I cannot believe that I have already been home a week. Readjusting to our climate [the seal around the jet bridge would not come out in the cold in Chicago, so got a good taste of the cold there after 3 weeks of sweating], USA medicine and trying to catch up on things left undone in my haste to leave has been hectic. However, I must admit that, despite the minimum 110 hours/week surgical residency I did in my younger years, the 3 weeks in Haiti were probably the longest sustained time of pressure to keep going I have ever experienced. I enjoyed helping the people, being able to tend to their physical and spiritual needs. We saw 40 decisions to follow Christ during that time, including a hardened father whose children have attended the Wray’s Sunday School for years but who was always a bit nasty towards the work there. He had a crushed tibia/fibula, open, requiring frequent dressing changes to clean up the wound, before we could cast it and send him home. He really was transformed during his 3 weeks in the hospital, seeing us caring for others long into the night, etc. He was very open and was avidly reading his Bible when I left, praise the Lord, and was glad that I had been able to get to Haiti and specifically to the hospital and staff with whom I have worked for 6 years now.
As we could not have done this work alone, I would like to take a minute to thank all the others, those who came to give me a break and the people behind the scenes who have made, and continue to make the work in Haiti and specifically at Centre de Santé Lumière possible. My wife has kept the home fires burning. The first week was probably the worst as I had little ability to communicate with her, even email being spotty at best. I was glad for her getting the updates corrected and sent out to so many people who were concerned and I had left many things undone, as I left home within an hour of notification by John Vrooman. He, incidentally, became ill as he spent all day, every day, back and forth to the Cayes Airport, arranging the relief flights for medicine, personnel, and rice and beans, etc from various sites so we could distribute them to the neediest areas. I think he just got his resistance down but he is better and we appreciated his help getting me and many others in and out.
As I have mentioned earlier, the missionaries around the hospital, almost to a person, went way above and beyond the call of duty helping keep the hospital supplied, hauling patients to other facilities when needed, hauling volunteer Haitian staff to and from the hospital. We used a bunch of unemployed Haitian graduate nurses; Michigan is not the only place with super high unemployment. These missionaries also hauled food supplies from the airport and out to distribution places, procured fuel for our generator, which we frequently had to buy in gallon jugs on the street. This definitely is the way Christians, Christ followers, are supposed to work to help others and I was very appreciative of each and every one. Many of the Haitian hospital staff also worked well beyond the normal amounts expected, including Dr. William, my assistant medical director.
I have mentioned the pleasant surprises of teams that showed up rather unannounced but who then worked really well together with us at CSL, our hospital, up at Bonne Fin or at the government hospital at Cayes, where things needed more organization from all we heard. The official name of this hospital is Hospital Immaculate Conception, HIC, which also is running about 80 beds, as we were, but also with lots lying on the ground anywhere possible, hoping for someone to help them soon. Drs. Jon Roberts and Rick Honderick, Family Practice from Missouri, helped for a week and Jon will return on the 12th of March for another round wherever he is needed. He has been a regular supporter of the work in Cayes, both by helping me get supplies and coming at least once yearly with a medical/building team. The team that showed up in church on my first Sunday there helped tremendously with the hundreds of dressing changes, helping me in the OR as possible, since we had 3 C sections to add to the fray of trauma patients. [These 3 did well, though one gave me an anxious night as the bleeding mother had too low a blood count to operate without first transfusing her, but the Red Cross was way behind on finding blood, understandably.] This team included a med/peds hospitalist who took first call for us a couple nights, staying in the room next to me so that if I were needed, I could answer a few questions and get back to sleep in a minute, which was greatly appreciated. Then there was the team that literally landed at our doorstep courtesy of the US Marine Helicopter. They wanted me to fly back with them, an option for hardy souls, my stomach keeps me out of that category, especially when Steve, the plastic surgeon who worked so well with me for a week described his own stomach flutters as the helicopter weaved in the breeze over the Haitian mountains. I don’t think there is enough anti nausea medication in the world. A couple of them, Shelby Rodgers (ER doctor) and Bobbie Joe Page (Paramedic) stayed an extra week to allow continuity of care from my departure to the arrival of Steven Anderson (who was the director at CSL when I came in 2004), with 2 family practice residents from the program where he works in Wyoming. Then Luke Channer, a general surgeon from the West, came last Monday and has tried to complete the surgeries we were not able to do as the patients were not yet clean enough for grafting, or whose infections were still needing further debridements, etc. Thus the large patient care demand is being met.
A HUGE thank you must go to the small team from Bahamas Methodist Habitat, specifically Abraham, Matt and Cameron, who sleep on the floor in the temporary warehouse they use, since housing is expensive in Nassau. They use this warehouse to store supplies they receive from the US donors, sorting the supplies, then flying them to various sites in Haiti, including the four hospitals in Cayes. (The Eye and Ear Hospital has been temporarily converted to a general hospital to help with the patients fleeing Port au Prince). These folks have organized the services of over 100 volunteer pilots who have brought their planes to Nassau with supplies, and many then spending a number of days flying to the various small airstrips in Haiti to deliver supplies and personnel. I am in admiration and great appreciation for the work they are doing.
There are also many unsung heroes in the U.S. I would like to mention: Those persons and organizations who have maintained supply chains so that we whom the Lord has called to work on the front lines of this trauma scene can continue to have what we need to serve those who have lost even the little they had before the quake hit on the 12th of January. My office coworkers here in Michigan have cared for my patients who suddenly didn’t have their regular doctor to see them when they were ill. We also appreciate the patience of those whose appointments had to be canceled, especially my Sunset patients, who have developed an attachment to their oddish doctor who abandons them regularly for a week a month, now suddenly for 3. Then there is our church, Byron Center Bible, which has been supportive of our work for years and maintains a Haiti Fund for our hospital ministry, covering all overhead for this fund; these last weeks have required much more work sending receipts and keeping records. They also have an extensive email prayer mailing that has helped me keep going when there wasn’t much gas left in the tank in the wee hours of the mornings. Others people have organized a blog (way over my technologically challenged head) to keep people informed more easily, have forwarded emails to family and friends to inform and to increase prayer support for our section of Haiti or have contacted radio stations or possible donors by the dozens, all to make the needs known. Then there are hundreds of people, even smaller children in grade schools, who have gathered supplies and worked for funds to donate to help us carry out the huge task of caring for the traumatized Haitians who have presented themselves at our hospital in these 4 weeks since the quake hit, having lost everything. Finally, we appreciate greatly the teams, especially those led by Dan, Duane and company, who sent and funded the two containers of supplies we received in the last 2 months, including one which arrived 2 weeks after the quake and the supplies were very useful in helping care for the hundreds of homeless we are housing at the camp for the next while. Many prayers were said because the location of this container was unknown for all that time.
The Lord willing and American Airlines resuming flights, we hope to be back in Haiti on the 27th. There are still questions as to how to arrive at the hospital from wherever we land, if we can get into the country. Only the Lord knows what will transpire between now and then, but pray for wisdom, as it will be a team of 18 total. 2 nurses are scheduled to arrive on the 21st, a week early, and stay for 3 weeks to help fill the gap, then 16 more including 5 more nurses, a family doctor plus myself, arrive on the 27th, if possible. The team was scheduled to do building at the camp, but that is not possible now. We have projects which could be done if some patients are well enough for discharge, otherwise we will have plenty of work on unfinished projects as well as new jobs needing to be done because of the quake.