with a parachute you can jump confidently that you will land unharmed. God will provide me with the protection that I need to get the job done. My mace and local Haitian translator is my chute. Sure, I could still crash, but I'm graced in confidence that my chute will open. Besides, I'm on a mission from God and he has my back. He's protecting me beyond anything I could imagine. Certianly, that doesn't mean I'm invincible, but he will provide the protection I need to get the job done and that means walking to General Hospital and back every day. For me, this is me like Peter stepping out onto the water. It's not necessarily safe to do, but God gives me the ability and confidence to do it. In addition, there are probably about at least a dozen other cities I've walked through in the last years of my life that were probably a lot more unsafe than PAP. Soldiers don't stop doing their job when it comes time to go to war. They don't rest when the bullets start to fly. No, they get up and they fight. They push the line forward and continue the mission that they set out to do in the first place. This is my crusade. It's a crusade for healing the children of this nation. This is no holy war, it's a healing war.

There are certain things you do in Haiti that you would never imagine doing back home. We don't flush our toilet paper and instead put it in bags next to the toilet, we eat eggs that have been left out for days, and I just did something new that I would have never done back in the states. I brought this delicious 12 grain hot cereal that I savor every morning. This morning I went to eat it and found it full of little weavels... I think that's what they are called... those little tiny bugs that get into bags of sugars and grains. Well, I just decided, the hell with it- a little extra protein won't hurt. I took the whole box and zapped it for a couple minutes in the microwave to kill the ones that were still in there moving around and went ahead and ate what was now 13 grain hot cereal. Nothing like a little weavel oatmeal in Haiti to start the day!

We had a slow start to the day this morning. Because we didn't leave until about 9am, I was able to sit under a tree with my feet up on a rock reading a book, drinking a strong cup of Haitian coffee, and enjoy a cool breeze that wisped past my cheeks. Once at the hospital, my translator Hivelt met up with me and we went over and did some entertaining for the patients. He let me use his guitar and as I made up the melody, he added some words. I couldn't hardly believe it that I was singing out loud in front of all these people. Maybe in the back of my mind I was thinking, "since they don't speak my language, they must have no idea that my voice sounds like crap?!" I don't know what I was thinking, but I was having fun and singing with my heart. Hivelt even showcased his "hand flute" skills. He's able to play a tune using the crooks of his hands and his mouth. I've never even heard od this before.

Finally, a bunch of us headed on our way to a new orphanage today. This orphanage is in Iccar, a small village here in PAP. There are about 200 kids living here, most of them with no family at all, but some of them have parents living out in the tents but they come here during the day to be fed, educated, and to be safe. It breaks your heart looking around knowing that most of these kids have nothing more than the safe walls that surround them though- no one to hold them, no one to tell them they are loved, and everything will be okay. At night they sleep on the hard concrete floors. Their bathroom is a hole over in the corner. Part of the building did collapse during the earthquake, so in the midst of the orphanage buzz, there are men with hammers and pick axes clearing the rubble.

When we arrived at the orphanage today, it did not feel like a sad place though. The kids were all sweetly lined up along the corridor sitting on little handmade benches and they were singing to us. They sang a song so beautiful and in unison. Altogether in French they said welcome and clapped. I think they were genuinely excited that some new faces with smiles had arrived. You half wonder to yourself if the kids deep inside are hoping to themselves, "pick me, pick me, please pick me." Getting adopted means freedom, escape from this life, and that you were so special that I picked you. I'm sure many of these children will never get this freedom, but making them feel special is something I can do. My translator Hivelt had brought his guitar and he pulled up a stool in the middle of the children and started to play them a song. The kids clapped in unison to the melody and sang along. I went through the crowd and started to dance to the beat. I pulled a couple kids up with me and we did the merengui. It was joyful.

We set up a little triage area and gave each of the kids physicals. We still have to go back tomorrow to finish them up because there are just so many of the kids. When our pediatrician found a child who was a good candidate for therapy, she would send them my way. We started doing therapy off a ways in the only quite place we could find, right on top of the rubble. Talk about an awfully profound place to talk about loss from an earthquake! My first patient was a little boy who was tachycardic and has been suffering severe anxiety since the earthquake. In particular, the little boy experiences severe anxiety when he hears loud noises now. The child was only about 3 years old and spoke very little. He has been speaking even less since the quake. I told him that I had a very special little bear that he could hold if he wanted to. I told him that this little bear was a magical bear that helped keep little boys safe. The little boy took the bear, held him in his arms, and it marked the beginning of what became a dialogue with the child. The majority of the session was done with me talking through the little bear and boy talking to the bear. It was pretty neat how everything turned out. I had him do some coloring and we practiced some breathing techniques he can practice when he hears noises or starts to get scared. Mom helped him count to ten as he did his breathing. In the end, the little boy said he felt better.

Finally, the sun peaked in the sky and the heat became intolerable. We had to relocate to a more shaded area. So, we went right outside the walls of the compound where we found a little unoccupied steal vendor booth. We settled in here and I posted a little sign made from crayon that read Jitterbug's Therapy Hut. The kids would come in here to visit me and we'd get out the little bear, do some coloring activities, talk about what was going on, and provide caretakers with some coping skills they can use to help their children in this time of adjustment.

One of these kids had lost his whole family in the quake. He and another little boy who had lost his best friend both comprised a small group with myself and my translator Hivelt. The two boys were able to share about what happened on the day of the earthquake. I gave them a chance to tell me a little bit about their loved ones that were killed. We did some drawings of the earthquake damage and I had them tear the drawing into pieces and handed them a new piece of white paper and told them that now they get to start fresh. It was a neat analogy and it brought both of them a smile.

Some of the children I counseled today still had parents that were alive and involved in their lives. I was able to teach the parents some very important coping skills to help their kids move through their fears and grief. We talked about the importance of re-establishing routine in the kids lives to give them predictability and the importance of providing the children with opportunities to be independent by giving them the freedom to make simple choices. Additionally, I was able to tell the parents about some of the behaviors they can expect from their kids with what they are going through.It's completly normal for them to be acting out or going to the other extreme of withdrawing completely. I also told parents to provide the children with opportunities to talk about the earthquake each day, so that the children could slowly start to sort out, process, and separate themselves from the details. Perhaps the biggest thing that I was able to emphasize though was the extreme importance right now of parents and loved ones making a point of reminding their children they are save and loved. One little girl in particular was nearly mute. She could reach out and hold my hand and nod her head, but not do much more. She came over and sat on my lap and I ended up just picking her up and rocking her back and forth. For just a moment, I wanted her to feel safe and loved.

Later I went into tent city village of Iccar with my translator and a few of the locals. We went around doing a tour of some of the homes through the winding maze of tents. Some of the passageways between the makeshift houses here are only wide enough for your shoulders to pass. We found a tiny malnourished baby covered in ash and concrete dust. She has laying there crying so hard I thought she was going to pass out. I had no supplies or equipment other than my stethascope, so all I was able to do was offer some nutrition advice to the mom and explain that this baby who was covered in the filth from the ground sludge and urine soaked clothes and diaper that she needed to practice some more hygiene with the child to prevent illness. As we'd go along, we'd find person after person who would want advice or be concerned about a loved one. They would welcome us into their little huts and lead us to the sick and ill. None of the patients seemed to be having anything serious going on. I was able to identify some sprains and strains, dehydration, orthostatic hypotension, and a few other minor issues. It's just so hard though when you have nothing on you to treat them with. I could only give practical advice... drink more water, get some salt in your diet, eat a bananna for some potassium, stand up slowly, take some ibuprophen, lift with your legs not your back, and more. It's such simple stuff, but was all I could offer.

Upon returnning to CDTI today I was able to fit in the kids therapy group. When I arrived, they all started wheeling over to me in their wheelchairs saying, "group! group! tambo! tambo!" They wanted to have group and they wanted to play music. It was so sweet to see their enthusiasm. Today's lesson was about moving into acceptance and starting to look in the direction of security and optimism. It really turned out to be one of my favorite sessions. We passed the little comfort bear talking about some of the ways that they can see life improving, we talked about self confidence and each person shared something they liked about themselves. I had the children share with each other things they liked about their neighbor, we went around and did some positive affirmations in Creole. The translator would read the statements, things like "I am a strong person and I can get through this.", "Things will be different now, but I will adjust," "Sometimes I feel alone, but there are a lot of people who love me," "I am confident and capable of healing," "I am healthy and strong". The kids repeated the phrases back with enthusiasm and we would clap and get excited together about each one and then do our little stir the pot thing and throw our hands into the air and say "Awwwwwww, Suki, Suki!"

We ended up having a growing number of spectators on our group. Some of the nurses and doctors who had been wrapping up their day came around and lingered in the background to watch what we were doing. Honestly, I got a little nervous with them watching because I suddenly felt like I was a bit vulnerable to looking silly, unprofessional, or incompetent. At the end of the session, their reactions were quite different. It absolutely made my day. A few of them came over and said what a wonderful thing it is that I'm doing and how much they could see it making a difference in the kids lives. And another, a youth pastor and medic came over to me asking me if I had designed this program. I told him yes, and he went on to say it was the most amazing thing he has ever seen. He said that he's never seen a group go so seemless, get to the point, move through the group process, and produce the kind of results that he had just witnessed. He was eager about getting a copy that he could start implementing and sharing the program. What a boost to my confidence in running these groups. I must give the credit to the big guy upstairs though. It was him working through my fingers at the keyboard when I started to design it and him using my voice to carry compassion and words of counsel and understanding to those who are so hungry to heal.

Following group, we got out the musical instruments and we had some good singing therapy. Everyone is starting to learn the words to more songs (including me), and getting more in unison with their instruments. We even had some of the spectators come over and join us in our music. It's such a joyful event when people start singing around here because it just lights up the whole camp. People playing the instruments are smiling, people watching have life suddenly in their eyes, and people back in their tents listening find comfort in the joyful music.

Following group, I headed back inside to try and post some pictures online. Just as I started uploading some shots, Beth came in and said, "I need to you run a medical transport to General. We just had a little girl come in who was hit by a motorcycle." I shut my computer lid and went running out to the ER. The little girl had been unconscious for about 10-15 minutes, woke up and started seizing. We gave her some ativan, put in a line, and the girl quickly went post-ictal. She had a laceration on the back of her head that was dermabonded, the docs cleared her neck and chest, but the girl was still in need of some neuro and wound follow-up beyond what we had the capacity to do, especially at this time of the day. So, IV in hand, following a blood soaked dad, we laid her in the back of the SUV. Holding the IV bag in one hand and listening to her heart and chest as we drove through the streets of PAP to get to General was an intense situation. I had a bottle of Ativan in my pocket and a syringe ready to go if she started to seize again.

Once we got there, the General Hospital staff took over, and I was able to get away for a second. I went over to the transfusion bank for the second time this week to give blood. However, my blood pressure has been so low from the heat and trying to stay hydrated that I couldn't donate. The first time, my BP was 70/40, this time it was 90/60. That's better, but still too low to give responsibly. Blood donors are so badly needed here though. The line to receive is much longer than the line to give and the supply they have now will be gone in the near future if it cannot be replenished. Back over the the little girl who was now stabilized, her father told me he could drive me back to CDTI and I agreed. He spoke great English because he lived in the states for 30 years and worked a large portion of that time as a bus driver for the school system. We got to the hospital and I asked him if he wanted to say a little prayer for his daughter. He was very excited that I would want to pray with him. To see a father still covered in blood praying under the street light for his injured daughter is touching to say the least.

Back at the house, we had some new housemates. A large number of the Operation Rainbow crew had headed back to the U.S. Now, their second deployment had arrived. They have been getting settled in and we have all been getting acquainted with each other. This team of orthopaedic professionals appears to be a lot of fun, very kind, and well-trained. Shortly after I crawled into my tent tonight, I was at my computer going through some of my pictures I had taken for the day when the house started to shake. It's the first aftershock we've felt for at least 3 weeks. I stopped typing, shouted, 'Oh no!", unzipped the tent, grabbed my jump bag, and bolted out the house. A group of our new housemates followed. I'm too freaked out by shaking houses to sit around inside and wait to see if it's going to shake more. I felt so bad for one of the girls who was really freaked out by the shake. She moved her matress to the front of the house and I had to give her some anxiety medication so she could sleep. Welcome to Haiti!

We found out today that our translator saw two houses collapse after last night's shaker. We don't see it registered anywhere on the USGS website, so it's undocumented, but many of us felt it and it was enough to do some damage. Now, the Domincans that are staying at the house with us and helping to coordinate logistics for the Operation Rainbow crew are sleeping out in the bus. Even they are too freaked out to sleep indoors.

At the hospital today, Victoria and I decided that we wanted to go to a local Church. We got together a translator, one of our friends Chantel, and the orphan Joseph and took a taxi to the Haitian Community Church. The entire service is done in Creole and French, so we had no idea what they were saying or singing, but it was wonderful nonetheless. We all knew we were there for the same reasons and no matter what is being said, God speaks the same language in our hearts. I sort of had fun making up in my own head what was being said. My own translation I'm sure was far from accurate, but it made me smile. After Church, we went to the Quisqueya Christian School. Many of the NGOs in the area are staying here, sleeping in classrooms and in tents. This facility has become a major distribution point for materials coming into the country. They are distributing medications, tarps, food, water, and just about any other relief supplies. They are providing shelter to volunteers, hot meals, spiritual direction, transportation, and more. As a matter of fact, Sean Penn was in the country a few weeks ago and made of tour of the facility. It is very clean, shaded, and secure. We stuck around for a while, were treated to a hot meal of Chicken, rice, and beet salad and then had fun taking photos of each other under the bogenvillia trees. I played a pretty funny prank on our translator. I discovered this new function on my camera where you can swap out colors. I swapped out the color of his skin for a deep purple and told him that he wasn't looking too good. I asked him how much of that beet salad he had eaten and whether he was allergic to beets or not. He asked why and I told him that his skin was starting to turn a shade of purple like the color of the beets. I told him I'd take a picture so he could see what I was talking about. I snapped the picture of what was altered to look like a bright purple face and his eyes got all big. He started feeling his face and asking if it was starting to swell. Finally, I couldn't mess with him any longer and had to tell him the whole thing was a joke. We all got a good laugh out of that!

From Quisqueya, we walked over to Ipido. This is a bakery that has opened back up and it is great! There is ice cream, crepes, pizza, burgers, pastries, cakes, and fresh baked bread. The five of us sat around eating ice cream and cake while we laughed, took pictures, and practiced our Creole. I was so glad that we had been able to bring Joseph the orphan with us today because he wore a smile all day long and we knew it must have been nice to have gotten out of the compound and feel like he is not alone. We had no idea how we were going to get back to the hospital which was like 20 minutes away. We saw a private car pulling out from Quisqueya who ended up being a distant cousin of the President here. He kindly piled all of us into his car and drove us back. On the way, we swung by the CanopeVert Hospital, which apparently is known as the green couch hospital because of the green mountain it is nestled in. The hospital was quite clean and calm. It was nice to see another facility up and running.

Back at CDTI, we arrived to a herd of kids wheeling over to me saying, "Jitterbug, tambo, tambo, group, group!!!" They had been waiting for group all day and were excited to get started. Because it was a little bit later in the afternoon, a Sunday, and I had a little surprise for them, we went straight to the surprise and the music making. One of the orthopods daughters works for the J.K. Living Foundation. It stands for Just Keep Living. This is an organization founded by Matthew McCaunehay (sp?) to help promote responsible living by young adults. The organization had donated dozens of shirts to the hospital that say J.K. Livin on them. One by one, I took a kid into the back and sized them for a perfectly fitting shirt. They were so excited. Before long, my entire group was a troop of brown wearing shirts emblazoned with the message Just Keep Living. Pretty soon, everybody in camp wanted one too. The kids in my group went over to a pile of rubble that remained from a collapsed house and we had some fun with photography. I did a little photoshoot with them atop the rubble. My translator came over and we helped set the kids up on the rubble so that everyone could participate. We brought Joshua over in his wheelchair and lifted it atop a little heap, held Katura in our arms with her one leg, the other kids all gathered around, sitting on blocks, holding a piece of concrete, and we smiled, laughed, threw our arms up, and suddenly I realized this place of saddness... these symbolic remains of what was home, security, and a life they once knew was now being replaced with memories of happiness and love. What a blessing! The sun was setting at this point and the lighting was perfect, I took aside some of the girls who really love getting their picture taken and did some head shots of them in the perfect lighting and they smiled when they looked at the screen and saw how beautiful they looked!

Next, it was time for the group's music therapy session. Our group is growing as new patients come into the facility and as other patients start to gain interest. Today we had more people than instruments and I really wanted everyone to get to participate. Then, it hit me. I told everyone to hold on for a moment and I disappeared over to a heap a rubble from a collapsed house and started to dig. I pulled out a piece of rebar that looked just like a triangle. I ripped the string off shoe to hang the triangle, and got another piece of rebar and suddenly we had a musical instrument. Then, I grabbed a piece of bathroom tile and a high heel shoe. It made a great clicking sound. Next, I dug out a piece of shelving that was ridged and textured... add to that a square piece of tin and suddenly, we had a washboard instrument. I found a metal light fixture that when held by one end upside down, it became a bell that one could ring. Over next to the bathtub I found an old bottle of rum and a broken leg from a table. This made a nice clamoring sound. I grabbed an empty pop bottle, filled it with pieces of the rubble and we had ourselves a nice maracca. In what was probably the kitchen area of the house before it fell I found the lid to a pot and a giant red plastic comb that fit nicely together for a good sound. A rock scraping against an old broken record added a hint of dj remix to the whole melody as well. I ran back to the kids with my newfound musical toys and their faces just lit up. From the pit of the rubble, came beautiful music. The very thing that had crushed some of their family members, taken their limbs, and put many of these patients in the hospital to begin with... it was all now the source of new happy memories and smiles. Suddenly, the kids were more excited about playing with the high heel on the bathroom tile and the makeshift triangle than they were about playing with the real instruments. This is perhaps one of my fondest memories of being here and so very deep and profound. Talk about rising from the ashes! This was a true example of finding beauty amid the brokenness. It was symbolic of the hope that was starting to surface among this community. I decided I'd just let the kids have fun and tie the lesson back into their session tomorrow.

As the music carried on, some of us got up and started dancing. Then, my friend Chantell looked over and said, "Look Jitterbug, Katura wants to dance today!" I glanced over and saw 5-year old Katura who had lost her leg in a crushing injury from the earthquake, stand up on her one good leg and start to dance. It brought tears to my eyes because I remember this sweet little girl not even having the confidence to get out of her wheelchair and use a set of crutches! Here she was dancing with the help of my friend. I walked over to her and held her hands, told her how proud I was of her and started to dance by her side. I bent one of my legs and danced with her on only one leg as well. We hopped, bounced and twisted to the music. With tears in my eyes, I got some additional empathy as I realized how much extra work it is on the body to try and dance and have free movement with only one leg. The rest of your body has to work twice as hard at balancing and strength. During our dancing, I looked up and saw Duluthians Cory and Jennifer Dufault (sp?) and their other friend from Walker Minnesota. They had stopped by the hospital for the day and it was great to have that northland connection in such a special moment. I handed Jennifer an instrument so she could participate and experience the same joy we were all living. At the end, I asked Cory to give our final wrap up prayer. He praised the lord for Life and the Life we all have and for Joy! It was beautiful. Nothing else can beat a day like this one.

I've been fortunate enough to start the last few mornings out waking up feeling refreshed by about 5am. I'll make hot coffee, take my laptop out under the mango tree, put in my headphones and start journaling to the sounds of Vivaldi's Four Seasons. It's really a magical moment of the day and I think I finally understand why "morning people" love mornings. The air is crisp, there is a slight cool breeze, it's quiet, and the day is like a fresh canvas. While mornings are nice though, I don't forsee me becoming one of these "morning people" long into the future.

By the time I got to the hospital today I was feeling a little bit nauseaus. I have not gotten sick this whole time I've been here and don't want to start now. Several people around me have dropped at least once during their time here and I really don't want to join the Haiti Vomit Comet Club. I gave myself a shot of an anti-nausea med in my quad and it quickly subsided. My translator showed up, I helped him setup a Facebook account, and then we were off for the kid's session at General Hospital. On our way, I said, "Hey, let's go over here by the Palace and see if Clinton and Bush are here yet." They were supposed to be coming to town today. They were going to stop at the palace and then take a tour through the tent city at Champ Mars. We walked over towards the palace and got to a road where there was a security checkpoint. They waved us past. Another checkpoint, we were allowed to keep walking. A third checkpoint, and we were suddenly standing in the backyard of the Royal Palace. Moments later, everyone stepped over to the sidewalk and a massive motorcade started to pour its way into the driveway. Holy crap! Somehow, we just happened to be here at the Palace in absolute perfect timing for the former presidents's arrival. There, in a big black SUV passed George W. Bush waving at us from behind the window. It was dark, but my translator and I both could make out that it was him. We stood down for a little bit, before then trying to go and get into the press conference. Finally, a military personal asked me where my press pass was and I just told him I didn't have one. I didn't even have my passport on me- nothing to identify that I am who I say I am or even an American citizen. Now, I was kinda freaked out. They came over and asked us if we were on the list. They started to go through the list and thought I was Nancy Schneiderman from NBC (which was an honor because she is certainly one of my heros) and I said, "No, no, I shouldn't be on any list." They then appologized to me that I had arrived too late to get into the press conference and that I should have called earlier to make it on the list. We left and my translator and I both once a block away finally looked at each other with big grins on our faces knowing that we had gotten to see way more than we could have ever hoped.

Finally, at General Hospital, I went back to the transfusion center to see if my blood pressure was good enough for my donation yet. Still, my BP was way too low. This heat makes it just about impossible to raise it. However, it was a complete "God thing" that I couldn't donate today because at just the timing I stepped out of the clinic, a woman passed by who was screaming, wailing, and completely out of control. She was shouting in Creole and crying uncontrollably. My translator told me she was wailing about having just lost her baby and that it was her only child. Immediately, I turned around and knew that I was supposed to go administer to this woman. I didn't know how or what, but I just knew that I was supposed to be there at that moment for a purpose. I went over to her just before she was about to step out the gate. I have no doubt that she would have been hit by a car in a matter of seconds. I just grabbed her and held her. She was so uncontrollable at this point that she was becomming a hazard to herself. She had collapsed to the ground, was thrashing her limbs, wailing, and nearly smashed her head into the ground had I not caught it. I had my translator protect her head while she continued and ran into the ER, shouted for some Ativan. They were out. I found some Versed instead and filled the syringe with the sedative as I was ran back to the woman, braced her, and popped it in her bicept. Already on the ground at this point, I just held the woman now collapsed in my arms and tried to keep her from hurting herself while I waited for the two and a half milligrams to kick in. It was one of the most intense moments here. I just held this woman, enraptured in grief, tears flowing, voice piercing through the air, body thrashing, and just rocked her back and forth, back and forth. I was covered in dirt and her sweat and I didn't even care. As she struggled to fight against the medication and her grief, her control would slip in and out. One minute she'd be calm and docile and the next minute she'd flail back and nearly hit her head on the concrete. I braced myself behind her to protect her head and just waited for the medication to gain the upper hand. The woman's wail turned into a song of misery. She started singing behind tears, "Oh God, why have you forsaken me? Why have you given me such misery? Why have you taken my only baby? God, please be with me! God please come near! Can't you see my pain and misery?" Oh, man, this was just too much for me. I couldn't help but not start crying with the lady. I was overcome with her pain. Certainly, when I came here today to conduct my Grief Therapy Program, I was not expecting this! Finally, the medication won over and we were able to lift the woman up onto a stretcher and the rest of the staff was able to take over. Later, we saw the dead baby still wrapped in its blue blanket, still laying in the nursery of other babies still filled with life and holding on by a string. You have to wonder how this affects the rest of the mothers as they sit by with their children watching, waiting, and wondering if theirs will be next.

Whew! Off now to the grief therapy session in Pediatrics that I had planned on being a part of. Today's focus was on anger. In this session, I have this activity I engage the kids in that I always feel a little silly about getting them to do. However, it always turns out very successful. Today was no exception. I have the kids blow up a little balloon or a rubber glove, we draw a sad/grimacing face on it, and I explain to them that this is Mr. Earthquake. They get to tell him anything they want and let him know why they are mad at what he did. They are allowed to yell and scream as loud as they want, and anything they want to say is fair game. When they are done, they get to exert some control, pop the balloon, and make "Mr. Earthquake" go away. It encourages a healthy dialogue and allows the kids to embrace getting to be angry. It also gives them something to be angry at. At the beginning of the session there were two mothers participating who said they weren't angry. They asserted that they weren't mad about what they had lost, that they just simply stay distracted, try to forget about it and move on. This is exactly why I'm doing these groups. It's way to easy to just bury this crap, bury the feelings right alongside the rubble and not embrace the anger, sadness, and fear. It takes just as much effort to clear the concrete blocks and steel supports as it does to mend a broken heart. If you don't clear away the pain, then you'll find yourself stuck with it for life, reliving maybe not the memories, but the sideways repressed feelings and behaviors over and over again. It's my goal to be the foreman on the emotional construction site. I'll help them remove the rubble, peel away the layer of pain one by one, so that they can start reconstruction efforts on a clear solid site. The two women I was talking about a second ago who denied being mad, sure had a lot to say when it came their turn to talk to Mr. Earthquake. It was great to see. In fact, they could be mad. They were mad. And, they had a lot to say about it. In the end, when they popped their balloon with their bare hands, they had a true look of relief on their faces. We would all smile and clap for the person each time. It was like a celebration of Mr. Earthquake no longer winning.

Back at CDTI, I found out that the hospital might be closing at the end of this week. There are simply not enough funds to keep it open. The money is gone and the diesel has nearly run dry. However, the patients continue to flow in. We must have had 300 patients just today, and another 55+ living in the tents. Right now, Sean Penn was able to help connect us with 150 gallons of diesel fuel for the tank. But, even that will only last about a day and a half. Right now, Sean Penn, a corporate or private donation, or a major financial miracle is our only hope. Otherwise, the doors will shut, patients will have to be discharged, and it will be the end for CDTI. It would be a very unfortunate ending, especially considering how hard we have worked here over the last 2-plus months.

At the CDTI grief group today, we had another really good one. Now, we're starting talk about acceptance and looking more to the future rather than back at the past. I'm trying to get these kids to start focusing on what could be, rather than what has been. We went around and talked about who the kids can trust, feel safe talking with, and commit to regularly talking with regarding the earthquake and the feelings involved. The group shared about one place they felt they could go and still feel safe. Many said, under a tree, in a tent, and another kid said wherever his mom and dad are at. We talked about what these kids want to do when they grow up. If they had it their way, we'd be looking at the next generation of doctors, nurses, engineers, teachers, and policemen. Unfortunately, the reality is that many of these kids will be held back by circumstance and a broken system. When we talked about what the kids need to feel safe once again, the children said, "for the ground to not shake, to have a hosue again, and a number of kids were really concerned with the 'bad' people who do 'bad things' being on the loose. They were adament about wanting these thugs and gang members locked back up.

Finally, we moved into the music therapy part of the session. All the kids were so excited. Now, I tied things back in from the previous day's introduction of the rubble instruments. I told the kids that although the rubble holds many bad memories from January 12th, that we are slowly going to take those pieces of brokenness and replace them with feelings of happiness and cheer. I told them that I have been here to help show them how to do it and get the work started, but once I leave it will be up to them to keep doing the metaphorical digging. We practiced removing some of that rubble and replacing it with happiness today by getting the instruments and starting to play again. It was another great music session, and I'm continually amazed at how much the kids realy love getting to play! Our friend Alex (not the CDTI administrator) did our prayer today for our group. It was beautiful.

After group, little Katura kept telling me that she wanted to do the video. I didn't understand what she was saying until I remembered the last time we had gotten online and Skyped with my little sister Anna in Portland. I asked Katura if she meant that she wanted to talk to Anna. She got excited and said, "Yes, Anna, Anna, Anna!" This is so sweet that thousands of miles away over the internet, these patients are starting to build a relationship with my little sister in Portland. We got online and Anna wasn't on yet, so I started showing them little videos of the kids making their music. Chantell told me to play one video in particular. I clicked on the icon and it was a video of all the kids talking to me. Each kid one by one, said their name, their age, thanked me for being here, and told me they loved me. It was so precious!

By the time we finished watching everyone sing and dance, an alert popped up on my screen that Anna was on Skype. Everybody got excited and started chanting Anna, Anna, Anna. Suddenly, there she was, sitting at her computer in Portland at her desk. She asked the kids where all their mustaches were, as she had seen the latest pictures. We asked her where hers was. Having fun with the kids, Anna took a sheet of paper, drew a mustache, big funny eyebrows, and a big red nose. She cut them out and taped them to her face. The kids sure got a kick out the the whole thing. She made them smile from thousands of miles away. The kids then to show Anna the pictures they got that were made by kids at St. Joseph's school where I grew up attending. Anna, showed them a new piece of art she had just gotten too. It was like show and tell over the net. Oh, how I love my little sis! It was a perfect way to end a long day.


At March 23, 2010 at 2:53 PM , Blogger Josh said...

That was an amazing post!! Keep up the work and continue to follow where ever God may lead you.

At March 25, 2010 at 8:16 AM , Blogger hd said...

I enjoy reading your blog. I am from the Midwest also and it's great to know 1st hand from your posts that our area of the US is represented with someone as caring as you. I see your references to pictures you have taken, any where to see those pictures? Keep up the great work!


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