First of all, my apologies to all of you for the delayed communication from Haiti. John Vrooman, Beth Newton and several other people have been diligently trying to fix the system out here, but so far nothing seems to have worked. We are not sure what brought this all on. There are always more questions than answers out here in Haiti, but one likely culprit is that the USAID folks sent out a team to fix the $30,000 battery backup system they installed several years ago at the hospital. This system was to be sure their IT system could gather and send back data concerning the work done at our hospital for their outreaches, including various public health tasks. However, they now sent out a team of 8 Americans and 2 Haitians to bring the system up to date again and insure it will function for the next while. One task they stated at the beginning was that they were going to move the batteries out of the storage building we have on the 3rd story of the hospital above our lab, which is on top of our physical therapy. I had placed it there at their insistence several years ago, when we built the storage room. We had had a fairly nonprofitable discussion with them several years before that when their bank of batteries was in the waiting room for the clinic, right where all the little children could touch them with their inquisitive minds and fingers, get battery acid on their hands and clothes, etc, not what Dan, Duane and I thought was the wisest situation. But they were upset at our wishes to move it to a more safe location, a small, well ventilated space we proposed directly above on the roof, which was totally unacceptable to them at that time.
So, when USAID put the new system in, now about 2 1/2 years ago, we asked them where they wanted it and, on their instructions, put it in a secure location (as thievery admittedly is a real, continual concern in Haiti) in the storage room we built on the roof of the lab. So, Duane and I were surprised to find this team of 8 out on Monday to, among other things, move the system outside the storage room, up on the roof. I told them this seemed rather foolish, my friend Duane was a bit less wishy washy and told them that was downright foolish, which thoroughly dissuaded them from the project. They then proceeded to start the rest of their proposed 3 day project for 8 people, some of whom (especially one of the Haitians) specialized in supervision, as I never saw him lift a hand, pick up a tool or do anything ever, although I wasn’t exactly paying much attention to them except just checking on them from time to time. They were quite ill equipped for their job, having to borrow tools, screws, other equipment from Duane on a regular basis and, when we left early Saturday morning, they were hoping to get things done sometime next week? Needless to say, we both were impressed by our tax dollars hard at work, being used so profitably and efficiently. I don’t know what they would have been able to accomplish without all the tools and help Duane extended to them from time to time. (I think he, alone, could likely have done it all in a day, and he doesn’t pretend to be an electrician). Incidentally, when we left, neither the internet, the phone system or any other IT system, including theirs, was up and working yet.
As I mentioned last time, we had a more mature group of workers on our team this time. For once, Duane and I were the young punks instead of the senior representatives. One indication of this was the breakfast conversations at 6:40 am, things discussed were our rusty/golden years and the accompanying aches and pains. A comment I overheard one morning was quite telling. “How did you sleep?” “Not so well, but that’s not so important at our age, what is important is that we wake up!” Despite the creaks and crackles of bones and joints, they got a lot of work done, thanks, of course, to their Egyptian taskmaster using his Biblical mandate to keep his Israelite workers’ noses close to the grindstones. They got the revised and relocated footings done for the moving of the merchants’ stands across the road, away from the hospital gate and hopefully more “out of our hair,” and we will finish the job in January with the larger team coming then for the annual 2 week work project. Incidentally, we are still praying for a willing and able plumber to take the last spot on the team, reserved especially for them, as there is a lot of plumbing to be done and none of the rest of us have much talent in that domain. Duane, Sam and their Haitian coworkers got the top poured for the second huge hole we call the holding tank for our hospital septic system, which is now working and hooked into our drain field.
Although I have often shared the frustrations associated with the vast number of speed bumps scattered on the already pothole-filled Haitian roads, (one of the reasons that we are always thrilled when we can average 30 mph on our runs to and from the airport), I am now the instigator of them installing 3 speed bumps in front of the hospital. Several years ago, Rod Wray poured about 100 feet or so of cement onto the road that passes in front of the hospital, to reduce the tons of dust raised by the vehicles going by. This was something greatly needed, as while the first story has no windows on that side, it does have air blocks to let the heat out, which lets in the dust at the same time. Not sure which is less desirable for my patients, especially those with open wounds. This has greatly reduce the dust situation, but now the vehicles accelerate tremendously on this short strip of smooth sailing, despite the 60 degree curve it contains and, with us moving the merchants to the other side of the street to get them further away, this will increase the risk of bodily injury to those milling around the area, as personal safety seems a lower priority than it should be out here in Haiti. That project should soon be close to completion.
Duane also got the hospital washing machines up and running again, worked on the generator, which is a constant source of concern and, thanks to the other team members helping him, a lot of the shipped supplies went into their proper places for use or installation when the team arrives next month. On the trip home, Duane did express to me his amazement at the thought processes involved in a government-run power plant operating less than one mile from our hospital, but not considering it a high priority to give us more than a few hours of electricity per day (mostly during the night), when we are a charitable organization, non profit, helping thousands of their own people yearly with affordable medical care,as opposed to the socialized medicine system they have which will not give you care or even a bed to lie in until you purchase all the supplies needed, at inflated charges from their pharmacies. The actual bed is free, not much else is.
I am thankful that the feared employee meeting to discuss the “State of the Hospital” went much better than I had dreamed possible in my nightmares beforehand. The employees greatly appreciated the generosity of all of you who have contributed to the “Rice and Goat Fund.” There was a late Friday afternoon emergency surgery to remove dead tissue from an elderly lady’s buttocks. I didn’t ever understand how this started, though I am suspicious that she may have had some medicine injected with non-sterile technique somewhere, due to the location, etc.
We then managed to wrap up our efforts and had a very smooth trip back home with two of the lab machines that need repair and a variety of other supplies that need attention. This included Duane’s hammer drill that he let the Haitians use between these last two trips to dig the 16 feet down through bedrock for the septic tank hole. He couldn’t see having them pound all those feet down with their pickaxes – there IS a soft side to him, well hidden under the gruff exterior of my special friend. Not sure if it is worth trying to repair now, most equipment they use gets wiped out in the process. Finally we were delighted to rejoin our families just in time to start the 12 days of/before Christmas.
Thankfully, In His Service,
Bill, Duane, Sam, Gail and Ken for the rest of the Haiti Team