Wednesday, February 16, 2011
We were talking about this during a long car ride to one of our project sites. It’s really impossible to communicate the things we see. Pictures don’t capture the mix of beauty and tragedy. And my ability as a storyteller doesn’t let me adequately explain the situation and the changes. There’s no way to capture the subtlety or the true meaning of things unless you are concurrently viewing that event. Maybe the limitation is mine, but I’ve yet to meet someone that can. Pictures don’t even turn out right. There are just too many layers.
I will try, though I think it is easier verbally.
Thank you to everyone who is supporting and praying for me (and Taylor) during this trip. I don’t mean to leave you hanging, but I’m struggling to find the best way to communicate. Perhaps I’ll stick with tweeting. Something about the size limit forces simplification. Hey, maybe I found a use for Twitter that isn’t utterly narcissistic.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
I’m back in Florida now. The day started with a trip to the Port-au-prince airport for our “9 am” flight from the folks at MAF. They provide a wonderful service, but they’re not so great on communication. Turns out they simply wanted us there at 9; the flight wasn’t until 11. Well, the plane didn’t arrive until 11:45, but that’s just Haiti time. We didn’t end up taking off until 1pm. Dr. Dan was in our group, but he left to get on an earlier UN flight when we found out the REAL timing of our planned route.
The cool thing about the plane, when it did come, was that it was the Hendrick Motorsports team plane. They were giving out hats and stuff. Nice, fast plane. We arrived in Ft. Pierce 2.5 hours later, cleared immigration (lost my camera case), and got in our rental to drive to West Palm Beach. We have a flight tomorrow morning (5:45am!) back to Portland. It was wonderful getting off the plane and feeling the cool Florida air. So now I’m sitting on my bed at the hotel, when I should probably be sleeping. The shower was amazing. I washed every part of me twice, and the water was still dirty. It feels so good to be clean again, and I’m glad I saved a clean pair of clothes for the trip home.
It’s funny how those little things can completely change your sense of everything. Haiti feels like a distant memory, though I was there mere hours ago. I think I changed based on my setting. In Haiti, I was in disaster response mode, working non-stop, enduring the environment and just trying to help. Now, I’m in travel mode, just trying to get home. And back in Portland? I imagine I’ll slip back into normal life pretty quickly.
While I’m thankful I generally adjust to new places quickly, I’m also worried about forgetting too quickly. There’s so much need down there, and there will be for so long. I don’t want to leave that behind, however busy my life gets with “normal” stuff. We, as Americans, forget so quickly. I saw it after Katrina, the tsunami, and I’m sure it will happen here. In a few more weeks, it won’t be on the news anymore. And the giving will slow down. But the work will continue and the need will be just as real. Please don’t forget Haiti.
There’s at least one thing still with me: I thought I felt my bed shake a little several times tonight and I panicked. It will take some time to let go of “earthquake watch” mode. They scare me now.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Today was a wild ride. I was expecting a quiet day, filled with meetings as I worked on passing my responsibilities on to others. I’m leaving tomorrow (will be home in PDX 11am Thursday the 28th), and don’t want to leave more gaps than I have to. Instead, the political situation at the hospital finally blew up. Without going into tons of details, the Haitian woman in charge of the facility is thinking about her “long-term” survivability and is anxious to start charging patients again. This isn’t very compatible with our donation-based strategy, but we’ve been trying to make it work. Despite every offer we made, she resisted, and we were left with no other choice than to pack up and leave.
It’s bittersweet. Things have been really rough the last couple days as this situation simmered, and I think everyone was relieved when it finally boiled over. Knowing for sure is better than the passive-aggressive games we’ve been forced to play. We loaded up our trucks in record time and pulled out this evening.
Let me clarify a few things before I go on. First, we’re not leaving patients hanging. We will have staff there the rest of the week until all the patients we admitted are discharged. There’s a full Haitian staff now, not with the same skill complement we have, but they’re the folks who were running the hospital before us, and they’re anxious to take back over. We know there are other non-MTI teams coming to the hospital in the future who can pick up slack too. The hospital director wants us gone and is sure she can run the hospital herself, so we’re obliging and moving on.
This really is good news, and I think this happened because we needed a push out from where we’ve anchored. First, the sheer volume of work we’ve had to do to navigate these complex relationships and power struggles has been taxing our admin staff. Our HQ staff can’t plan teams because we aren’t consulted on staffing needs. And we have a lot of volunteers on our roster who are anxious to come, but we’ve been unable to place.
Our new mission is to regroup at our guest house and set up base. We’ve turned one of the bedrooms into an office, and we’ll store all our supplies here. The plan is to send teams out to three or four tent cities around the country for 3-5 day stints. We’ve made contact with several locations anxious for our arrival already. This is a perfect fit for us because that’s really what MTI does well. Most of our volunteers are experienced in field hospitals, not what we’ve been doing. And the supplies we have are better suited to that sort of work as well. It’s really a good move for us. We’ll be able to serve a lot more needy people distributing our resources than we’ve been able to do constrained by the hospital.
It’s weird to be packing up myself as we pack up the hospital. It’s an awkward time to leave, as everything is changing and there’s an opportunity to start fresh and really see us excel. But I think it’s also time for me to leave. I imagine I’ll be back at some point, though.
I’ll have to write at least one more post in summary, once I’ve had a few minutes to sit and reflect. What I can say now is that the Haitian people are amazing. Their spirit is indomitable. Despite the terrible things in this country – and THEN the earthquake – they have nothing but joy. Every morning and evening we hear them singing joyous songs. They smile. They are so grateful and thankful. It seems there’s nothing that could happen to break their spirit. It’s been a surreal experience to be surrounded by the combination of such terrible destruction and such unquenchable joy.
The Haitian pastor who has been caring for us shared these words tonight:
“Thank you very much. You not only bring the medication with you, but you bring yourselves. Bring yourselves to experience this life, to experience this event, to experience this nation. Please know that we will keep you in our prayers. And continue to keep the joy of the Lord, obey Him, and keep your eyes on Him.”
Today was a busy day, but at least I knew it was coming. The big shipment I’ve been planning for since my arrival came in without much of a hitch. We got to the airport and met the plane. Unloading only took an hour or two. The truck was COMEPLETELY stuffed. I mean, totally. The back was completely packed to bursting. The cab was packed. We were jammed in as tight as possible. But we got it, and that’s what matters. Included was the new satellite dish we’ve been waiting for, which everyone has been pretty excited about. I guess I’ll start with that.
We were sold a “portable” VSAT, advertised as something easily carried on a plane. In reality, no airline would touch it: too big and heavy. So that was a setback. But MTI finally got it here, and it’s not really that bad. I was able to set it up by myself, which is good. Generally you need a pro to calculate all the angles, etc., but this one is completely automatic. Just hit a button and it finds the satellite. So that was cool. If you want to see it in action, I took a video. Nerdy and slow, so feel free to ignore. http://www.medicalteams.org/video/vsat.wmv
The bigger news today was our boys in the military. A couple days ago, we started a relationship with the 82nd Airborne. They’ve been by a few times, talking with us about what we need and how they can help. Today they came back with their commander, which we’ve been waiting for. He spent time talking with us and it sounds really promising. They pulled out some wire to start repairing out perimeter so we have security. They committed to sending the commander by every day to make sure we have everything we need. We have them on video talking about the hospital. They’ve reiterated the same thing we keep hearing: this is one of the most professionally run hospitals they’ve ever seen, military included. It’s a huge credit to the amazing medical professionals we have on our team.
The really cool thing is that we had a new anesthesia machine coming in, but we couldn’t get it to the hospital. It’s too sensitive for the “road” going to the hospital. It came in on a USAID flight, and was stuck at the hospital. Somehow, the folks there got hooked up with the Canadian Air Force and loaded in a sling attached to one of their helicopters. In they flew, like a majestic maple leaf on the breeze, towing our precious machine. They descended to a few feet above the roof and set it down.
Of course, in the process, they kicked up all the dust and gravel on the property. And for those of us on the roof, well, it was disastrous. And the entire hospital was covered with a fine layer of soot (windows everywhere). So that took some cleanup. But before I was totally blasted (took a 3-minute eye flush to get it all out), I managed to get most of it on video. http://www.medicalteams.org/video/helicopter_arrival.wmv
There have been more tremors, but not much additional damage to the hospital. It scares the patients pretty good. They’re terrified enough of going into buildings, and the quakes don’t help. I’ve never really feared an earthquake before, but here, it’s terrifying. Knowing the quality of construction and seeing all the wreckage from the last quake, it’s very clear it’s a real, present danger for all of us.
We’ve been safe. Having the military around infuses a certain sense of security, but we haven’t seen any violence yet. Last night, however, as we were packing up, a family came running in with what looked like an eight-year-old boy, covered in blood. A small flight broke out at a government food distribution point, and he was hit in the head with a rock. Our friends in the 82nd broke it up and bandaged his head, and told him to head down the street to our hospital. It was a minor wound, but the family was absolutely terrified, and the boy screaming. He was quickly patched up, but, that’s a good example of the kinds of things we deal with.
Finally, I’m going to be heading home on Wednesday. I should get back to Portland, but I don’t know when yet. I’ll keep you posted.
There’s more pictures uploaded: http://picasaweb.google.com/matthew.turkington/Haiti
Monday, January 25, 2010
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Last night I took a patient, her son and her sister to the airport to be medevac-ed by the US military. Dr. Dan earlier made the case, I just had to deliver the patient. Her son is active US Army in Seoul who came on leave to get her to Florida (she already had a green card). She had a pretty serious wound on her leg that would require a lot of care, beyond what we could provide here. There were a lot of politics, etc., but they finally cleared her to go. As we were leaving, her son, the soldier, shared this:
He told me how people stop him in the airport and around town and thank him for his service, calling him a hero. But now, working with us, he knows what heroes really are. Everyone down here helping the Haitians get back on their feet is a hero. He was expecting to come back here to bury his mother, but now she’s alive and well.
Saturday, January 23, 2010
Today was an interesting day. It started out slowly enough. Being the weekend, most of our colleagues back home were off, which slowed down the communication and gave us all a little bit of breathing room. There’s still a bunch of shipments coming in we’re trying to coordinate, as well as teams coming and going, but it’s all starting to come together a little more.
Then the curve balls started coming. First, there was the team of almost 20 that showed up, unannounced. Not from MTI or one of our partners, but planned by the Haitian woman who is normally in charge of the hospital. This is the SECOND time this has happened. The teams have been more than happy to move on to other locations where the needs are just as real, but it shows underlying communication and trust issues. I heard “I don’t want to talk to you, I want to talk to a Haitian” more than once today. I don’t know what more we could do to gain trust, but, apparently, there are at least some people who are struggling with that.
After that resolved, and before they came back for a second discussion, some boys from the US Army showed up. Turns out there’s a WHO depot with tens of millions of dollars of medical supplies a 3 minute walk from our hospital. They’re there to protect it and help with distribution. So they wanted to know what we need. I believe the exact instructions were to make a wish list and they’ll see what they can do. This is HUGE because we have some very specific, and hard to come by, needs. They can also help us with some facility needs, like repairing the security wall around the compound and finishing the electrical on top floor of the building. They also have a helipad (well, landing area), which comes into play because of the news we got last night.
Bill and Dr. Dan have been working on a number of partnerships, not the least of which is with the US Military, specifically the USS Comfort that’s here treating patients. They’re doing a lot of surgeries, but their capacity is limited by their ability to transfer patients out to other facilities, making room for more. We’re now in a position to take a large number of those patients, which they would deliver via helicopter. This also gets us into the military supply chain, which helps us out a ton. If we’re their partner, they’ll make sure we have the things we need.
This, of course, means the hospital will be growing. Which means we’re all going to be a lot more busy.
Friday, January 22, 2010
I don’t have a ton to report on today. A handful of people left early this morning and another handful arrived. Some more supplied, but not our critically needed phones or satellite dish. Those two items have been major problem points for us, but there’s not a whole lot that can be done from here. So we wait.
We’re starting to stabilize logistically, which is nice. I’ve been working on getting the team schedule together, figuring out who’s coming and going and when. We have a lot of great doctors here, but they have to go home sometime, and that’s still a little difficult. There aren’t flights out of Port-au-prince, which leaves us with driving half a day to the Dominican Republic. Hopefully things open up soon.
There’s a lot of stories coming from the doctors that I wish I could tell, but they’re difficult to collect and sort through. I posted a story earlier today that’s pretty typical around here. It’s weird that a story like that is typical.
We feel a couple tremors a day, but nothing has turned into a real earthquake yet. That’s good, but the Haitians are still terrified to go in buildings. And it makes us a little edgy too. A constant reminder that hell could break loose at any time.
I’m still busy working to coordinate the logistics of people and supplies getting in and out, or at least this end of it. It’s a lot easier to deal with things in Haiti than getting them here. So thanks, Catherine, for handling so much of that.
Unfortunately, politics are starting to flare up. I remember the same thing after Katrina, and it’s sad. Once the initial rush and adrenaline of helping people wears off, groups start to get territorial again. It’s especially hard down here with very limited communications. There’s all sorts of expectations and conditions from all over the world to meet, and most people here just want to help save lives. I’m an office person, so I understand the challenge of balancing the two. There’s a lot of negotiation happening, and thankfully, the people handling it are better than me. But the situation changes several times a day, and it’s hard to keep up.
It’s about time for us to head back to the house, so I should go. Thanks everyone.
This was written by Marlene Minor, VP of Communications, here in the room with me.
When the earthquake hit, Tamara, 29, and her family lived on the second story of a four-story apartment building.
The structured pancaked in on them. It killed their four-year-old son immediately.
Tamara, 29, was trapped in the building for 10 hours. Her husband, Peterson, 30, friends and relatives rescued her from the rubble. Her leg was crushed ... and she was close to delivering a baby.
Peterson also carried with him his deceased son and a pair of shorts that belonged to his now lifeless son. Tamara emerged from the building with her leg crushed ...just days from delivering a baby.
Tamara and Peterson huddled together for shelter and comfort in a local homeless "tent" city that sprang up in their neighborhood.
Then, friends brought her to King's Hospital as her leg got worse. There our doctors operated, saved her leg and she began to recuperate in our triage area.
After they fixed her leg (its in a cast) she was laying out in open air triage area and went into labor. Ann barely got her into the hospital onto a bed to deliver the baby.
The whole time she's in labor the husband is crying and holding up the shorts of their dead son.
Thankfully, their new baby girl was born healthy yesterday and is doing well. This morning, Ann and I walked up the hill. Ann told me this story in a minute. Held the baby for some "baby therapy" before returning to the land of operations and amputations. She said, "This is life. This is hope."
I told the mother, "Belle" for beautiful about the baby and we were off.
As we were rushing off as Ann had a crowd issue to attend to as more patients lined up, she told me the baby girl's name, Jesula, translated to Jesus There.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Today was a day spent primarily at the airport. We had three flights come in. The first was a cargo flight with an “Interagency Emergency Health Kit (IEHK).” This is something we have on order in Holland, ready to be shipped anywhere in the world. It contains basic medical supplies and medicines, most of what you need to run a hospital. It’s enough to treat 10,000 people for three months. We got 6 pallets worth of this stuff, which is amazing. About the time we finished clearing customs and dropping it off at the hospital, we were late picking up the next team that arrived. And at that point, we just waited for the final flight and took all the supplies and people back to the hospital. So many new faces! There’s well over 20 medical professionals here now.
Things at the hospital are running smoothly, even more so now that we have so many personnel. The IEHK will help with supply, but there’s still some larger equipment and other things we could really use. We’re working as many angles we can. I’m hoping for a military contact personally. Our phones should arrive tomorrow, which will be a huge help, and I hope our satellite Internet doesn’t get delayed any more than it already is (Monday). Once that’s installed and the operations have stabilized, I’ll be looking to head home.
The work the doctors are doing is incredible. So many lives literally saved. The surgeons are booked up most of the day with back-to-back surgeries. We have some amazing orthopedic surgeons that providing critical care. There have been some sad cases of people beyond our care, and we’re working on finding ways to medevac them. We also need crutches, lots of them, for the post-ops. With so many amputations, most of our patients need assistance when they’re discharged. Crutches or prosthetics could be the difference between street beggar and “normal” life.
I’m having a great time with the team. They’re all very friendly and we laugh a lot. Also getting to know my MTI coworkers much better. I’m trapped between two sides: knowing the needs of HQ and how things run there and knowing the field needs and how things run here. I try my best to reconcile those two to make everyone’s life easier, but it doesn’t always happen.
But I also miss home, my wife, cheeseburgers, showers and cold weather.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Today was a day chock full of things, but let’s see what I can remember. It seems most of my time is spent doing very operational things, not all of which are very exciting to report on.
First, I was woken up at 6-something AM by people yelling and a gentle shaking sensation. I didn’t know what was going on, but everyone was running outside, so I ran outside. About that time, I realized we were having another earthquake. Also about that time, it ended. Everyone is fine and there’s not much additional damage to our facilities. The biggest downside is that Haitians are now even more terrified and unwilling to go into any building than they were before. This is hard, because to be treated, they have to go into the hospital.
I’ve been trying to work some connections to find ways for us to get supplies into Haiti. I took a trip to the US Embassy, which wasn’t nearly as helpful as I was hoping. After the soldier at the gate said he wouldn’t let me in just because I had a US Passport (and I reminded him that he has to), we sat in the parking lot. I found another soldier who was far more helpful and agreed to try to find someone in the military who knows about supply flights. We’ll see if anything comes of it.
We also got the big generator running. This is HUGE news because we’ve been unable to power the entire hospital until now. So we can finally run at capacity. And tomorrow we have several supply shipments coming in, along with teams. Still working on more reliable Internet, though.
Also getting a lot of media attention. Seems like I spend a couple hours a day playing media secretary for Dr. Dan and all his interview requests. We hope to do live video via Skype tonight with KGW, so that will be cool.
I really hope to get pictures and videos going to share the story of what’s going on here. We just haven’t had the time, but I know it’s important.
The Haitians are amazing people to watch. This morning, they gathered outside the hospital, laying hands on it and praying loudly for safety. Every night, groups are found sitting outside singing and praying. There is so much hope and joy, despite such sorrow and loss. It’s unlike anything I’ve seen anywhere else.
Thank you, everyone, for your prayers and support.
And, yes, it’s still wicked hot here.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Well, I’m in Haiti now. It’s really hot here. I mean REALLY. The sweat feels like a waterfall down my body. It’s disgusting. Haiti itself reminds me of rural Indonesia. In the part we’re in, it’s hard to tell what’s destruction and what’s just normal workmanship for these parts. We’ve setup shop in what I’ve heard called the “nicest hospital in the country.” King’s Hospital was scheduled to open next month, but that timeline has been accelerated a bit. As a result, it’s not exactly finished. The room I’m sitting in now is just bare cement walls. There’s wires hanging where power outlets should go and holes for pipes and lights. It’s been cleaned up and put into service early, but it’s performing admirably. Right now we’re at capacity, but we hope to expand into the unused floor if we can get more cots.
Most of the work seems to be orthopedic in nature. Lots of crushed limbs and the like. We have two operating rooms that stay pretty busy. They’d stay busier, but the power keeps going out, which makes the sterilization cycle start all over. There’s a giant generator in the yard, but we don’t have the cables or skills to hook it up. Hopefully we can get it going, though. That would solve a lot of problems. That and getting the water running right. But one thing at a time. Then there’s always the whole getting shipments here thing.
I also visited the UN base today when we went on a supply run. Now THERE’S chaos! They have much larger facilities, yes, but also a whole lot more staff. But it just seems like chaos. No triage and no record keeping. We’re taking in some of their post-op patients this evening so they can take in more pre-ops. We have a really good relationship with them, which is good for the bypassing the red tape.
Dr. Dan (of Creation fame) is serving as the hospital administrator and is responsible for most of these relationships. He’s also organizing this place in a way that keeps everyone sane. There are departments with directors and coordination and record keeping, just like a real hospital. Imagine that! I’ve been asked to serve in a “Director of Operations” role, basically just trying to keep this place physically running. I’m not quite sure what all that entails at this point. But Bill Essig said it means I get a raise, so if anyone back at MTI is reading this, make it happen!
Haiti itself isn’t quite what I expected. Or maybe it’s this disaster that is different. Food is scarce, but we can eat two meals a day. There’s enough water. The power is sometimes on. It’s not quite the barren wasteland I was preparing for. A lot of team members have been surprised. I know there are places that are better and worse – this one is probably in the middle. There’s also no reporters out here. Probably because it’s not quite as exciting.
The funniest thing so far has been the little Haitian kids who reach out and feel my arm hair. It’s confusing because I’m white, but have black hair. They just sort of point and say “black.” Apparently this is unusual. I was carrying on a conversation while a little boy was running his fingers up and down my arm, trying to figure something out. Took me a minute to figure out what was going on.
I think that’s about it for now. Not much time left on the battery. Thanks for all the kind notes. Hopefully I’ll have a chance to upload some media tomorrow.
Did I mention how much I want a shower?
As many of you have heard, I’m on my way to Haiti. And that seemed like good a reason as any to start blogging again.
I received a call at 7am this morning from my VP at Medical Teams asking if I could be on a noon flight to Fort Lauderdale, heading on to Haiti. “No,” I responded flatly. Over the week since the earthquake, I had been scheduled to go twice, both times cancelled due to logistical complications. During that time, I had been working on a deployable communications package to provide better operational support to our teams on the ground. The plan was to send me with it when it was complete, but I thought I would have at least a couple days warning. Actually, in the back of my mind, I suspected this might happen, but didn’t prepare nearly as well as I should have.
It was determined around 9:30am that I would be on a noon flight to Florida to catch the 4am charter into Port-au-Prince. I left the office in a mad dash to collect supplies and pack. Meanwhile, folks back at MTI were packing bags of supplies to be carried in (I’ve been called “pack mule” and “Sherpa” many times today). Despite driving entirely too fast to the airport and arriving 20 minutes early, I wasn’t allowed to board the plane. This was especially bad news, given it was already the last flight into Fort Lauderdale that would arrive before the 4am departure. And that flight had been given special permission to land in Port-au-prince, something we don’t know when we’ll get again.
The particular Delta desk agent was, honestly, unhelpful. It wasn’t until another agent came over in response to the pleading that we finally got somewhere. They could get me into Orlando at midnight – a 3 hour drive down to Ft. Lauderdale. It would mean driving all night to catch the flight, but I agreed and made a rush for the gate.
Now I’m on a plane outside Orlando. In the belly of the plane are several bags of vital supplies and communications equipment. I’ve been watching CNN for the last couple hours, catching up on the situation. During the course of this flight, Larry King and friends raised $5 million for the Red Cross and UNICEF. Right now, Anderson Cooper is reporting live. It’s heartbreaking to see the situation I’ll be walking into. He’s talking with CNN’s chief medical correspondent/neurosurgeon. They’re bewildered that more doctors and basic medical supplies aren’t getting into the country. They’re desperately pleading for more help. I know firsthand it’s more complicated than it often appears to get help in. We’re working on it! I want to find him while I’m there and show him what we’re doing. My friend Jordan is on a Navy ship off the coast. I hope to find him too.
I hope to provide regular updates, pictures and video if the connectivity allows, which is sort of what I’m there to do. I hope to take some of the operational load off the medical professionals so they can do what they’re there to do. I don’t know what all my responsibilities will fully include, but I’m just there to help.
It’s remarkably similar to my deployment after Hurricane Katrina. I was called up at the last minute to head down to the Gulf Coast to lead a team of volunteer network engineers in building a wireless communications infrastructure to replace what had been destroyed. We were able to provide phone and data services to hospitals, police, fire, government and relief camps along the entire coast. While my scope this time around will be much more limited, the need is still certainly there.
I’d like to thank Robert, Tammy, Mary Ellen, Catherine and the others at MTI that worked so hard to get me and this cargo in the air. My mom and the folks at St. Vincent’s for getting me the medicines I need for my safety. Thank you to everyone who has supported the work of MTI, enabling me and others to go and provide life-saving services. Last, but certainly not least, my loving wife, Taylor, for being so supportive and letting me go. I love you.
More from Haiti.