The Haitian Donkey and friends receive a chilly reception

Hi All:

We are back in the US, after having had a good trip home, despite the freezing temperatures that greeted us here in Grand Rapids. I don’t think the Missouri crew did much better as far as the heat wave, or lack of same.  Friday was good to wrap up loose ends for some of us, I was able to arrange some connections with the president of the mission, Pastor Alneve, for future hospital plans as well as arrange for the next team, the Optometry team from Ferris State University with leaders from Zeeland, MI who will work with them as well as a gentleman who has come for years repairing things for Radio Lumiere, another project that seems to require constant maintenance to keep going. On the other hand, Dan, Paul and Dave started a project to repair the OR table in Room 1 AFTER we were finished with surgery Friday afternoon. This table was donated several years ago by a team who worked here for a couple weeks and it is electric, so the nurses have become spoiled using it. However, last week, it would only go up, not down, a bit of a struggle for us who are not giants by nature, and we had to wait til the surgeries were over to attack it as the sterile environment sort of goes downhill with tools, people and parts all over the floor. So, they started later in the afternoon, but by God’s grace, were able to rearrange the parts so that some non vital functions no longer work (such as tilting the table one way or another) but the parts have been wired into the up and down section. I so much appreciate the talents of my coworkers, as my skills in that realm are so little that they might be labeled as nonexistent. I will see what happened to the older table that was there, as those older, nonelectric ones are much more durable, especially in the heat and humidity they are exposed to. 

I did make at least one error in the last update, you likely figured out that the Donkey miswrote it. I mentioned that Dan declared the state of emergency over the sewage situation, very appropriately, and asked that all workers, USA and Haitian (not American) work on this til it was resolved, which thankfully it was. On Tuesday, we also ran into another problem with no simple solution. The container from Amsterdam arrived in Port on the 30th of December, late, as the non profit was moving and I doubt they have a moving company do so as on a limited budget. So, we really wanted to get at the contents, but the Bill of Lading was sent DHL from Amsterdam on Dec 13, 2018 and an Edward H, 1312 (nothing in Haiti seems so organized that our employees have numbers) signed for the package, but no one knows who that person is. So, the clearing agent was warning us that he needed a copy of the original Bill of Lading from the shipping company. This required a release of responsibility from myself/CSL, so that if Edward H and we showed up to claim the container, they would not be held liable. None of us could figure out how to fill out this form online (and there were a number of younger, more computer savvy individuals trying to help us complete this form). English is clearly not the primary language of the agent at IDA in Amsterdam I was dealing with and, though I speak Dutch, my skills in the technical realm are limited. Everyone scurried around trying to get someone to budge or get the form filled out (NO progress on any front), when the papers suddenly appeared at Pastor Alneve’s church in Cayes on Friday, the package had been opened and rifled through. No one knows what really happened, maybe Edward H. was disappointed that there were only papers and no money in the package, maybe he had a strike of guilt of his conscience and returned it, but we are VERY thankful to the Lord that this was returned one way or another and we can proceed with clearing the container and much needed supplies. When they gave me the package Friday morning, I grabbed Jean Eddy to deliver it and the team said they saw him streak out of the hospital at high speed. He delivered it and then accompanied us to Port the next morning in the bus as he always is such a responsible person, making sure the team is well taken care of, much appreciated. 

The ladies left a very shipshape storage space and I do think that the employees will continue to keep things well organized. Likely not quite as good as at present, but much was packaged in plastic tubs so the critters no longer can sharpen their teeth on the supplies. Jose, as you know, a colorectal surgeon, had a number of his specialty cases to wrap up the week. When I was in training, we were always told that colorectal problems were limited to developed countries, as our diets are low in fiber, etc, so they don’t exist in 3rd world countries. I fear that this is one of the blissful theories that is propagated by those living in “ivory towers” and not really in touch with the real world, as I certainly have seen an incredible number of patients in both Africa and Haiti with difficulties in this area, with not a lot of simple solutions, as their diets are low in fiber and the options are limited. 

On a personal note, today marks the 6 year anniversary of being told I have this nasty cancer and the start of a long, tumultuous journey of three 15 hour surgeries, 2 rounds of chemotherapy and now, last Friday, I appear to be signed up for my 3rd round of immunotherapy. Will get eye and lung evaluations, it appears these treatments can take their toll on these organs, a bit scary, as a blind surgeon who cannot breathe is likely not all that useful either here or in Haiti. But, I try to proceed down the paths that the Lord opens up for me, these treatments may not help, may hurt or do nothing to slow down the cancer, but they do try to keep me going. As it is supposed to get UP to a negative 1 degree Farenheit on Wednesday, that troubling element does not do a lot of perk up my spirits, but every day I drive in my pickup to work or church, I thank the Lord that I don’t have to take a horse and buggy in the ice and snow. I know the Lord gives grace for what He puts before us, but I think my faith stumbles a bit at the difficult situations our forefathers had to endure. So, appreciate continued prayer for wisdom and strength to go through this round of treatment, make difficult plans for the future possibly without me, and that we will, as Heb 12 tells us, “fixing our eyes Jesus, who for the joy before Him endured the cross.”  Nothing I will have to endure comes close to that price He paid for my salvation. 

In His Service, 

Bill, Karen, Rachel, James and Jenn

The Haitian Donkey and friends are making good progress together

Hi All:
Once again, the week flies by here. We all seem to make good progress, though some differences of opinion as to the pleasure of the heat index. As per normal, I am loving it, the rest of the crew seems to think it is an unseasonably hot October for Haiti. Poor Duane is out in the sun with the crew, they poured the floor Monday, then have been fabricating the forms for the walls and roof of the new, improved, incinerator. The sun definitely beats down on their heads and wears the crew down, but they are steadily making progress. I think he plans to pour the walls and top on Monday. His crew is definitely being stressed to the limit to get the work done, although our projects are starting to get wrapped up and they fear that the opportunities at CSL will be drying up soon, so they are motivated to do their best. Someone who is always there and was missed by Duane on Monday was Alphonse, who many of you know if you have been to Haiti on work teams, now he is 82 but is always there. I ended up taking a large bladder stone and a bunch of gravel out of his bladder on Monday and he is recuperating well.

Surgery is going well though busy, to be expected as I missed my last trip here last month. Tabitha had never seen a dermoid ovarian cyst, so we obliged her with 2 this week. The first was about 12 x 10 x 8 inches and adherent to everything, the intestines, the walls and fluid filled but also a good sized ball of hair that interested her but also made her stomach a bit queasy. We did a second one today that was much smaller and also had a hairball plus teeth, just to keep things interesting. Our cases this week include a number of patients operated on elsewhere in the past with a significant amount of residual scar tissue, making things a lot more of a puzzle and messy. I am encouraging everyone possible to come see Dr. Luke when he follows me in early November, as we cannot accommodate them all and he is willing to pick up the slack (greatly appreciated).

I did notice that both Dr. Moise and I have matured some since we started here over 14 years ago, some of the joints talk to you during long cases and we work hard at getting done by 8 pm at night so that we can get a good night’s sleep. We have made it each night, not by much, like 2 minutes, but thankful that we can serve so many suffering souls. The head OR nurse, Miss Lisberthe, slept at the hospital last night as she didn’t want to make the journey home late at night just to return in the early am. Her level of dedication is a major reason why we have so few infections working here in Haiti, as she scrubs both ORs from floor to ceiling and everything in them the week before I arrive and everything is spotless. She seems to have a significant amount of energy and often takes off on the run to get a tool I ask for (unfortunately sometimes too fast, not waiting long enough to totally understand what we need and she comes back with something other than what I really need and I have to wing it and use it a bit before asking again for what I really want, so as to not hurt her feelings). However, it is so much easier to direct someone that is moving than to get them to overcome their inertia.

It has also been a bit difficult to get an open bed for more surgical patients as we are full all the time at present, having a number of medical patients, a couple burns, some CHF people and other serious cases tying up the beds. Overall, everyone seems to be adjusting well to the situation. It is difficult to realize that my next trip will be December already and making plans for our Rice and Goats fund to be distributed at Christmas, as this year it will be most appreciated again, as the exchange rate is 74 Goudes to 1 USD, making life a struggle for especially our 30 people who make less than $100 US/month. So I thank you all in advance for making this possible, we all greatly appreciate it.

In His Service,

Bill, Duane, Ruth, Tabitha and Zella

The Haitian Donkey and friends enjoy working in warm Haitian weather

Hi All:
Well, maybe that applies more to the Donkey than friends. Karen told me Sunday afternoon that it was hotter and sweatier in Grand Rapids than here, where we have had some decent breezes and I am loving it. Duane looks ok, but son Mike, son in law Josh and 2 grandsons are a bit redder than they might like due to the sun. They have been working on moving the fence back a ways as someday, the government has plans to widen the road by the hospital and wanted us to move the fence back. I think they have that pretty much done except for what the Haitian men will do in the next couple of weeks to secure the fence bottom to the ground again. They are adding a roof by the Community Health (vaccinations, other USAID programs) building. Things seem to be progressing well for them as they leave Thursday morning back for the US.

Mike Ver Kaik is quite adept at mechanical things, such as car repairs, so he will take the Kia to Rod and Debbie’s tomorrow to replace the rear brakes and a few other items, as they have a real repair shop and likely more tools than we do. He also is good at making meals and we don’t suffer for our combined night meals. Last night we were doing the dishes together and I was finishing running my antibiotic in the self contained bulb and his curiosity got the better of him. He took the empty system apart with a serrated kitchen knife to figure out how it worked, it was a bit of a surprise to both of us how the rather simple mechanism works so very well.

Dave Weener, Kurt Kooienga and I came on Saturday and will leave next Saturday. We had a smooth trip in, both flights arrived early so we could truck and make it to our gate in Philadelphia despite the tight connection. It is getting very difficult to find a flight that goes all the way through on one day, as I need to keep my TPN (my “lunch”) cold and is reasonably affordable, etc. As the summer flights are always packed with missions teams from churches, etc, we expect that during that season, but I have been working on September and October and not getting much cooperation there either. I did email the airlines to ask them why they are getting rid of so many flights and got the standard answer that they constantly review finances and reduce flights to areas that are not profitable. Understandable but a bit discouraging for our plans.

Dave and Kurt are working with Caleb in construction, so he arranged for us to come in their vehicle. I thought it was their pickup, so when no one appeared to pick us up, I wandered the length of the rather large parking lot (compared to the volume run through Port au Prince airport), but couldn’t find Caleb’s truck. It appears that Jean Eddy had been sitting on the ground as we were late leaving Miami due to a thunderstorm holding up the works and missed us in the sea of white faces passing through. Fortunately, I have a number of acquaintances at the airport over the years and could borrow a phone and call Rod who made connections and we were on our way. Caleb had sent their car instead of the truck, a lot more nondescript and I went by it twice as didn’t have that vehicle as well ingrained in my mind, even if I was looking for the car, which I wasn’t. I certainly would not want to come to Haiti without connections!

Duane and company spent the weekend at Rod and Debbie’s, so I eating alone and was preparing my breakfast Sunday morning. Admittedly, my mind works best later in the day, but I was going to fry some eggs. We had some left over from last month and I thought I would use the older ones first. Allegedly, unwashed eggs don’t need to be refrigerated? Since undergoing chemotherapy, I often have some nausea in the morning and try to carefully fight it. The 3rd egg was a half grown chick that had died and rotted and I ended up tossing the entire 3 that I was preparing as the stench filled the room and then some. It also ended up terminating my desire to eat eggs that morning and I ended up eating rice and beans with fish from the night before instead.

Moise and I have been busy keeping the hospital, and specifically, surgery and ultrasound, going. The surgeries went well today, for which we are thankful. Of interest is that, normally, there are a number of family members hanging around the patient and the hospital, curious as to what is going on. Though we had a goodly number of patients to see and to treat, there was a significant reduction in onlookers. I also heard some noise down in the records room and went to investigate. There was a horde of off duty employees, friends and who knows who all crowded around a TV screen they had wired to the homemade antenna up on the roof, rooting for Brazil in the World Cup. Apparently the government cut off electricity during the soccer matches to punish the people for rioting last week, so we were running our generators to keep the hospital going and they were benefiting from our power supply, It appears the games go on for a while, but, hopefully they don’t all cause as much interest. I suppose, this is some entertainment for a country with so few causes for smiles and joy.

It appears that the Gentamycin is helping fight my strange infection again. It seems that “Rosie,”as we have named this troublesome critter, is back for the third round. We cannot grow it in the lab, so it is somewhat of a guessing game as to what antibiotic to use. I want to get it under control so I can undergo the next cancer treatment on Monday when I get back, as they have strict regulations and I don’t want to get removed from the study. So, would appreciate your prayers for all of the above, both in thanksgiving for His kindness to us as well as asking Him for wisdom, strength and guidance as we serve Him here in warm, comfortable, at least for donkeys, Haiti at Centre de Sante Lumiere.

In His Service,

Ben, Dave, Duane, Josh, Kurt, Michael, Mike, and The Haitian Donkey

The Haitian Donkey and family celebrate Easter and plan to return home

Hi All:
I have been waiting to send an update for Dr. Bartlett to read my latest CT scan and give his advice, but so far, I haven’t heard back from him and likely need to call his office Monday and see if they ever received the CD of it. Since I am now in the Phase 1 experimental program, the tests are all scheduled by them and they insisted on doing it through Spectrum Health. I asked Spectrum to send a CD to Dr. Bartlett, as we have done the last 26 times, but it is different than the small place I have been going to the last 5 years, where there was only one tech, I paid cash for the test each time on the spot (Insurance didn’t cover CTs, much to our amazement) and I think things were more organized and personal, although one time it took 3 mailings to get one to Pennsylvania? However, a number of you have asked how the guinea pig is tolerating his treatments and I felt it wise to get an update out before we leave next weekend, as we greatly appreciate the faithful prayer that so many raise up to our Saviour on our behalf and want to keep you informed.

The reading of the CT in Grand Rapids by Spectrum was that there was some metastasis to the lungs and progressive growth in the abdomen, something not unexpected with this relentless cancer. When they received the fax of the reading, Dr. Bartlett’s nurse called and asked if they were going to get the CD and promised to call back when they read it, that was 2 weeks ago and the mail isn’t always the fastest. She said that they wanted to be sure I was undergoing some treatment and seemed happy with the immunotherapy. I have made many trips between our office on the west side of Grand Rapids and the experimental cancer center on the east side, always during the busier times of the day but I am hoping that we will now taper down to only once weekly as we get further along in the trials. Each time they will increase the dose until I get unacceptable side effects (and I have no idea what to look for, not sure they do either). So, each time I go, they check an EKG, some labs, a brief physical, a bunch of questions and then I wait to leave til the bunch of labs come back to return to my office and patients. Sometimes it is a bit irritating, but then I remember the last trial was in Pittsburgh and the whole week was shot each time, so thankful I can do some work around their schedules. Also, I can sleep in my own bed each night, Karen can be home with her kitties, etc and we can have a semi normal schedule. I seem to be a bit more fatigued and nauseated on the regimen, but tolerable and praying that it is doing something to slow the growth of the cancer.

Our plan is for Karen, Dan Boerman and I to leave early Saturday morning, meet up with our Nurse Practitioner friend, Tabitha Sheen, in Chicago, then hook up with our Dutch friends, Evert Bek (he hails from Lowell, MI, a most impressive repairman in our 2 trips together so far) and his niece, Petra, in Miami for our week in Haiti at CSL. Since I am of the opinion that Dan can fix almost anything (haven’t found anything yet he is not afraid to tackle) we should have a good week of righting the wrongs in the functionings of the hospital with that duo. Additionally, we have some administrative issues to address and try to resolve, something very difficult for me, as I don’t consider that the Lord blessed me with great administrative skills. So, would appreciate prayer for resolution in a God honoring fashion for that issue also.

We pray that you all will have a most blessed Easter season as we once again consider the incredible price Christ was willing to pay for our redemption and eternal destiny. Thank you, as always, for all your prayer and support for our efforts to serve our Risen Savior in sharing His love with our Haitian brothers and sisters. Each time I read the gospels, I am humbled by the fact that Jesus, our Example, time and again, was weary and yet had compassion on the needy people who thronged to Him for healing and hope.

In His (Thankful) Service,

Bill, Dan, Evert, Karen, Petra and Tabitha

A chilled Haitian donkey straggles around in frigid Michigan

Hi All:

The week wrapped up very nicely with us getting most of the projects done in a reasonable fashion. I remain impressed by how well the team worked together as we were quite a mixture of backgrounds and skills tossed together for a week of work in the warmth. Several souls decided to pull an all nighter on Friday evening, as we left at 1 am anyway, the tireder ones like myself caught a few winks before departure. Usually, it is my job to keep an extra set of eyes on the road while Jean Eddy drives, as there are many vehicles without running or brake lights, some even without headlights and blinkers, that is just a superfluous commodity that is not worth maintaining. Plus, there are animals and people who wander along the sides even in the wee hours, so we keep each other awake and alert and looking for surprises. However, this time, due to the size of our group, we rented a bus. Jean Eddy had left the day before to get Duane and the 5 others who are still there laying tile and other improvement projects, he got stuck in the protests at the halfway point for several hours as the commercial truck tires had been slashed and the road totally blocked. Thus, he wanted to leave early and try to run through the blockades before they were fully awake. He also refused to let us go alone as he is very protective and responsible for all the travelers he guides in and out of Port and to Cayes.

So, as I didn’t have to look for interesting activities on the road, I briefly closed my eyes and woke up 3 hours later in Port au Prince. Needless to say, I didn’t give him the promised $50 US bonus I always offer to give the drivers if they will go more cautiously. So far, no one has taken me up on the extra money. I worry about accidents and also hitting some of the pedestrians, who often don’t show a lot of street smarts and add to the list of trauma victims. We had one 3 years ago, were sure she was probably dead but one cannot stop and help/check out things, as the mobs will lynch you. You go to the next police station and report the situation and let them handle it, similar to what we had to do in Africa. Fortunately, she only had a broken leg, not that that is to be belittled, but safety is not high on the list of priorities for either drivers or pedestrians, it seems. As we were at the airport at 4:15 am, we cajoled him into letting us sit in the comfort of the bus for a bit as he wouldn’t have to go to his loading station til 6 am and that was maybe 20 minutes away. It beat sitting on the dirty cement floors in front of the airport.  As he had the door open for air, the mosquitoes invaded, but they would have troubled us in the open air anyway.

Flights home went well except for delays in Chicago, not sure why, and we got home well after midnight. I got my IV antibiotics in by 3 am and then did the TPN, rather late, but not a lot of choice. I can run the fluids going down to Haiti, as the Grand Rapids TSA folks are friends and, though thorough, they do expedite the process by having 2 people search us and our carryons and send us on our way, thankfully. Not so much on the return trip, so try to drink as much as I can to stay hydrated and make up for it on Sunday if possible and leave myself unhooked for the trip. Pray that Duane and his crew can get the tiling done decently and in order in the time frame allotted them.

I ran the IV antibiotics all the way to and from Haiti and during my time there and for 2 days after the return. I then rechecked the infection count (WBC) and, although better, is still elevated. I have run blood cultures from both my central line and from my arm, they return negative, but I still feel and act like I have an infection and the Haitian donkey drags himself around a bit slower than he would like. Pray that we can resolve this and get me back on the road to recovery. I have been able to work pretty much full time both here and in Haiti, for which I am VERY thankful to our Lord, as I don’t sit still all that well. I had another consultation with my oncologist, he wants to do immunotherapy, but will look into things before committing myself to this, especially as insurance doesn’t cover this and not sure if it will even help? Needless to say, this also needs prayer for wisdom and direction from our Lord.

Once Again, Thanks for your prayers and support for our work for our Lord in Haiti at CSL.

In His Service

Bill, Bob, Brad, Brian, Butch, Craig, Gord, Heather, Ian, Julie, Kathy, Margie, Montana, Sarah, Sawyer, Terri, Theresa