Friday, January 29, 2010

Haiti: God's Hands and Feet in Action

As many of you may know, I have been studying International Rescue & Relief at Union for the last few years (with the exception of last year when I was in Spain). In this program I have gained many skills; EMT, search and rescue, advanced EMT skills, etc. Over the years, this program has been developing and the greatest desire of any IRR student, is to be able practically use the skills learned in all the classes that we have to take here at Union (like Disaster management, HIV & emerging diseases, HAZMAT, etc.). So when the earthquake struck on January 12, I along with the rest of the students at Union, were shocked to hear that a large earthquake had struck the poor island nation of Haiti. Responding to the disaster, we were told by administration of International Rescue & Relief would be possible, but would also be delayed for about ten days due to safety and logistical issues. That was on Wednesday.
Friday, the whole group that was interested met to talk about USAR building markings and what to possibly expect in Haiti. Little did we know however... That night, one of the group coordinators, Aaron Kent called us and asked if we could be ready to leave on Sunday. I thought to myself as I was talking to him, "wow Sunday, we are getting to leave already? That’s crazy” So I said, "sure, I could be ready and I'm pretty sure that I have all my immunization and I have my passport as well". A group of students had been drafted as a tentative first group to respond. I was told that I would be a backup, just in case someone couldn't go. The group that was chosen was composed of 4 students: Ginger Hany, Sarah Sexton, Justin Woods and Pierre (who was the only student that speaks Creole). In the meeting we were briefed about some basic things: what we would need to bring, what to expect, immunizations, etc.

Saturday morning, we met again to finalize things. Unfortunately, Pierre was not able to go because of some issues with his passport, which meant that I was able to go. I felt bad for Pierre, because if I had been in his place I would have been devastated to not be able to go. So the rest of Saturday morning was spent in the meeting with the administration and IRR staff getting us ready to leave. After the meeting, we rushed around Lincoln and called up to clinics in Omaha to find the typhoid shot because we all needed it. That was just crazy, but as we were about to see, God was beginning to move in awesome and amazing (sweet nif there you go Justin, I said it online) ways.

Justin, Sarah and I feverishly ran around Lincoln trying to find a clinic or somewhere that we could get the typhoid shot. We went to LinCare a nearby clinic, because a man that Sarah worked for suggested it as an option. When we got there he was there talking to the clinic staff. Unfortunately, they did not have the shot and neither did any of the other places he could think of. So we deliberated about what to do next; the idea of going to the travel clinic where Justin had called earlier came to mind. So even though they had said no, because the nurse responsible for giving those immunizations was gone, we decided that we'd give it a try and see what happened. We arrived a little before they were about to close and were told to wait. We were sitting there for what seemed like an eternity. Sarah turned to me and asked if she should go ask; we were both thinking that they were going to tell us no, that we couldn't get the shot. Fortunately, God was looking out for us, and not too much long after that, we were told that we could get the shot and that if there was anyone else in our group, that they needed to get there ASAP. So we called Ginger and told her to get there as soon as she could because the clinic was about to close for the day. She got in a car that minute and was on her way. We filled out some paperwork as we were waiting, payed for the shot and then got the shot. Ginger arrived and fortunately they were willing to give her the shot. The whole staff there was very encouraging; they thought that what we were doing was such a great thing. After that, we went back to Union to eat lunch and spend some final hours with our friends.

Saturday night, we went back over to IRR and packed up things. The school nurse had also drafted up immunization cards for us and she had reviewed them thoroughly. She told me that I needed a Hep A booster so I got it that night also. After packing, Justin and I went to Walmart to get some last things we needed, then headed back to pack up our personal gear. That night was crazy. I packed up my stuff and then went to Justin’s to put everything together and to sleep. Unfortunately, Justin took a long time to pack and so we both ended up staying up forever: me on the phone and the Internet talking, and him packing and watching movies and such. Lol. I love you Justin, you are really funny man.

In the morning, we woke up and went to the IRR building and the administration and some other people we had never seen before prayed with us and then wished us well as we departed. Tara was there as well to say goodbye (she is such an amazing girlfriend). We drove to the airport and checked in; unfortunately we had to drain our water bottles and couldn’t take our stoves or gas (because of TSA regulations); which meant that a lot of the food we were taking (to be self sufficient), we couldn’t eat. We went through security and then got on our plane headed to Houston. In Houston, we didn’t have much time to get to the next plane headed for Fort Lauderdale. Once we got to Fort Lauderdale, we drove around to find a Home Depot and food before heading to the hotel where the rest of the ACTS Worldrelief group was staying.
We went to Home Depot, because David Canther had called us on Sunday, enroute to Fort Lauderdale to tell us that our assignment had been changed from working in a hospital/orphanage, to doing some search and rescue work. So we scrounged together what we could find. Home Depot is not really the best place to find rescue equipment. There range of ropes, carbineer’s and pulleys is very limited. We ended up not buying any pulleys, because the ones they had weren’t acceptable for rescue work. We ended up buying some D-rings a rope, a couple of hardcore shovels and some hard hats. We went to a few other stores, just to find out if we could find some better equipment. Unfortunately, since most stores were already closed and some wouldn’t be open the next day because of Martin Luther King Day, we weren’t able to find exactly what we wanted.

After that, we ended up going to Sweet Tomatoes and had some great food before going to the hotel. After going to the hotel, we decided to get some more food since a majority of the food we had packed we wouldn’t be able to use because we weren’t able to take our stoves. The stores in Florida are really awesome and they have a wide variety of precooked foods. We ended up buying mostly granola bars and precooked beans (we called them “squeezy beans”). After that, we took the food back to the hotel and then Justin and I raced the carts back to the store. When we came back, we knocked out and woke up early the next morning to eat breakfast and meet with the ACTs group. Justin and I met the Haitian rapper, JuanG or whatever his name is; he was a pretty cool guy. He helped to fund quite a few things as well as helped to organize things with the Haitian government (or what’s left of it).

After breakfast, we packed up and drove with the rest of the group to Opa Locka airport (Turnberry Aviation). David Canther is an amazing person; God has really used him as a great instrument to do His work. The biggest thing to remember when working with him, however, is that you have to be flexible; (which was one of his points) flexible to do whatever God wants wills. We were broken into groups; the IRR group was to be team 2, on the second flight to Port-Au-Prince. To get there, the officials of ACTS were making calls and receiving substantial donations from many people so that we could charter flights out of the country. As the day went by, we began to see God move in crazy and amazing ways. David Canther and the rest of the first group left and the rest of us were left and God continued to show us how amazing He is really is. When people say that God owns the cattle on a thousand hills (as well as the hills), its really true. So many people came out of the woodwork wanting to help in any way they could. Some guy showed up during the day with a bunch of water to donate. At this point, we weren’t sure exactly when we were going to be leaving just because of some logistical issues. This guy had some friends that were willing to donate huge sums of money; even to fund a flight on a 737(that would be $70,000) so that the entire group could go down at once. Unfortunately, the US Airforce wasn’t going to give ground clearance to more widebody planes that day, so we were forced to go down in smaller groups, of 13 people, in leer jets for around $30,000 a flight

The hanger at Opa Locka Airport we waited at on Monday

The group waiting to leave from Opa Locka

Our group left around 5:30 pm that day after spending a day sitting in the hanger getting to know the rest of our group. We met a lady, Jainey, who had a search and rescue dog, trained to sniff out live and dead people. His name was Zeus(He is an amazing who we all love so much. He also weighs 130 lbs.). We climbed into the leer jet after a day of just sitting around, getting anxious and wanting to leave the whole time. It was just crazy, we flew in a leer jet!! The guy that donated the plane came on, he was some really cool, rich, Jewish guy. He was amazed to see Zeus sleeping on the floor of his leer jet.

Theres the leer jet we flew in!!

Zeus bored/asleep, waiting to leave.

John Thomas and I sitting at the table in the back.

Ginger, Justin and Sarah excited to finally be leaving

After leaving Opa Locka, we flew to Port Au Prince, which should have been a fairly short flight, but we were forced to circle the airport for over an hour because there were so many planes in the air. It took a while for us to get clearance to land, but eventually, we got clearance to land. Once we landed, we had to unload the plane; it was so loaded down, so it took a really long time to get out onto the ground. Once we got out and got our stuff together, we found out that we were going to have to sleep at the airport till the morning, because the U.S. military had started a curfew throughout the city.

The scene at the airport was amazing. There were planes from around the world; hundreds or thousands of people, coming together to help the people in Haiti. Seeing that just amazed me and showed me God's love in a way. The people were there to be the hands and feet of God, even if they didn't realize it. So, we slept about 20 yards from where the huge air force transports were parking that night. It was just crazy, because Justin and I slept outside of the tents on our thermarests with toilet paper earplugs in our ears and with the crazy air from the engines of these huge planes blowing grass and cochroaches at us. Its kind of funny, but it wasn't too bad, except for waking up every couple hours.

This is our leer jet next to all the military transports

Unloading/organizing supplies at the Port Au Prince Airport

In the morning, waking up to the Haitian sunrise was kind of neat to see. After we woke up, some people went to see if they could get us transport to the hospital. Eventually they found a dump truck for us to put our stuff into and then finally headed to the hospital.
Sitting in the dump truck, getting ready to leave to the hospital

Leaving the hospital finally!!

Before coming to Haiti, I anticipated the worst: dead bodies in the streets, all the buildings lying in heaps of rubble, essentially a war zone. This is not what I saw when we first arrived. I realize that we did not go to the worst sections affect by the earthquake, but I also think that the news media tends to exaggerate things very often (that’s not to say that the situation in Haiti isn’t bad, because it definitely is). I also think that because I have seen large-scale destruction before (like the two times that I went to Mississippi to help with relief and reconstruction work), I think that I have somewhat been desensitized, (as bad as that may sound) to seeing some of these kinds of things. The drive to the hospital was about 30 to 45 minutes long, and along the way we saw a body in the street as well as many, many buildings that were either partially destroyed, or completely pancaked to the ground.

On our way!!
One of our first real views of destruction

More on the way to the hospital
People camping in park along the way

People waiting in line for gas

Once we arrived at the hospital, we put our stuff down in a room where we were going to sleep and then were informed that we were going to start working in about an hour. So we got equipment together and then headed out with a group of Haitian nationals on a search and rescue mission. The first building that we went to, was a multi-level building that half of the building had almost completely collapsed and the other half had had not collapsed completely, but the bottom was damaged pretty bad; a couple levels were smashed together and a body was partially hanging out. This day was trying, just because we walked around all Carrefour, the suburb where the hospital is. The stories the family members would tell were of how they had heard their loved ones either the night before or a few days before. It was just sad, because Zeus would search the rubble, smelling out to see whether or not there was any life present. Unfortunately, Zeus never found any life in any of the spots where searched. At one house, the house of a lady that was leading us around, we met with a Colombian Search and Rescue group, which was amazing because I never thought that I would have a chance to use my skills of Spanish, but little did I know; God can use you in ways you never know as long as you are willing to let Him lead your life.
Arriving at the first building

The first building

This used to be a 6 story house

This was a school where we found two dogs trapped

Looking up at the hills

The rest of the day was spent searching, unfortunately, we never found anyone alive. When we searched a school, that had mostly collapsed and was leaning over threatening to fall over, we didn’t find any children, but two dogs were rescued; the Colombians actually went under part of the school and we helped them get the dogs out. After the school and a few other places, we headed back to the hospital. It was sort of funny, just because we were walking around with the Haitians, who were supposed to be our guides to the city, but we got lost a few times and ended up walking for a very long time; eventually we reached the hospital. It was sort of funny, just because we were walking around with the Haitians, who were supposed to be our guides to the city, but we got lost a few times and ended up walking a lot. After resting a bit, we went downstairs and organized some a medical supplies room.
Looking up from hospital

The rest of our time in Haiti was spent working at the hospital. I will tell you all more about it in the next post.

Well I found a couple spare minutes, so I guess that I'll continue my story.

The next few days were spent working at the hospital during whatever, whenever it was needed.
At around 6 am the next day, we woke up to the building shaking and people running to get out of the room that we were sleeping in. Some doctors in the group panicked so much that they ran out onto the roof and jumped to the ground; it’s a wonder that they didn’t injure themselves. The patients downstairs were so frightened by the aftershock that they ran outside, not even caring that they might worsen their injuries in their rush to get outside. The aftershock was very short; it was over in a few seconds. As soon as the aftershock was over, David Canther assigned us to asses the structural stability of the building. After a quick meeting with him, we were told by John Thomas to break into groups of two and walk around the building and asses each crack. This was a fun task; Gloria, a videographer that has done work with IRR in the past, followed us around(which at first was kind of annoying, but I realize its her job and dealing with the media is something that we have been trained to do, so after a while, it became a little more routine, thanks Gloria, you’re awesome.) We walked around the whole hospital. Looking at the cracks in the structure and rating them on a scale from one to ten. After inspecting the building and deeming it structurally sound, we had a quick meeting with the other members of the group to inform them of our findings. There were a few additional aftershocks this day and it seemed like every time or almost every time after one would happen, we would have to reassess the cracks in the building. I'm not sure if it was that day or a different one, but a few official structural engineers visited the hospital to officially assess the building's structural integrity. They all reported that the building was in great shape and as we had previously said, there was no real threat to the patients or hospital staff.
View from upstairs(Adventist Hospital)

After the meeting, the four of us decided that we would work in triage for the morning. This was a really fun job. Getting to help treat minor injuries and processing patients(which was mostly my job). Asking them questions and filling out forms. What an experience. It was just me, justin and a few Haitian translator dudes for a while. So we would ask them there names, age, where they lived and what was wrong. The cool thing was that even though they were speaking in Creole or French, I could understand a little of what they were saying(I kind of want to take French now just to add another language to my skill set). We worked in triage for a while and then the French medical corps came to assist us. The French medical corps is sweet nif, seriously. (more to come this weekend) After that, we were involved with many different things: transporting patients, directing patient traffic, etc... Eventually, after doing that kind of stuff for a while and helping Sarah with an IV, two of the residents, Eli and Jason called us, to kind of get a crash-course in casting. So we kind of assisted them in casting this lady's leg. We sort of made her the three of ours' patient. We stayed with her for a couple hours; not only when the doctors were casting, but also when they put her arm in a sling and then tried to put her dislocated arm back into her shoulder without breaking it. It was really a cool experience, and because Sarah can speak french, we could sort of communicate with her. For some reason or another, the lady seemed to love me and kept calling me her friend. Since Sarah was already holding the ladys one hand, I took the other. The lady just seemed to hold my arm tight; not wanting to let go. When the doctors put her arm back into the socket, both Sarah and I had to help restrain her. Even though it caused her pain, she appreciated that we were there, restraining her and just letting her know that we cared. After that, we had to wait for radiology to come over so that she could get another set of X-rays to verify that her arm had gone back in correctly. We waited forever and ever; eventually, we left to attend the nightly hospital meeting because radiology had not notified us, so we figured that a few minutes wouldn't hurt. So after the meeting, we returned to find out that our patient still had not been sent to radiology. So we talked to the radiology staff again and ended up kind of arguing with the lady in charge about whether or not our patient had gotten her new X-rays. Eventually, we proved to the lady in charge that our patient still needed the second set of X-rays and had not received them yet; she told us we would have to wait a little longer, so we stayed with our patient a little longer(her room was air-conditioned, so we liked staying in their with her). Eventually radiology returned for her, so Justin and I carried her over on a stretcher and left her with them. After transferring care to radiology, we headed upstairs to eat and settle down for the night.
Another one of our nightly meetings
The next day, wednesday, we were again, assigned to assess the building a few more times; seeing that we experienced a few more aftershocks. During the morning, Justin, Sarah and I were assigned to getting patients from outside in the "tent-city" in front of the hospital as well as moving patients to post-op. We retrieved a few patients and were also told that we were to retrieve a the body of a dead women who had died out in the camp(probably during the night). When we went to find her, but couldn't find her because she had probably been moved.

Another hostpial meeting, with the whole group

Later in the day, after taking a short break, we went through the tent-city giving out water with O.R.S.(Oral Rehydration Salt) packets in it to dehydrated patients and patients under speacil care. Going through the tent-city was crazy; there were so many people!! For each patient of course, there was a family of four or more people. So there were several hundred people living around the hospital. In our journey through the tent-city, we saw our patient from the night before; she very happy to see us again.

After doing that, John told Justin and I that we needed to work on a few things: open a crate that contained an autoclave that Loma Linda had donated, get the autoclave into the sterilization room in the OR and get it hooked up and running. This took quite some time; first we opened teh crate, which wasn't that bad, just had to unscrew the boards off. Then we had to figure out we were going to wire it to the wall, because it ended up being run off 220, and normal appliances in Haiti run off of 110. So with the help of some of the Haitians there, found some wires to use to wire it into the same box as the air conditioner in the sterilization room. After figuring that out, we tied two pieces of our rope together and dragged the autoclave in to the sterilzation room on a sled of sorts(the bottom piece of the crate). Once in the OR we hooked up the autoclave to the same box as the the air-conditioner and got it to run, but not without turning the air-conditioner off, because the wires would get really hot when we ran both at the same time.

After getting it to work, Sarah recruited us to help her clean the sterilization room and the doctors told us that we were going to be running the sterilization process as well. So after a few hours of cleaning the room out of old supplies that probably couldn't be used anymore, we started washing instruments and sterilizing them in the autoclave(when we could get it to work properly). The autoclave was from the nineteen seventies and probably hadn't been used in quite some time; so we had to kind of rig it so that it would work. Eventually we got it running "properly", but every time the power would go off, we would be stuck with instruments inside the autoclave and couldn't get them out until the power came back on. The three of us worked until about 10:30, 10:45 in that sterilization room; it was crazy because we were so tired and really wanted to sleep. Finally a group replaced us and we were allowed to go to bed.
Justin tired, but smiling
Sarah smiling

The next day, when we arrived in the sterilization room, we were met by a nurse, Peg, who taking over of the OR since Julie was getting ready to leave. So we showed her how the autoclave worked, since it was kind of ghetto and didn't work normally. Then she showed us how things in sterilization rooms kind of works in the states. Anyway, so we worked with her for the day in the OR. During that day, we worked in the sterilization room all day. It was an interesting day to say the least however; some aftershocks came through the OR it was either that day or the previous day.
Inside our sterilization room
What a mess

Speaking of aftershocks... a rumor of a potential large earthquake was being circulated by an unknown source throughout not only the hospital, but most of Port-au-Prince. So, it was either because of this or some other unknown reason, that the French security forces who usually were posted at the gate of the hospital were not there. Dr. Laura Asher as well as John went to town to do logistical things; such as find out if they could get flights out of the country. Anyway, Dr. Laura went to the U.N., the U.S. militray as well as the French military to find out if we could get some kind of security force back at the hospital, but to no avail; no one would come. Back at the hospital, the rumor was circulating around and people were getting worried. So many people, besides those who were already scheduling to leave that day, were packing up their things to leave. Our group was kind of out of the loop on the story, and so when we talked to David Canther around lunch time; he asked us if we were staying and we said yeah, like it was nothing. He said, " I knew I could count on you IRR people" or something like that, but we had no idea what he was talking about. When we returned to the OR, there was an emergency meeting called for all OR staff. We were informed of the story and then Dr. Carlson told us that basically, he was ready to die and that we needed to make sure of where we were with God and that we needed to think about the situation that we were in. Justin, Sarah and I all joked about it, but we all knew deep down in our hearts that we were where God wanted us, doing His work. Being there made us all realize that as Christian medical professionals, it is our job to stay with the patients and if necessary die with them. Sure, personal safety is a must, but what do you do when your patient is missing a limb or is simply unable to move themselves out of the building. Sure you try to remove them as well as yourself from the building(in a real dangerous situation), however when for example, the building would shake it was crucial for us to not show fear when around patients and to stay by their side to comfort them. We continued the rest of the day, in spite of the rumorworking in the OR, washing and sterilizing instruments for the doctors. The whole OR staff was so friendly and encouraging. We learned so much from them. It was cool; they would tell us what certain instruments were for as well as allowed us to watch a few surgeries and explain the X-rays to us as well as explaining the procedures being used.

So after work, we went upstairs and went to bed. Not too long after going to bed, John woke us up and told us that we had 30 minutes to get our stuff together and leave. So we got our things together(or so we thought) and hopped into the back of a truck. We drove through Port-au-Prince in the dark to the airport, where we filled out evacuation loans and then got on board a C-17 Air Force transport and flew to Sanford Airport outside of Orlando, Florida.
Inside the C-17

Looking down out of the C-17
Our ride home a C-17

The rest of the story was simply us getting back to school. We have been back in school for a few weeks now. It was kind of hard at first; having to catch up with the homework we missed and such. Right before leaving Florida to return to school, I learned that the Belize mission trip group had decided to go to Haiti instead of going to Belize. Unfortunately, I had given up my place before the earthquake struck Haiti, because I wasn't able to raise any money. So I asked around here at school to see if there was anyway I could go back to Haiti, during spring break. Eventually, I was told that if I got $800 dollars by Friday, the fifth, that I could go. So somehow, God got me the money so that I could at least be in the tenative group. I still have $650 dollars left to raise, but I am sure that God will get it for me.