The Thankful Haitian Donkey enjoys a cool December

Hi All:

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

The Haitian Donkey and His Friends in December

Hi All:

We have had a very good, though at times confusing, start to the week. Duane has made numerous attempts to get the water pump going despite some enlightening experiences with the short that appears to be in the system. He finally found the offensive wire and got that fixed, now is working on the washing machines this evening, hopefully can get that sorted out also. During the evening, he and I sorted out a bunch of the material that came in the container, though still have some items we are looking for, such as light bulbs, a fairly vital element to running the hospital. He also has had to revise his plans for progress as some snags have come up, such as starting the footings to move the merchants across the road, since they obstruct the entrance to the hospital.  After he and Sam and a crew of Haitians had the footings dug and the cement poured, we ended up having to move them back to allow for interesting traffic patterns.

Gail has been trying to sort out the supplies that came into some semblance of order in the storage container here, a fairly intimidating task. Sam, as noted above, has been trying to work with a crew of Haitians on getting the footings dug and the cement put into the new spots to hold up the poles to support the roof that will be placed when the team comes in January. The spot is on a significant slope and requires a fair amount of adjustment to make the building a reality. Ken has been the chief cook and bottle washer and has tried to put wheelchairs and other equipment into some semblance of order.

Surgery has started off quite well, with 11 cases on Monday, running late into the night, but we got 4 hysterectomies done and another 3 today. Our last one was a 35 yr old lady that had a hematocrit of 18 (normal is more like 35 to 45 here) and was bleeding quite heavily.  We were stuck between the proverbial rock and hard place as getting blood is not easy under normal circumstances, but at present with the chikungunya fears going around, it is even more difficult to obtain any. In the past, I gave blood regularly, those days are gone, so we had no easy solution. We did the case very carefully, clamping and tying anything that even hinted of oozing the thin, watery blood she had to offer, and thankfully, it went well. Moise and I sweated through the case, we saved it for the end of the day, hoping that someone could find a unit of blood somewhere. I also found a 3 month old with hugely swollen knee that was not hot or painful, hard to get a good history in the best of situations, mom didn’t know anything except that “he was normal a week ago,” so took him to the OR and explored the knee, as further diagnostic options here are limited. He had almost a cup of pus in the tiny knee, so left drains and hope we can salvage that.  Had a child who fell into the cooking fire and has 30% second degree burns come in in the wee hours, the misery seems to abound. We also have a rash of cholera cases again, not sure why they are spiking in our region, but all the Doctors Without Borders temporary clinics to handle the influx are gone so we try our best to handle them ourselves. I am trying to ride out a lady trying to deliver her first baby, everyone thinks I should do a C section, but hate to do that to a young lady out here where repeat C sections are a hazard and most families want a host of children, so do my best to deliver vaginally. Most ObGyns out here will cut on almost anyone, especially if you have some money they can relieve you of.

The more I dig into Haitian finances, the more puzzled and discouraged I get, it seems. I again have started the undesirable task of getting something together in that department to present to the employees but there are more questions than answers. I spent some time on the phone with Rick Aberle, the administrator at Bonne Fin, and we both understand that fuzzy math applies here as well as in some of our schools. Bonne Fin will be reducing their over staffing situation next month, a really difficult thing to do in Haiti, and that will make our meeting more difficult, as there is little news that doesn’t spread like wildfire here, without the help of our media to fan the flame.

Most of you know my brother in law, Harold and his battle with pancreatic cancer. We have always gotten along well, especially as they have participated in the Haiti work for years, and now share the same battle with different but both nasty cancers so we support each other a lot. He has struggled with the chemotherapy and just had his last CT scan with somewhat less than encouraging results. I/we would greatly appreciate your prayers for his situation and wisdom for all involved re the further direction of treatments, etc.

So, will send this on with my December thanks for all you all do and mean to us.

In His Service,

Bill, Duane, Sam, Gail and Ken (and all the CSL Staff)

The Haitian Donkey’s Thanksgiving

Hi All:

I know it is already 10 days past Thanksgiving, but the Haitian Donkey plods a lot slower than his more quick footed counterparts.  Also, as I left Haiti only 2 weeks ago, things have been a bit hectic trying to get things done in the US before my return, both in taking care of my patients and getting things ready to take back, etc and enjoying the Thanksgiving special events. So, am just going to give you all a belated thanksgiving update.

First of all, I am thankful that, by the grace of God, I am healthy and able to do almost anything I feel that I should do on either side of the pond. I wake up each morning thankful that I am alive and that I have the strength to do what God has for me to do each day.  Although work isn’t perfect, I am very thankful that I have a job that I can enjoy, helping people as much as possible with their health. For the most part, it seems that it is a mutually beneficial arrangement, again, something to be thankful for. The vast majority of patients choose to work with us and that is a joy also, not to be forced to put up with each other, surely a detriment to proper patient care. My coworkers all are great to work with, a real blessing, and I have a host of extra mothers to replace my own, who passed away now over 30 years ago of colon cancer. They keep my nose to the grindstone, so that I can’t slack off much on work production and even less on food consumption and I appreciate them all more than they probably realize. So, I am very thankful for a good job (especially one that isn’t outside in the nasty cold and snow), good health being restored and great coworkers.

Coming to Haiti also makes me greatly appreciate the fact that my parents immigrated to the USA and I could grow up in a country where the opportunities for work and advancement were afforded me, as well as the fact that we have such food in abundance.  Thanksgiving Day was special, given my somewhat more tenuous health situation, the family get togethers are even more special and treasured each time now, and I was able to load my plate in the usual fashion and ingest it over the next 5 hours, no time for the previous year’s seconds, etc, though took the pumpkin pie my mother in law made home to savor later. Lots of tasty treats that just have to be consumed much more slowly due to the reengineered GI system, but that only spaces out the flavor for a longer period of time. It is very special that our country’s forefathers were willing to set this special time aside to thank our God for His great blessings of abundance, especially in His provision for our daily bread (and pies, stuffing and salads i.e. just so much extra).

At this time of year, I am especially thankful for the many of you who have contributed to the work here, some all throughout the year and then especially at this season, as I have tried to give something extra to our workers at the Christmas season. Many special people have given regularly to help us be able to provide a goat, greatly appreciated, and now there has been a tremendous response to the request for extra “rice and goat” funds. Thanks to your generosity, we will be able to give a large bag of rice to all our employees and a little goat to those who earn less than $100 USD per month. We were also able to take the employees and their families to Rod and Debbie Wray’s camp Saturday and let them celebrate and enjoy the various activities there. They went out there early in the morning and spent time on the water slides, in the ocean, doing a bunch of games they enjoy together as coworkers and their families. As the financial situation in Haiti grows more grim, I hope that these bonding experiences will keep us continuing to serve our Savior together despite the difficulties. Rod and Debbie and their staff also provided a plentiful and tasty lunch, which I was able to enjoy as I arrived about 3:30 in the afternoon on my way in from Port au Prince. I watched some of their games, including the apple on a string that you have to eat without using your hands. A very slim guardian managed to stretch his mouth out widely enough to catch the whole apple in it and thus could chomp it down with ease way ahead of the rest. Impressive.

I am also thankful for Dan, Duane, Jeff, Micah, Theresa, Ruth, Kim and the great number of unnamed men and women who make up the “Haiti Team,” so many of whom give generously of their time and resources to help keep the hospital going, both in fixing the ever breaking pipes, equipment and wiring, as well as in gathering and getting supplies out here. It is humbling and exciting to be a small part of God’s great plan to spread His compassion, love and gospel here in Haiti. By the grace of God, we were able to get our 8 suitcases to and through Port without much difficulty, American Airlines even allowing us the extra baggage without charge. This was previously the normal policy for missions groups, but things are not as clear since the merger with US Airways and we cannot be sure at this point that this will always happen. We arrived in Miami on time and the shuttle to the hotel arrived just as we left the airport, so we were able to get a good  night’s sleep before our 4:30 wake up to leave for Port. I can’t speak for the others, but Gail and I zonked off within minutes of hitting our beds, he didn’t accuse me of snoring but did say I was out like a light immediately. It is nice to start the week off with a good rest instead of a bit short in that department.

The five of us had a good drive from the airport. There was a fair amount of traffic again and a visible presence of the UN and other law enforcement personnel as many trucks were on the road trying to profit from Saturday having less rioting, such a counterproductive activity in a country already riddled with difficulty. There are many new holes in the already bad roads where they have burned tires in protest, trying to cripple the commercial efforts of what little business progress we have here. Duane has managed to get water going again to the places that need it, an extra thank you to him, and I was able to continue on to Rod and Debbie’s camp to spend  some time with the employees. I rode back with them in the brightly decorated bus we had hired for the occasion, thankful that that ride was only 15 miles with 17 1/2 speed bumps as we were packed in there (no rules as to numbers of passengers allowed) and my knees were at least 3 inches longer than the space behind the seat in front of me. Glad Duane didn’t come with, he has another 2 inches in that department.

So, as we start another week of service here in Haiti, I wanted to let you all know how much we thank the Lord for your laboring with us in doing God’s work here for His glory. Thank you so very much.

In His Service,

Bill, Duane, Sam, Gail and Ken

5 years ago

Dear friends; This Fall marks 5 years since we began work on the Camp Mahanaim project. The work isn’t finished yet, but thanks be to God, much of the project is now completed and it is being well used.



Thanks to Deb for the great areal photos and thanks to fellow missionary pilot Jan Gutwein for flying over the camp.

It’s been great to have had Helene here again this Fall and she has been busy painting and renovating the guesthouse, as well as using her cake decorating skills to help us prepare for the upcoming weddings.

We just had a one day holiday here in Haiti, so we invited the kids from Max’s aids orphanages over for a day of fun at the camp.
They loved the waterslide and trampoline.

Our yard man Alfred has been doing a good job of caring for and harvesting all the bananas that are planted here at the camp.

We had a big rain a couple of weeks ago that gave us a few big water puddles in the yard.

Thanks for your partnership and support,

bye for now ,

Love Rod, Debbie, Tim and Katie

Enjoying Warm Haiti

Hi All:

Once again, the week is slipping by and I need to get an update out for all of you who encourage and pray for us, a great blessing that we don’t take for granted. I spoke with Karen last night and she shared that, once again, I had picked a good week to absent myself from the ice, snow and cold, as she didn’t get out with the weather yesterday much and even the cats decided that exploring the great outdoors was not a wise course to embark on. So, very thankful that I get a week to literally sweat in my work while escaping a week of the chills and white stuff of Michigan. Karen and I had the opportunity of spending the Friday before my departure with Ido and Henrietta Kerpel, who now make their home in Alberta, Canada, also a place of chilly winters. We first met them on our initial trip to Haiti in early 2000, as they worked at Double Harvest, heading up the farm projects (teaching the Haitians to rotate crops and how best to get higher yields from their small plots of land, a great project that I liked to watch as I grew up on a farm and have always appreciated that type of work, plus we could have a steady supply of fresh vegetables to enjoy during our time there). Ido came to Haiti over 30 years ago, like so many Dutch individuals, including my own parents, for which I am very grateful, seeking to find a better life for themselves as the Netherlands is a great place, but cramped for space and thus opportunities for advancement at times are limited. Henrietta came from Canada and lived with MEBSH staff in the Cayes area for years and thus had many friends in the area before getting married to Ido and working in Port and later in Croix des Bouquets at Double Harvest with their 3 children. We became close friends when I started working in the medical/surgical department at Double Harvest and remained on great terms even when I transferred to Centre de Sante Lumiere in 2004 and I often would spend an evening with them in transit back to the US when time permitted. So, we had a delightful evening sharing what had happened in our respective lives since our times in Haiti, sharing a meal and exploring thoughts for the future, as Ido is an electrician who is at present working in Ontario on a large solar electrical project and has ideas of how this could possibly work in Cayes to help reduce our dependence on the very unreliable country electricity as well as our generators, which at present run well but fuel is often hard to get because of the protests, as they try to cripple the already tottering economy to voice their dissatisfaction with the lack of help they perceive the government owes them. We enjoyed our time until the late hours, the next day we went to the Vander Veen’s Dutch Store in Grand Rapids, where I think they could have spent longer than they did with lots of interesting things for us Dutch boys and girls to consider.

The same afternoon, I left for Haiti. My flights to Miami went well, thankfully, and I met up with Luke when he arrived there at 5:30 am for our flight together to Haiti. Unfortunately, he came in on the 3rd leg of a flight from Montana through Los Angeles, and his suitcase didn’t catch up with him. We left the ever gracious Jean Eddy behind with enough cash for the bribes needed to get the suitcase (even with the proper papers, often one still has to lubricate the wheels to get them to move at a snail’s pace), and he came later in the day behind us with the prized luggage in tow.

Our trip to the hospital went well and surgery clinic moved quickly with both Luke and I working with four of our Haitian doctors and the ever helpful Beth Newton. On my last Sunday in the US, Jim Heist, a friend from church, asked if I had had occasion to use the external fixation devices he had made for me on his lathe with the help of Dan Boerman preparing the metal so it won’t rust out so fast in the humid climate here, as we reuse our equipment. I told him I hadn’t had the opportunity yet but likely would in the near future. Luke and I were starting breakfast early Monday morning when the guard ran to the door and said there was an emergency case with “cartridges.” My Creole is limited and I hadn’t the sense to figure out that this meant he was shot several times, as it turns out, with a 44 at close range. He was a local bus driver who was robbed at gunpoint as he started his transport for the day’s work. This sort of violence is becoming more of a problem as disgruntled people are stirring up others with their perceived “rights/entitlements” as we near the proposed elections in the next few months. Thus, after Luke, Moise, William and I did the little cleft lip on a baby I had seen a few months before at 2 days of age, we used our most wonderful, impressive, made to order external fixation device to put together the chunks of shattered bone that used to be his tibia. It took a bit of adjustment, as I had to wing it in the OR and then take him to the xray department to check my alignment. We don’t have such luxuries as a C arm to take xrays on the spot, but he looks good and am praying that the bone fragments will heal in the months to come. We did 16 cases on Monday, a good start to the week, then will see how the rest of the week plays out. We have a bunch of cases lined up by our friends from Holy Redeemer Church in Missouri, headed by Joe Rudolph, M.D. and the church adminstrator, Harry Bahr. They ran a clinic last week about 45 minutes up the road and told these patients to come, which we appreciate. It is fun to coordinate our efforts and help each other care for those less fortunate than we. Tuesday and Wednesday have been quite busy with some more difficult cases, but we are thankful that they seem to be making good progress.

William and I spent a while tonight piecing together the face of one and the foot another motorcyclist who had accidents and rather severe cases of road burn embedded with gravel on their exposed areas. Helmets would help cases like this face injury, as the patient had torn his lip loose from the lower aspect of his nose, as well as making mush of his left lower eyelid and eyebrow/forehead. I may need to do some revisions in the future, depending on how it heals. So, will head for my bed (Luke sleeps in a hammock on the back porch, it apparently is like a sealed outfit so he does not become mosquito fodder). I prefer my mosquito net in the house, but we are getting along quite well from my standpoint. Will let him give his own opinion.

Thanks for praying for us and supporting us.

In His Service, Bill and Luke