Nearly one year ago I landed at Port au Prince airport in a private jet, stepping onto the tarmac to be greeted by the hot Haitian sun and what seemed to be complete chaos.
A gracious donor had offered the services of his jet to get a handful of us into the earthquake zone. Hours later the jet took off and three of us were wandering through rubble-filled streets, trying to determine how Operation Smile’s surgical team, close behind, could be most effective. Thus began some of the most intense weeks of my life.
In April, driving from the Dominican Republic through a very difficult border crossing, I arrived in Haiti to facilitate the final surgical team at Fond Parisien’s Disaster Recovery Center. Operation Smile teams had volunteered at this “primary school turned field hospital” for three months.
During this final week of surgeries, I saw many people leave their crutches and wheelchairs behind as their injuries were diagnosed healed and ready for walking. The field hospital has since returned to serving as a school, and Operation Smile switched focus to more permanent efforts in Haiti.
In June, I found myself touching down again to coordinate life support training for Haitian doctors and nursesin the Central Plateau. Working with Partners in Health, 125 certifications in Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) and Basic Life Support (BLS) were issued, and we received reports that the newly acquired skills were put into practice only days later when a patient went into cardiac arrest in the hospital.
Providing further education opportunities for healthcare providers remains a focus for Operation Smile in Haiti. From September 26-30, Operation Smile conducted a cleft feeding training for medical personnel and 40 parents with children born with cleft lips and cleft palates.
As Partners In Health opens their new teaching hospital next year (which will be the main teaching hospital in Haiti), Operation Smile has been asked to be heavily involved in the surgical training, in addition to continuing with Life Support training.
It is also exciting to see how Operation Smile is being called on to offer guidance and logistical support on the design and outfitting of two new surgical facilities in Haiti, using the lessons learned from providing surgery worldwide and tapping into the incredible knowledge and experience of our medical volunteers.
The news coming out of Haiti right now seems to be overwhelmingly discouraging, and I hurt for the people of Haiti as I hear about challenge after challenge that they face. But I am glad Operation Smile is able to offer knowledge, services and funds to help rebuild their surgical capacity and advance safe healthcare.
- Mark Beers, Administrative Director, Medical Oversight & Disaster Response, Operation Smile
(Mark Beers, right, with a medical volunteer in Fond Parisien, Haiti)
From September 26-30, 2010, Operation Smile medical volunteer Scott Dailey, a speech language pathologist from University of Iowa, held feeding training for 40 parents and their infants at St. Damiens Hospital in Port au Prince and Zamni Lasante Hospital in Cange, Haiti. The course provided training for parents on low cost feeding interventions as well as demonstrations on helpful feeding techniques to prevent malnutrition and help babies with cleft lip and cleft palate gain enough weight to undergo cleft surgery safely.
The training program not only equipped parents and Haitian healthcare providers - physicians, nurses, midwives, medical students and nutrition personnel - with information on cleft lip and cleft palate feeding, speech problems/development and surgical repair, but offered feeding solutions such as syringes, spoons, nasogastric tubes, cups and special cleft feeding bottles for parents to use with their child.
- Maria de la Torre, Managing Director Education, Operation Smile
We are pleased to announce the successful completion of the training mission in Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) and Basic Life Support (BLS) training in Haiti. From June 9-17, we trained 98 doctors and nurses in BLS, and 27 doctors and a pediatric nurse in ACLS.
We worked in two sites at Zanmi Lasante, at Cange, for the first week and Hinche during the second week. The participants were very excited and satisfied with the training, and all the other employees at the hospital wished they could take the class in the future.
The fact is, we didn't end our training at Hinche - doctors and nurses at Cange practiced ACLS on a patient who suffered from cardiac arrest. They did succeed in resuscitating the patient. This training for medical volunteers would not be possible without all the people who have worked hard to make it happen.
Special thanks to Jose Luis Diaz, the instructor, who worked so hard teaching BLS and ACLS during the first week before the Colombian instructors finally left Miami to Haiti. Great thanks to Hernando Restrepo Gil and Diego Fernando Valencia Zuluaga who have taught many animated BLS classes.
From Operation Smile headquarters, we want to thank Ana Power who visited us, and Mark Beers, who planned this training and took care of every single detail.
Finally we send our gratitude to the people at the office, at Operation Smile, the participants, the volunteers and everyone who help us to succeed those two weeks.
- Ana Powers, Regional Programs Manager
Operation Smile in Haiti, Port-Au-Prince, Haiti
We are very happy to report that 35 more surgical procedures were performed in Fond Parisien from April 15-19, all but wrapping up Operation Smile’s Haiti Relief efforts at the Disaster Recovery Center. Most of the patients receiving surgery had been under the care of Operation Smile volunteers for several months, and for many, these follow up surgeries concluded their need for surgical and orthopedic intervention.
The team successfully removed all of the external fixation devices that were ready, and prescribed definitive ongoing care for the few patients that were not ready for this step. It was great seeing these cumbersome contraptions come off, and the patients were so happy to be rid of them. A few patients required more complicated interventions because their bones had not been healing as hoped. Thanks to the resources now available at the recovery center, we had a great “operating room” that provided the clean, comfortable space needed to do those operations safely.
Operation Smile has now been actively involved in the Disaster Recovery Center for 3 full months. The difference between now and when we first arrived in January, of both the patients and the facility, is astounding. Some patients that were bedridden for months are walking around completely unassisted. The amputees are slowly getting fitted for prostheses, and physical therapists are running large group sessions where each patient enthusiastically participates as best they can, regaining strength and confidence and inspiring everyone watching. The site is running smoothly and peacefully. There is even a playground that has been constructed for the children in the camp. Our patients know that they have found something very special and often express their appreciation for the care being provided.
The success of this site is due to a number of different groups working together for a common purpose. Love a Child, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, University of Chicago Medical Center, Albert Einstein Hospital from Brazil, the disaster response team from Ecuador and a number of others all worked together in this effort. And we are proud to say that the work of Operation Smile and the 100+ volunteers we have sent to this site has been an essential part of the success of the Disaster Recovery Center in Fond Parisien.
Driving through Port au Prince this past week, it was clear that Haiti is still suffering greatly from the devastating January earthquake. The patients and families that have been gradually leaving the field hospital don’t know what the next few years will look like. There is so much help still needed in Haiti, but we are encouraged by the fact that we were able to address these patients and their injuries in a responsible caring way. Hopefully, now Operation Smile can continue to be involved in the long term recovery of Haiti.
The last photo attached here shows one of our orthopedic surgeons, Dara Parvin, and the patient that he was most thrilled about. When she arrived in Fond Parisien, one leg had been amputated and the other was severely broken. Dr. Parvin and the Operation Team repaired her broken tibia back in February, placing a rod through the bone. Since then, not only has she recovered from that procedure but she has also received a prosthetic leg that she is learning how to use. Not long ago she did not have one functioning leg, but now she has two. And when she tried on these scrub pants that Dr. Parvin gave to her, it was hard to tell that she had a prosthesis at all!
-Mark Beers, Program Coordinator
I returned home from Haiti on April 21st after taking over as charge nurse. Our team was there from April 10-21 and it was such a busy time, that it is only now that I can reflect on the enormity of the collective injury to the Haitian people. Like Lisa, the previous charge nurse, I was in charge of discharges and it was so heartbreaking to see how many families have been shattered. Children are now being raised by their elderly grandparents after losing both parents, or have been "adopted" by aunts or uncles whose own children they struggled to feed before the earthquake. When it came time to leave the field hospital, many only had one place to go - the refugee camp about a kilometer down the road. We gave everyone tents, cots, a cooking kit and as many other things that we could spare. I had mixed feelings as I saw them loading all their belongings into the back of the tap-tap (the local Haitian cab service) to be transported down the road. I wonder what the future holds for them and if they'll ever receive the long-term help - such as education, opportunity and jobs - that they need.
Our Operation Smile surgical volunteer team also removed many of the external fixators that had been placed several months ago. Many of the patients I took care of in February (on my first tour of duty) are now up and walking. I was so delighted to see Denise Luxe, one of my previous patients who had bilateral femur fixators, walking around camp the day after her fixators were removed. It was also great to see many of the leg amputees receive their prosthetics. My discharge supply room was right next to the prosthetic room, so I was lucky enough to see many of them learning how to go up and down the stairs for the first time with their new leg. There was also 2 little girls, about 8 years old, who were both amputees on crutches. They would race around the camp and would be constantly laughing. It was as if they had no idea that they both were missing a leg.
Having such awesome nurses on our team made my job as a charge nurse so much more bearable! It's amazing how nurses who have never met or worked together before, can make such a solid team. They were so willing to do whatever I needed them to do, and no one complained despite the long hours, heat alternating with torrential downpours, and the mosquitoes.
On our last evening in Haiti, our team received 2 wonderful bits of news. Marie Ange (about 2 years old) who had sustained severe neck and facial burns, had been accepted to begin a year-long process of staged surgeries in the United States. And then there was McKendy, a 12- or 13 year-old boy who had been living on the streets. He had some minor physical problems, but major behavioral and psychological issues. The entire camp had befriended him, but despite best efforts, there was no place in Haiti to place him. Well, on the last day, his mother and grandmother showed up (they had not seen him for 4 years) and to our great relief, McKendy was delighted to be reunited with them and anxious to go home. A huge relief to everyone! Just a couple of happy stories in a country that desperately needs more happy stories for the future.
-Cathie Hauritz, Nurse Volunteer
Plastic Surgery Pulse News recently published a story from Rafael Gottenger, MD, PA, a medical volunteer who helped coordinate Operation Smile’s efforts in Haiti. He discusses how, when a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit the island country of Haiti, Operation Smile immediately sent a team of 20 medical personnel to provide limb-saving and life-saving care for the victims.
Since then, Operation Smile has deployed more than eight teams of highly-trained medical volunteers and nearly six tons of vital medical supplies and equipment across three locations in Haiti to provide critical surgeries and perioperative care.
Today is day 5 for some of the OSI team members here in Fond Parisien, Haiti and we are becoming quite the family here in this truly inspiring compound. Seeing the stoicism, stamina and physical and emotional strength of this amazing society leaves me speechless. To both witness and participate (in a very small way) in the realities of life now for these lovely people is an incredibly humbling experience. They share amongst themselves the basic necessities they now own; they greet you good morning and wave as we walk that morning walk to the communal showers; and they smile the biggest smiles when we come out of surgery with their possibly one remaining family member or friend in some instances, showing their true appreciation of all the team members who have helped. I feel truly blessed to be part of this experience, helping in some way to contribute to rebuilding the lives of these wonderful people. They have a long way to go, but they just take it in stride and stay positive each day. Each day brings another day of hope, support and friendship from us here in Fond Parisien. It took a long time to get here from Brisbane, Australia, but the journey home will be very quick as my mind will relive everyday's experience here, each with its own special memory. Today's experience was the best....
After finishing a 2-hour orthopedic surgery on a 15-year-old girl with a crush injury and fractures from the earthquake, I went for a walk back to the Ecuador room for a quick drink of water and passed a 16-year-old boy washing his grandmother, while she sat on a plastic chair. He crouched beside her, with two buckets of water and gently washed her face and back with soapy water and rinsed her clean. He then pulled her hair away from her face and put a clip in it, and then turned and caught me standing and smiling. He smiled back and winked and said, “Bonjour madam!” I gulped down the huge lump in my throat and warbled back a faint, “Bonjour Monsieur and Madam!!” It was a good start to the day!!!
-Lee O'Malley, Clinical Coordinator - Australia
The Operation Smile surgical team was in full swing today at the Disaster Recovery Center in Fond Parisien, Haiti. We completed 15 surgeries. Many of those were the removal of external fixation devices that patients wear while their bones mend. It is great seeing patients who we have been working with for nearly 3 months finally healed and walking without any assistance.
-Mark Beers, Program Coordinator
Before I leave on Saturday to head back down to Haiti, I wanted to give you an update on what we have been doing at our site in Fond Parisien.
Since we arrived in Haiti on January 25th, Operation Smile has had a continual presence at the Disaster Recovery Center in Fond Parisien, about an hour outside of Haiti. After sending 4 surgical teams and providing more than 250 procedures, we closed the operating rooms but continued sending teams of nurses to care for all of the post-operative patients living in the tent hospital. We have our 11th team there right now. I get so many comments from the other groups serving at the camp about how wonderful our nurses are!
Next week, the operating rooms open once again as we send a full surgical team to follow up with our patients in the tent hospital. We are excited to send patients on their way, fully recovered. Some of the patients will need follow-up surgery, which also will be provided by this next team.
Overall, the reports we receive regarding the patients and the camp are very encouraging. The majority of the injuries have progressed well and spirits are surprisingly high considering what these families have been through. The facilities at the camp have gotten better and better, thanks to all the different groups contributing to the effort. Someone even mentioned a playground being built for the many children running around the camp! I look forward to coming back with more pictures and patient stories to tell you.
-Mark Beers, Program Coordinator
What a day! I am in charge of all the discharges, and today I discharged 17 families, and 13 of them have actually physically left. Some of the families are eager to go, and others I think are scared because who knows what the future holds. There have been many kisses, hugs and good-byes today. It is an odd feeling having people carry all they own, get on the back of a truck and head off to an IDP (internally displaced person) camp. When they leave here, they can have tents, mattresses, a pail with rice, oil, soap, shampoo, diapers, feminine products, and cookies. This is how they will start the next phase of their lives. Each family also recieves enough money to go to wherever they need to go.
One young man that came last night has been sedated most of the day. Melissa was up with him most of the night, playing soccer at 1 a.m. At 5 a.m., he was once again ready to leave, and became very combative. We had to give him IM sedation again. A team of mental health experts came to assess him today, gave some suggestions, but said they had no place for him to go. I am trying to figure out who will stay with him tonight.
Today we had a woman that comes to triage almost every day. She has a baby that has an encephalocele. She also has a 5-year-old daughter. Alon has made arrangements with the hospital in PAP to do a CT scan, but this lady keeps coming back here. She came yesterday, stayed all night and finally this afternoon we saw her with her two daughters walk down to the gate to go into town. Last night they all slept in triage. It is so hard to really find out what is happening in people's lives – why does she not want to go? Why does she keep coming back here? Most days, you just feel like you cannot do enough!
The kids are as cute as ever – much more active now, so a few more head bruises and lacerations. I watched a group of kids play school. They are truly the life of the camp!
-Lisa Friesen, Nurse Medical Volunteer in Haiti
Today was a hard day here. This morning we had a young boy about 12-years-old wander into the camp with an obvious deformity to his left arm. He wanted a bandage for it. He is probably a street kid. After we had wrapped his arm for him, he decided he wanted to leave the hospital. He became very combative when we tried to stop him. Angela, a physician assistant who is working in the ER here, put her arms around him, and he started to shake. Then he just put his head to her chest and started to cry. This happened several times during the day. He became so scared when we tried to convince him to stay. How sad to see this young kid become so scared, and do whatever it took to try to defend himself. He asked for a shower. I took him to the bathroom and, on the way back, he saw a sink. He put his whole head under the sink, turned on the tap and just let the water run over his face. Then he smiled. He is very affectionate. When lunch was brought to him, he dug into the rice like he had not had a meal for a long time. Tonight, Melissa, one of our nurses who is such a gentle, kind soul, has set up her air mattress beside him in the Triage tent and will spend the night there. He absolutely loves her. When he was introduced to her, she sat close to him, and he put his face up against hers, rubbed noses with her and gave her a big kiss. Thursday, we will meet with an organization that cares for these types of kids and hopefully we can find a safe haven for him. I wonder if it was divine intervention for him to come here. I know we cannot do much to change his life, but maybe for a short while, he will know what it is like to feel safe, the way all little boys should feel.
Other than that, it was an incredibly busy day – lots of people in triage, most with minor complaints. Being in charge of the nurses has been great, because we have an incredible team.
Oh, the other good news, the lady with HIV got to go home today to see her baby – she was happy.
-Lisa Friesen, Nurse Medical Volunteer in Haiti
So far, today has been frustrating. We have a woman who delivered a 32-week-old infant two days ago. The baby was transferred to a hospital in Port Au Prince because of her prematurity and apnea. The mother was on HIV medication, but did not know that she had HIV. She is incredibly anemic. She just wanted to see her baby, and who can blame her. Her husband has been to the hospital and the staff will not talk to him or even tell him if his baby is there. The parents are very angry and upset. The mom was pleading, saying she just wanted to see her baby once and then she would be OK. We have tried calling the hospital and no one answers the phone. One of our translators, James who is 17-years-old, said he believed that if he could go with the parents he would be able to talk to the people at the hospital. So this afternoon, James and the parents will go to the hospital and see if they will find the baby. My fear is that the baby is no longer alive. I am so sad for this mom. In 24 hours, she found out she is HIV positive, and now she cannot find her baby. How much can a human being go through in their lifetime?
On the bright side, so many of the patients I saw when I was here last time are doing so well. A lot of the kids I do not recognize because they are no longer in a spica cast. Yesterday a father called my name, and he told me that his daughter was Clerizia, the little girl who had terrible PTSD. She lost her mother in the earthquake. Clerizia looks so happy – it is hard to believe she is the same girl. Geraldine, the twin who lost her leg, walked for the first time yesterday with a prosthetic limb. She is up and around everywhere. When I left here last time, she never left her tent. Mara, a 5-year-old who lost her leg, is happily hopping around with a walker, I cannot believe how fast these kids move with one limb. The best thing though is that they are all so joyful. Terrene, the lady who lost her baby in the earthquake, is also much better. She has life in her eyes again. It amazes me how the patients remember different people who have worked her. I have had so many hugs and welcome backs; it has been wonderful.
I am in charge of all the nursing staff. We have a great team of doctors and nurses. It is much less busy then the last time I was here. Now, there are more issues with needs for discharge, but that is a good thing, because that means that people are starting to think about the future and getting back to life outside the hospital.
-Lisa Friesen, Nurse Medical Volunteer in Haiti
It is so wonderful to be back in Haiti. The flight over was OK, except for a 3-hour delay out of Miami. The luggage area is quite interesting in Port Au Prince. The luggage is all unloaded, and if you are lucky, and smart enough not to own a black bag, you will find it. The traffic was quite amazing.
It is so great to be back here. Seeing the kids with amputations who now so happy, and walking around on their crutches. Most of the patients remember me, and I remember them. Lots of hugs and kisses last evening. I am doing patient care and triage this time. There is much more rehab to do now, since most patients are up and walking. One older lady, who only has her grandson left after the earthquake, told me today that I had gotten fatter since I left – hmmm, what do you say to that?
One of the nurses on our team, Melissa, is a heme-oncology nurse. She told me about one of her patients who has cancer. She is terminal, but insisted that she send something with us to Haiti, because she wanted to help. So Melissa arrived with a bag full of flip-flops and underwear. What a testimony for me – could I be that generous, if I was going through something like that?
Things are very different at the camp. We have showers now with water pressure. My roomie and I have a huge tent. There are two big tents that we will transfer the more vulnerable patients into when the rainy season hits.
-Lisa Friesen, Nurse Medical Volunteer in Haiti
I finished my last day in Fond Parisian. Tomorrow morning I will join the Children’s Hospital team in Cange, in the Central Plateau. I haven’t thought about leaving too much. The nice thing about this work is it keeps you busy right up to the end.
We organized the pharmacy stock room over the last few days. Even though there are probably nicer things to do in the heat than moving heavy boxes, it was important to get our stock organized and accessible, especially since it looks like this hospital will be around for a while.
I also spent time over the last few days working in the rows of tents. Working in the tents really shows you that this is more than a hospital – it is a very vibrant community. Patients socialize, listen to solar powered radios donated by the UN, braid hair, read (mostly the bible) and play. When you go in a tent to change a dressing or give a medication you are greeted and invited in like you are a special visitor in someone’s home. I have been visiting Jonas twice a day to give him his IV antibiotics. Since he doesn’t want to deal with an IV in his arm all the time I use a butterfly needle for each dose. In the evenings I do it by headlamp. He always greets me with a smile and holds out his arm! Tonight I went in and a little boy told me he went “walkie walkie”. I asked him to bring me to him, and he brought me to the outdoor church service, with the band playing and everyone singing along. Jonas smiled and held out his arm. I’ve never given an IV med in church before….
Sunday is a huge deal here. Everyone gets dressed to the nines for church in the morning, afternoon, and evening. There is music and really happy singing all day and into the night. There was also an outdoor baptism, in the fish pond. A couple of hundred people all walked, crutched, and wheelchaired across the compound in the afternoon sun to the pond, singing. Between services people look for shade where they can rest and socialize. In the morning when I visited my patients I asked them if they were going to church. I really wanted them to get out and it’s important to them. The first woman I asked became tearful, and said she couldn’t go because she didn’t have good clothes. She said she felt bad that she was missing church and would go more when she could to make up for it. Luckily Kelly, one of our nurse practitioners, had a skirt that she gave her. She gave a huge smile when I brought it to her, and spent the day outside her tent.
The hospital is also dealing with discharging patients in a disaster area. Most of these patients don’t have a home to go to. They may go to another camp for displaced persons, or to a tent. There are nearly twenty children here with no family at all. I keep thinking of how complicated a single discharge can be at home with all the resources we have. Multiply that a few times here… There are so many people whose lives have been uprooted on so many levels. And it can’t all be fixed. I think the most important goal here besides medical treatment is to help restore dignity in people’s lives, though. And that I think with enough thought and work, and with the incredible vibrancy of the people here, is achievable.
- Medical Volunteer
Our trip started out with an unexpected overnight stay in San Juan due to mechanical difficulties on two planes that we boarded and subsequently had to deplane! We became quite familiar with the people that shared our circumstances and through conversation determined that a Haitian man on the plane lives in Lebanon PA, just a few miles from where Robin and I are from!! He was going to visit his family in Haiti that had been affected by the earthquake. He is a pastor and coincidentally has an interview next week for a chaplain position at Hershey Medical Center...where Robin works! Small world? You bet.. and it gets even better. We exchanged contact information with him and explained that we would be at Love a Child (LAC) in Fond Parisien working as nurses representing Operation Smile. A few days later he showed up at LAC triage area with his niece and other family members. His niece, Farrah, had been in her home and was trapped by rubble. She suffered a head wound that was sutured, however she continues to suffer from headaches. She was treated in triage without hesitation. Our new friend and his family were very thankful and left feeling reassured.
I have met so many people from all over the world and it has been an honor and a privilege to be part of this wonderful mission. It is amazing to see people pushing their limits and working out of their comfort zones to make sure that every need is being met. It's hard to believe that this field hospital was only established two months ago. Every new health care worker that arrives is amazed at the efficiency and level of care being offered. It has been a privilege to work with these loving and caring professionals. This is the first time I have done anything like this but it certainly won't be my last.
- Medical Volunteer
I missed writing yesterday. I am done with night shifts for now. After waking up yesterday afternoon I helped out in triage for a while. There are two ER nurses from New York who are taking it over for now. A couple of kids came in with lacerations. It's pretty slippery everywhere so people are falling more. I helped out with a four year old who cut his scalp. We gave him a little versed to keep him calm, debrided the wound, and Sam, an ER doc who arrived that same day put a suture in. An older boy cut his foot on a rock playing soccer, and that was also cleaned and sutured. And then for the first time I slept in my tent!
This morning I did rounds with Holly in rows 8 and 5. She has really bonded with her patients, so each house call is accompanied by laughing and hugging. The patients love to hear us learning Kreyol - I am sure we must sound pretty funny. Some of the patients who are bedridden developed pretty serious pressure ulcers in the period after the earthquake, and the lack of regular physical therapy is also evident. One patient that is particulaly worrisome is a quadraplegic who has a large pressure ulcer to her sacrum. In first world countries those are problematic - here it's hard to imagine how it can be treated. The first impression you get in the tents is how happy people are. Greetings are warm and genuine, and people get real pleasure from each other's company. At the same time these are people whose lives have been turned upside down. Many of the kids were in school - more than a few speak English or Spanish proficiently. I watched one girl with both hands amputated. Simple things like eating or holding a cell phone are beyond her now. She had been studying business administration before the earthquake. Especially with the adults, there is often significant depression behind the smiles and warm greetings. And it rained off and on throughout the day. Rainy season is on everyone's minds.
I sometimes wonder what gets people through this, both victims and helpers. Nobody is really prepared for either role. The faith of the Haitian people amazes me. I walked through the rows of tents during the evening church service, and even people who couldn't leave their tents were singing. They also have a remarkable ability to put their suffering and pain in one place, and go on living their lives. And I watch new volunteers arrive, and just make one thing at a time a little better. I remember in the first days after the earthquake the anxiety and frustration of watching the suffering on tv. Being here is much easier. Suffering is only one dimension of Haiti.
- Michael Felber, Nurse, Medical Volunteer in Fond Parisien
This is an amazing site. The teamwork of HMI, Operation Smile and other groups is inspiring.
The rains have started, and at 6 p.m. we had a bucket brigade lineup to load the trucks with 275 cots to distribute in less than an hour. We used the community leaders to organize the passing of the cots and everyone jumped in and we had a blast. It felt like Christmas!
I have befriended a lot of teenage girls and we dance in their tents to the music of Beyonce. They thought I was pretty good for an "old lady."
I have another patient who is an 18-year-old. She lost her whole family - we have bonded and she calls me 'mama.' She sings "Michael Row You Boat Ashore by Peter, Paul and Mary in French and I sing it with her in English and we harmonize on the "halleluha" part. These teenage girls and I are going to have some girl bonding time later over some nail polish. A big part of the job now that we are over the trauma of the disaster and more into the rehab stage is giving love and support to the people so they know they are cared for.
Most everyone here lost a family member or several, and don't know what is to become of them when they leave, but they still smile and find joy in the little things. There is a small band that does a worship service in the evenings and it is an amazing site to see. Afterwards, he will play other music and the kids will dance in the row between the tents.
These people are amazing! I feel that this is what nursing and medical work is all about.
The semi-permanent hospital tents are set up, showers installed and toilets and almost ready to move patients in before the heavy rains come. This might happen in the next few days.
- Operation Smile Volunteer in Fond Parisien
Operation Smile will send another team of nurses who will continue to treat patients at our surgical camp at the Love a Child Disaster Recovery Center in Fond Parisien, Haiti, from March 23-April 3.
Following this team, our 8th team of volunteers will arrive in Fond Parisien and work from April 1-12.
- Mark Beers, Senior Program Coordinator
Things are still going well for Robin and I. We have been busy with Physical Therapy (PT) care in the morning and evening and always manage to find someone or something that needs attention throughout the day.
Lynn from New York decided to organize the med supply room which was a huge job but it looks great now! Thanks again for the opportunity to serve the Haitian people, they are a pleasure to get to know.
- Deb, Medical Volunteer in Fond Parisien
It got pretty noisy for a while last night. Around 2 in the morning a man started praying and singing, walking amongst the tents. I asked Pierre, the translator who does nights with me, what he was saying. It was pretty strong and deep praying, and after a little while others joined in. It went on for about an hour and a half. When one section of the camp became quiet another would start. Nobody seemed bothered by it. One of the translators told me later on that if people see a bad spirit or are afraid they pray.
I went to the evening church service, which is held at the bottom of the rows of patient tents. There was a band – the music was like a blend of reggae and gospel. People danced and sang along. When the prayers started a little girl sitting next to me motioned for me to bow my head. When you work in health care, you get used to seeing injuries and disability and suffering. There are all kinds of ways of distancing yourself emotionally from it – you have to. Every time I look around here I see people with amputations, with external fixators, with disabilities of different degrees. None of that really bothers me – it is what it is. But there was something about standing with all of those people as they sang and danced and prayed that really moved me. Life really does go on. This afternoon after I woke up I saw a teenage couple, both with external fixators and crutches, holding hands like teenagers do all over the world.
And yet there are serious repercussions, some of which are probably just starting to emerge. We had a large rainstorm this evening. Within a few minutes tents were wet, and the paths and the triage area turned into muddy rivers. The maintenance staff turned the lights off in the tent areas to prevent accidents from wet light fixtures and power lines, and within a few minutes cries of fear could be heard from the tents. The translators and community leaders walked around and checked on everyone, offering reassurance, and eventually the rain let up and the lights went back on, and things calmed down again. One patient was brought into triage crying and anxious and confused. Rainy season is going to be a huge challenge for much of Haiti.
More staff came in today. Cordelia, a physician from England who is studying in Boston arrived today, and took call for the night. Her first work in Haiti was moving boxes off the muddy floor in a rainstorm, and she jumped in without a moment’s hesitation. We have an ER nurse from the U.S. who I think will take the night shift over here – It’s been nice having the time to write at night, but I am getting tired and am looking forward to meeting more people in the daylight!
- Michael Felber, Nurse, Medical Volunteer in Fond Parisien
My trip to Haiti was such a mix of emotions and I have found it difficult to convey my experience. We were warned of this during one of our many 7 p.m., porch team meetings. It is hard to explain the feelings, images, atmosphere, smells, sounds, the people...the lives that continue to go on, full of hope and love in the midst of the brutal devastation and death...and so I will try to answer the question I have been asked again and again…How was Haiti?
March 1st: An email landed in my inbox, the subject line was simple… “Haiti?” A brief message followed, “I hear that despite having just returned from a medical mission you may be interested in going to Haiti. I am putting together a team of nurses to go to Haiti for just a few days. If there is any way you would be able to go? Please give me a call. -Mark”
The exhausting medical mission that he referenced was my 2nd Operation Smile medical mission which was in Guwahati, in North India. We successfully and safely completed, with 2 back-to-back teams, close to 1000 surgeries in less than 2 weeks of surgery – the largest Operation Smile medical mission to date. I had just gotten home late on February 28th after 2 weeks of hard work in Assam, several days in Nepal (flying around Everest) and then a few more days traveling solo around Amsterdam. As soon as I read the email, my mind started racing. Would it be possible? I still had to recover from jet lag with only 2 days off and then I worked three 12+ hour shifts in a row in the busy ER. The departure day was March 7th to Miami. I also had to find a way to get my shifts covered while I was gone. As much as I love being a part of Operation Smile medical missions, this felt different. It felt like something I would regret if I didn’t try. Yes, I was exhausted, yes I was tired. But, I’m a nurse, an ER nurse in a busy county trauma center, and I have always had a desire to serve in a disaster response setting. This was an opportunity, my opportunity, and I was and am so extremely grateful for the simple, short email from Mark, allowing me the chance to go.
The following days were a blur. I had to secure malaria meds, buy food, unpack my suitcase from India, and then repack, secure a ride to the airport, and get my ER shifts covered. I had made a deal of sorts with myself, saying that if it was meant to be, it would all come together and it did! Thanks to the ER director, charge nurses and my co-workers I was able to get all my shifts covered…I was a go and on March 6th, my flight itinerary arrived in my inbox.
March 7th: I headed to the airport. I was meeting up with 2 other Operation Smile volunteer nurses in Miami where we would spend the night and then leave early the following morning to Port au Prince. I had no idea who these nurses were and had only a photo to go by that was sent in an email from Barb. I touched down in Miami, and Barb was easy to spot, just as described via email, carrying a big, blue backpack. She had a warm smile and we both chatted a bit about what we were signed up for, medical missions we had been on, and we talked about some of our worries. Our third partner, Linda, was not to arrive until later. When we got back to the hotel, I went up to Barb’s room to meet her roomie, Linda. As soon as I opened the door and saw her I yelled and ran for a hug. It was the same Linda that I had just left in India! I couldn’t believe it. We both said “What are you doing here?” It was such a comfort to know that we were going to be together for another Operation Smile journey, to know one of the faces. After our hugging and hollering, we hit the hay. I took what would be my last, relaxing, hot bath complete with hotel shampoo.
March 8th: We had a 4 a.m. wake-up call, loaded up and then headed to the airport. We were flying direct to Port au Prince on Insel Air. At the terminal, people wearing all sorts of NPO shirts and carrying survival type packs were sleeping on the floor. Many of the travelers appeared tired, exhausted and in the bathroom, I ran into a girl filling up her camel water pack in the sink. She looked at me and said “I’m not sure if there’s water where I’m going.” I replied, “I think we are all headed to the same place.” We boarded, and as we neared Haiti, I looked out the window. The ocean was beautiful, hues of greens and blues, the warm sun reflecting off of the water. I could see lush hills smattered with what would soon be a common, almost familiar site by the time we headed home a week later. White, camouflage-green and blue tops of tents. Dozens and dozens in groups. We prepared for landing, and I saw what looked to be little military camps inside the airport fence line, also tents.
-Melissa Flick, Medical Volunteer
The large white tents are being put up to shelter people during the rainy season, which is due within a month.
I slept for about an hour last night while things were quiet in triage. There is a daily outdoor church service with loud singing and clapping at 4 a.m. every morning, so lots of people were up early.
We got an urgent call to see a thirty-year-old man who had had a recent surgery to his leg. He was crying in pain and fear. His bandage had saturated with bloody drainage, and started to come loose. I think besides the pain the blood scared him, but it stopped after I rewrapped the bandage. We brought him up to the triage clinic, started an IV (I will be good at putting IVs in by flashlight if this keeps up) and gave him morphine and IV fluids. I rewrapped his bandage and helped him calm down. Deep breathing works as well here as anywhere else. A few other patients came in – a very sweet 13-year-old girl with a repaired femur fracture who couldn’t sleep because of pain, but was comfortable after having two ibuprofens.
I was hot and tired after the night. I had a shower before turning in. You get a bucket of cold water and go to a bunch of stalls enclosed with tarps, clamp them closed with your Kelly clamps, and for about 5 minutes you are cool. I only wish I had two buckets!
I slept in a classroom for the day. The lesson was still on the board for January 11th, the day before the earthquake that changed Haiti in an instant. It made me think of how quickly this hospital, which wasn’t even an idea in someone’s mind two months ago, came together. It’s pretty amazing.
I had a similar feeling at the daily 7 p.m. staff meeting. We are totally dependent on the work and flexibility of our staff. Virtually everyone is working outside their comfort zone and area of expertise to some extent.
Managing a community of injured patients after a cataclysmic earthquake just isn’t in many people’s job descriptions. It’s pretty impressive to see how well it comes together. In addition to the medical and support staff, the patients have chosen community leaders who help with day to day problems. Now the hospital also has to deal with helping people move on, when there are often not viable communities to move back to. There are just so many layers of repercussions to deal with.
This evening was pretty busy for triage, until about 11 p.m. Lots of people come in with pain at bedtime. I think there is also a lot of emotional trauma that shows up at bedtime. These kids are amazingly resilient, but at the end of the day a lot of bad things have happened to them.
The best part of Haiti is still its people. They are some of the most gracious and tenacious people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. The kids can stop you in your tracks with a smile and greeting.
And the weather report for tomorrow is – hot.
- Michael Felber, Nurse, Medical Volunteer in Fond Parisien
Hello Team Haiti!
I have been home for several days now and I am still trying to find the words to describe my experience in Haiti. I can’t thank you enough for all of your hard work and positive attitudes. It is amazing what were you able to accomplish with your time in Fond Parisien!
Thanks again for all that you've done to help our relief efforts in Haiti.
- Katie Lough, Program Coordinator