Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Boy In Pink Tennis Shoes - and other snapshots from Haiti

I arrived home last night from a great month in Haiti. I can honestly say that I "left everything I had on the field" on this trip. We finished surgeries very late Friday evening, and I was at the airport in Haiti at 6:00 am Saturday morning. Memories from this trip are kind of cloudy due to the length of the trip along with sort of an emotional protection. I saw so many things that no human being should have to endure on this trip it is mind boggling.

Some of the memories include:

The flight attendant on the Haiti to Turks and Caicos flight announcing "in the likely event you need a life preserver..." Granted, it was one of those things lost in translation, it still made me pause. I like the definition of faith that it means willingly placing ourselves in situations that are so desperate, only God can provide the way out. Living a life of true faith means it is very likely we will need the life preserver.

Sitting outside the consultation room one day, I watched a teenage boy walk by. Neat and clean, chatting happily with his friends - Wearing pink and white Nike running shoes. Obviously shoes intended for the other gender, but cherished and worn without shame by this good looking kid. It's funny how our priorities are changed by our circumstances.

One of the teachers at the secondary school at the parish, Williams, had asked me to meet with him while in Haiti. At one point early in the trip Williams had brought his father in law into our ER after mistaking him for a burglar one night and beating him severely with a club. As dark as the nights are in Haiti, this type of thing is a pretty frequent occurrence. I was finally able to meet with Williams, and heard a great proposal to restart a computer training program at the school. They had two old computers (for over 200 students) that are now beyond repair. They are hoping for a donation of 4 or 5 computers to restart the program. I will write more on this later.

A man came to us in March requesting a hernia repair. He even went ahead and paid in advance for the surgery. No surgeons have been willing to do the repair due to the size of the hernia - Think small watermelon. God called Dr. Jo V J. Dignadice to come to Haiti for a couple of weeks. She took a look at the patient and said "no problem". After opening up the patient she found several feet of bowel herniated, and was able to successfully repair the hernia during a 3 hour procedure. She even "happened" to bring along some surgical mesh, which allowed the surgery to even be possible. The patient is doing well. Due to the number of cases, we had doubled up tables in the OR to speed things along before we started this case. This allowed us to complete all of our scheduled general anesthesia cases for the week.

It has taken me a week to recover from last Sunday. I made 3 separate trips in the ambulance with critically injured accident victims. As I pulled into the government hospital with the second patient, I was stunned to see someone wheeling out a corpse, wrapped in blue plastic, on a 2 wheel hand cart. The patient I was delivering was a 6 year old little boy that had been hit and then run over by a truck. With a fractured arm and hip, and missing a lot of skin and muscle over his buttocks as well, he needed surgery fast. As usual, the family did not have the funds to pay for the surgery. Your support allowed me to assist them financially in getting him registered, medicated, and scheduled for surgery. Unfortunately, the x-ray department had decided to close so he would have to wait until Monday morning for his surgery. He was placed in a bed next to a naked, horribly injured, dead man. When I returned with the next patient 4 hours later, neither he nor the dead man had been moved. There were so many traumas there Sunday night, my shoes were sticky from wading through all the mixture of blood when I walked out.

On Thursday evening, while sitting on our hospital steps, a middle aged Haitian man stopped to visit. He had some small tourist boxes that he was trying to sell. As he explained to me that he had to sell some to get some food for his family - I believed him - It killed me to tell him that I had no money. As I said I left everything on the field this trip. I had exactly enough cash left to purchase my plane ticket on Saturday. I wish I could tell you that I acted on faith, bought some of his boxes, and helped him feed his family that day. I didn't. I was so emotionally spent that I couldn't imagine risking not being able to not going home.

I am praying for this kind of faith. The kind of faith that tells Jo V and her sister to travel to Haiti for reasons they don't understand, and with barely enough funds to even get there. Trusting God to get them home.

The flight attendant then went into the next part of her spiel, saying "in the likely event you need oxygen...". God, help me to live life in such a way that I will need you to preserve me daily and provide the very air I breathe.

Peace and grace,

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Good week

As I held a newborn baby in my arms on Thursday, the unfairness of life really struck home. Here lay a beautiful little child, innocent, but simply by being born where she was, destined to a life far different than that of the children of you an me. Instead of a life of pure luxury, this child will soon face a daily quest just for a meal, travel consisting of riding in the back of trucks packed in like cattle, having to bathe in and drink unsanitary water, and living in a level of poverty that no American can comprehend. As my tears fell on this beautiful little girl, I could only smile through them and pray that God will somehow make life different in Haiti, if only for this one little girl.

We had a very busy week. Surgeries daily. As in the past the Haitian health ministry is working with us in providing our nurse anesthetists for our surgeries. Only God could foster the level of cooperation we have achieved with them. One of the coolest parts of the week was when we held a pediatric vaccination clinic on Wednesday at our hospital. It too was supported by the Ministry of Health. The stoic looks on the kid's faces as they received their immunizations was priceless. 

We are anticipating another busy week ahead. A general surgeon arrives Monday evening for a 10 day stay. She will give Dr. Visani, our visiting Urologist, some much needed relief, as well as allow us to operate on 2 or 3 additional patients each day.

It is very easy to get overwhelmed by the "big picture" when working in Haiti. When holding the little baby, by focusing on her beauty, and the beauty of her creation, the harshness of the reality of her life ahead faded for a moment. I have to tell myself daily - One Haitian at a time. If I can just share God's love with that one, it will have been a good day.

Peace and grace,

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Heartbroken For Haiti

I so wish that I was a good enough writer to be able to convey "real Haiti" for you. I recently read that 26,000 children die every day from malnutrition and treatable diseases. We have had our share of these and other senseless deaths in Haiti this week.

I was called to the hospital during mass this morning to help with 2 people. One had experienced severe head and chest trauma 3 days earlier. His wife had not brought him to a hospital because she had no money. At first, she even refused the transport of his comatose body due the government hospital where at least x-rays could be taken. When assured that there would be no charge, and assistance provided with the hospital costs, you could literally see her relax with relief.

The other patient, a young woman in her late twenties, had died inexplicably earlier this morning. It was definitely one of those bizarre cases, where things just didn't feel right. The fact that no one was wailing really confused me along with the fact that even though I could find no pulse, or other sign of life, her body never grew cold as is normal. The arrival of a bokor in the room - voodoo doctor - further complicated the situation. Suspecting poisoning, I suggested that we go ahead and run a full code on her. The family refused any treatments. The absence of wailing was explained to me that it is used to send away the spirit. In this case, they needed the spirit to remain. The bokor's presence was to do other things to insure the spirit remained in the body. Apparently, with the family's consent, this was a case of zombification.

Driving back from the hospital after delivering the first patient, I was struck with a heartbreak that I haven't felt here in a while. In other words, I lost it for a little while. Picturing the wife of the victim sitting at home for almost 3 days, watching her comatose husband, praying he would at least utter a word. Then, out of utter desperation, bringing him to the hospital, knowing she didn't have the money to pay for his care. The look of sheer desperation on her face, later turned to one of relief and gratitude would touch the hardest of hearts.

Sure, you see things everyday here that would be seen as the worst of tragedies at home. I guess the culmination of it all really hit me again this morning. It helps me understand why God has me in Haiti. A country with over 9 million people without even a functioning CAT scan machine, oncology unit, on and on the list could go. Unfortunately, the most basic of medical care imaginable is beyond most of these 9 million people's reach.

I pray that somehow God will break all of our hearts, for people just like you and me, who have to exisit in these conditions.

Peace and grace,

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Haiti Health

Very busy, but very productive days in Haiti. With the arrival of Dr. Visani last weekend, our surgical suite has been running full blast. This involves seeing at least 50 patients a day for surgical consults, then scheduling the appropriate ones for their surgery. In my free time, I also keep the OR supplied with all of the medications, instruments, and supplies needed for the many cases Sandro is doing. When needed, I also go in to the OR and act as First Assistant on cases where he needs an extra set of hands. Very cool, but very time consuming with everything else going on. It was hilarious the first time Sandro sent Joseph the translator out to tell me "Randy,Dr. Sandro needs an extra set of hands". The look on Joseph's face told me that he had no idea how we were going to literally make that happen!

In addition to our busy surgery days, one of our hospital doctors is currently out on medical leave. This means that during the night, our on-call doctor is many miles away. As a result, 4 or 5 times a night I get a knock on my door and hear "Randy, l'hopital", meaning there is a patient the nurses need help with. Typically it is an uncomplicated delivery, but way too often it is a critically ill patient needing transport to a larger hospital. This is when I get to put on my ambulance driver name tag. A lot of those trips this week. Fortunately, the Haitian doctor's maternity leave, unknowingly, coincided with my visit here. She is scheduled to return before I leave. I love seeing God take care of things like this.

The hemophilia program is ready to get started in a big way. We have over 10 patients identified at this point. We are currently submitting proposals for the funding of this program to pharmaceutical companies, as the scope and costs for this program are much greater than our current fund raising can support.

I met with the staff at the Shada clinic last week. They are willing to continue working in the clinic for free for a couple of months with the agreement that I will try and raise the support to pay them in addition to Dr. Jeanty when I return home the end of the month.

A common view out my exam room door
One of the most faith inspiring aspects of working in Haiti is watching how God opens the right doors and constantly demonstrates His power. We have had several patients needing surgeries for things that outside of Dr. Visani's scope of expertise. I got an email from a General Surgeon I met at the MMI meeting in August yesterday telling me that she had found a very cheap plane ticket, and would like to come to Haiti on the 20th and help until the end of the month. Problem solved in a way that only God could solve it.

Peace and grace,

Monday, September 6, 2010

Where's God?

A young friend of mine who visited Haiti this summer recently blogged about his visit and work here. In his writing, he alluded to the difficulty he had in "seeing God" in Haiti. The greed, violence, poverty, corruption, and filth can indeed make it hard to find God here. Perhaps it is in this "Godlessness" that Haiti cries out the loudest. As Jesus taught and lived, those who are healthy don't need the Doctor. I am convicted that Haiti is a county we are called to serve as Christians.

I am currently re-reading the book "Radical" by David Platt. It presents the very convincing argument that to remain safe, and comfortably living our American dream, is probably about as far  from Christianity as one can be. Radical? Yes. In reading the gospels and figuring out how to really live them out, we are called to a radically different life than those around us.

Saying "yes" to God is not easy. At times, it is like recovering from addiction in that it calls for living minute to minute in continuing surrender. My will is so strong. My life at home can be so comfortable. Security is so very alluring. God calls me to surrender all to Him. Am I really willing to give it all up for Him? When I look at the absence of God in places like Haiti, can I live knowing that this blood will be on my hands if I don't?

Peace and grace,

Friday, September 3, 2010

Busy Days

I am back in the swing of things in Haiti. The days are very busy doing clinic work and distributing medical supplies. I spent the day yesterday assisting a group of visiting physicians train Haitian doctors and nurses how to perform no scalpel vasectomies. I think I have it down and will be glad to try it on anyone when I return home!

Due to this training, I had to postpone the Port au Prince trip to next week. Have been in communications with St. Damien's Hospital there regarding meeting with their hemophilia patients during the visit next week. They have lost contact with several of the following the earthquake. Hopefully they have just been displaced.

I worked with Shada clinic on Wednesday. I was sad to learn the the funds we raised to open the clinic an additional day each week, only covered the doctor's fee. The staff of 4 is not happy about working another day each week for free. We really need to raise an additional $300 each month to pay the staff. I know God will use his people to allow this to happen.

I am now off to the airport to pick up Dr. Visani. Everyone is very excited about his return. He purposely retire from his practice in the States at the age of 50 to begin doing medical mission work. Now at 67, he is a wealth of knowledge, stories, and love. It will be good to see Sandro again.

Peace and grace,