Saturday, January 30, 2010

Day uh, I don't have a clue. Maybe Saturday?

The picture below was drawn by one of our patients in the Intensive Care Unit onboard COMFORT. This is the first of several drawings he has made showing some of the destruction that is so common in this city. And while the COMFORT may look like a cruise liner in this picture, it's only because he probably has never seen the ship.

Another full day! Our patient census continues to rise, but we have essentially hit the limit of what we can take without discharging more patients. So far we've treated over 700 patients and we have 500 or so aboard now. We have a pretty good number that is ready to go home and tomorrow's emphasis is on making that happen.

We have been having increased success in finding available beds in the hospitals outlying the city of Port-au-Prince. They can take some of our patients for ongoing care and recovery. That's a good thing because we need to lower our census if we are to continue to receive patients and attain a sustainable level of effort. It's been 15 days since we left Baltimore. It seems more like 15 weeks and we haven't had any time to pause other than the serindipitous breaks that come from helicopter delays or retaskings.

We had a young child die unexpectadly today and it's been tough on the Pediatric ward staff. He had a broken leg but was healing well. We planned on discharging him today. As his nurse approached him to give him some oral medication early this morning she saw that he was gasping for breath. She started resucitation procedures and called away a "Code Blue" but the child was not able to be resucitated. It's hard whenever we lose a patient, particularly a child, but it's extra hard when you think, "Here's one we've saved!" and then we didn't.

We had a memorial service tonight for a 12 year old girl who died several days ago. She and her mother were from some distance away and we were having trouble arranging to get her back home with her daughter's remains. The way it works here is that if a family wants to bury their loved one, they have to make all of the arrangements and pay for the funeral. If not, the Government will take the remains and bury them in mass graves with the nearly 200,000 others who were killed in a matter of minutes two weeks ago; or died of their wounds in the days to follow. This mother wanted to take her daughter home, but she didn't have any resources to do it. The closest landing zone that we had to her house was about seven kilometers away (about four miles). With no transportation or ability to get transportation, or money to pay for a funeral, she came to the point today where she asked if we would have a funeral service on the ship, then she would allow her daughter to be buried by the Government.

I meant to go. I wanted to be sure that someone other than her and the Chaplain would be there to morn the loss of her child. But I got tied up in one meeting after another and before I knew it, the time for the service had passed. We had decided that we wouldn't announce the service on our overhead speaker system because we didn't know what the reaction would be amoung the other patients onboard. So I was afraid it would be an empty room with no one but a grieving mother and an over-worked chaplain.

I was wrong. I ran into Chaplain Oravec about an hour after the service and he told me that it was a powerful, cathartic time of sorrow and remembrance. There were about 70 people in attendance: Medical staff, translators, and patients.

Tomorrow the two will leave the ship. One going home to a life of uncertainty. One going to an unmarked grave. This is a very sad place today.

I'm going to bed.


  1. Sir,

    God Bless you and your crew. My wife, LT Virginia Hazlett, CNM, is aboard in unfamiliar territory as a CASREC nurse but "turning to" and providing the aide and comfort the people sorely need.
    I have the privledge of working with Chaplain Oravec on a daily basis and know that his presence is a source of comfort, solace, and spiritual connection, there are none better.
    NNMC is standing by to amass donated supplies of clothing, toys, and sundry items at your request sir.


    LCDR T. A. Hazlett

  2. Sir, Thank you so much for posting these stories. These stories need to be shared. Our thoughts and prayers are with the COMFORT and all of it wounderful crew, and of course, the people of Haiti.

  3. Sir-

    Thank you so very much for posting your comments. My daughter is amoung your crew. She volunteered to make a difference like all of you. She's 20 years old, and comes to you from Camp Pendleton. You're all making a very big difference for so many people. Take care.
    I hope you can all come home soon, but what you're doing is miraculous. Keep going somehow. We, your families, are so very proud of all of you, here at home. We'll see you again soon. As soon as this mission of mercy and caring is complete. Take care and please know that all of you are missed and loved by your families here at home.

    Joyce Cummings
    Naples, FL