Saturday, February 13, 2010

One Month Ago. . .

One month ago last night the ground shook in Haiti. At 4:53pm, Dad just got home from work and stretched out for a nap. His wife was busy gathering that night's dinner. It wasn't one of the fancy houses on the hill, but it was his. The streat was cluttered with rubble and garbage that never quite seemed to make it into a pan. Oh well, that's life in Haiti! And then an estimated at 230,000 people died.

Other elements of the Armed Forces of the United States of America were on station three days after the quake and they provided much needed immediate relief. One week after the quake, we took on our first two patients by hellicopter as soon as we were in range. Then day after day after day of gruelling work with people screaming, legs missing, broken thigh bones, crushed heads, and the list goes on.

Last night onboard COMFORT, we took a moment to reflect on that tragedy, said prayers for all the people who were so devistated by what happened. And shared stories of tragedy and triumph onboard COMFORT.

The night started with prayer and scripture reading, both in English and Creole. Then a time of sharing included the story of Isabel Rose, the baby that I talked about shortly after we arrived in Haiti. Isabel Rose was born two and half months premature to a mother who had her pelvis crushed during the earthquake. The injury caused her water to break and it was necessary to deliver the baby, both to save the mother's life, as well as to give the baby any chance at all at survival.

Isabel Rose was born through Cesarean Section and initially was doing pretty well. But as the days went by, she began to fail. She had a tube inserted to help her breathe, another one to help her eat, and an IV for fluids and medications. But she kept getting worse. Her mother was given the bad news. The Chaplain was called to pray and baptized little baby Isabel. Then the decision was made to remove her breathing tube and to keep her warm, until she passed away. So the tube came out, she was wrapped in a blanket and placed back into the incubator. Her mother, the Chaplain, and the team who had so lovingly cared for this, the first baby born on COMFORT, waited for the end.

They're still waiting. God wasn't ready for Isabel to come back to him just yet. As the minutes, then the hours, then the days passes, she kept going. She grew stronger, and bigger, and just the other day, she and her mother left COMFORT for another hospital in Haiti where little Isabel will continue to grow as her mother continues to heal.

Then the singing began. One of our line officers, LCDR Mortimer sang a moving rendition of the Navy Hymn including a special verse written to commemorate this Haitian tragedy. Then the "Joyful Noise" Choir got up and sang "This Little Light of Mine" is a way that would have made every one of their Sunday School teachers proud! Then it was the Haitian's turn. Now I don't know if they have mandatory singing training in Haiti, but I tell you what, you get a group of Haitians together, and every one of them can sing like an angel!

Now you know me. They don't call me the "frozen chosen" for nothing. I still think maybe people are overdoing it a little if they clap their hands in church. But, I tell you what! I was clappin my hands, tapin my foot, and just gettin all warm in side as our many patients joined us on the mess decks to share in this time of remembrence and celebration. It was a hoot!

I truly think things are slowly getting better in Haiti, if only the criminal element and stooges allow it to happen.

Well, I'm about to fall asleep. I haven't been sleeping terribly well for the last few days, waking up a lot during the evening. But that's OK, something tells me I'm gonna sleep like the dead tonight! Ahh the power of the little white pill! It's pretty hard to do this 30 minutes after you took an Ambien. It's all I can do to see the screen. Oh well! Have a great night.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Change is in the Air!

It rained this morning. Hard. I haven't been ashore to see what the impact has been there, but I have seen some pictures on the news. Doesn't look pretty. This is the first real rain we've had since we got here, and since the earthquake. I can only imagine what the city must look like with rivers of pulverized concrete and muck flowing through the streets.

I thought I would share with you today what COMFORT has accomplished while here in Haiti. To date, we have admitted just under 900 patients. The vast majority of them (just under 800) needed complex orthopedic surgeries to repair their crushed and broken bodies. We delivered two newborns to mothers who were injured in the quake. We have supported and helped facilities ashore and we are now expanding that program to provide even more help in the days ahead. We have returned nearly 550 patients either to home or to other facilities here in Haiti to recouperate. We have medevaced 81 patients to the United States for ongoing care that we couldn't do here on COMFORT.

The pace of new admissions has dropped off over the last week and with the addition of a team of Orthopedic surgeons from the Orthopedic Trauma Association, we have completely caught up on the hundreds of patients onboard COMFORT who were waiting for surgery.

Tomorrow marks one month since the earthquake. Watching the international community come together to help these people has been inspiring. We have had French, Italian, Colombian, Mexican and German ships anchored near us (I'm sure there were others, but that's what I remember off the top of my head!) Ashore there has been an Israeli hospital, as well as teams from many other countries. Today or tomorrow we'll be welcoming a Colombian medical team aboard to work with us for a few days.

When we first got here, there were hardly any lights on in the city of Port-au-Prince. But each night, it seems like there are more.

I miss the snow back home! 90 degrees and February just don't mix in my mind! Oh well, with my luck it'll be 90 degrees in Baltimore when we get home!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Who is that Handsome Guy?

You know, there are precious few pictures of me on this blog, because I'm usually on the back side of the camera! But, the other day when we were ashore, there was one of the Navy photographers with us and he snapped a few pics that had me in them, so I thought I would throw them up here.

Here, Commodore Laco and I are assessing the area around the city center port where we landed. Lots of damage to the port, but the US Military has made temporary repairs and has botten ships coming in and dropping off much needed material to support the disaster relief.

From there we traveled up to St. Damian's Orphanage and children's hospital and we put together a number of cots that we had been able to provide the hospital to make it possible for them to take some of our post-operative patients for follow-on care.
And after about an hour or so of that work, we got a tour of their facility and got to meet some of the volunteers who were there doing great things for the people of Haiti.

Well, our network is getting ready to go down for awhile, so I need to get this posted quick! Thanks for all your prayers!

Friday, February 5, 2010

XO Goes Ashore: Oh My God!

Yesterday, I went ashore for the first time since we arrived a couple of weeks ago (well, actually, I did go ashore one time earlier, but it was for only a second). I will start this blog post by stating what became an epiphany for me from yesterday's trip: Nothing you or I have seen, nothing you or I have heard, can prepare you for the overwhelming emenseness of this tragedy. Take every picture, every sight, every sound, every word that you have seen, heard or read about this disaster, put them all together and multiply them by a million, and you wouldn't begin to appreciate the scope of the destruction in Port-au-Prince.

As we pulled into the downtown port, the damage was evident. Two large cranes, used to offload container ships were collapsed into the water. I can't tell for sure, but it looks like they were standing on a pier that entirely collapsed into the water, leaving the cranes leaning dangerously over the harbor.

While I could see the collapsed neighborhoods on the hills surrounding the city's plains, I didn't get a chance to go up there. There were a number of buildings that I saw that were completely collapsed, but most of the structures in the lower part of the city, while often damaged, have not completely collapsed. Lots of rubble, lots of broken walls, lots of parts of buildings collapsed, but not the dramatic pancaked buildings that are common in other parts of the city.

But what I did see was mile, after mile, after mile of makeshift tent cities with thousands upon thousands of people milling about with no electricity, no sanitation, no running water, spending every waking hour struggling to scavenge or find enough food and water to keep themselves and their families alive.

But at the same time, there is evidence that the city is reawakening from this nightmare. Traffic, unlike just about anywhere else in the world, is beginning to return to it's normal, hyper-chaotic, "he who gets his front bumper into a space first has the right of way," jumble of vehicles all pushing their way through a turnstile at the same time. Motorcycles and scooters swarm between vehicles in what can only be described as a death wish. But amazingly, with almost two hours of travel in a bus through this environment, not one scratch, not one nick, not one bumped mirror, even with big Mac trucks and tanker trucks squeezing their way along a road built for two lanes of traffic with at least four lanes of vehicles pushing their way along.

Trash is everywhere, along with the rubble, but that's not a lot different from what the place was like last April when we were here. And maybe we were just lucky, but we didn't smell much in the way of decomposition, other than rotting vegetables and the dusty, dirty smell that again was not much different from the pre-quake Port-au-Prince.

But amongst all of that, the people demonstrate the resiliance for which they have become famous. People are generally wearing clean clothes, and are moderately clean. Children are cared for, and people have taken their situations into their own hands and have produced thousands and thousands of shelters from every kind of fabric, tarp, or piece of sheet metal that they could find. Of course, these will be precious little defense against the rains that are only a few weeks away, but they do shelter them from the sun, and if the earth moves again, they won't have to worry about slabs of concrete crushing them to death.

Our mission yesterday was to visit the St. Damien's Orphanage and hospital located only a few hundred yards from the American Embassy. St. Damien's is actually a fine hospital and facility that is well maintained and almost an oasis within the desert of beauty that is Port-au-Prince. St. Damien's has a dedicated medical staff and they are doing everything they can to take care of as many of the injured as possible. We took them some much needed medical supplies to help them care for the 25 recovering patients of ours that they have graciously agreed to help nurse back to health. We also took some cots that we put together and placed in some large tents that they have set up as additional wards in front of the hospital.

Well, I need to run and get back to work, so I'll just say goodbye for now. Keep praying for the people of Haiti. This disaster will soon leave your TV's, but it won't leave Haiti for many years.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

It’s hard to believe that it’s already been five days since the last time I wrote on this blog. Every night, I try to write something, but for the last four nights, by the time the day is winding down, so is my ability to even think, let alone write.

Tonight, I just quit. As the last two meetings of the evening wound down, I looked around and no one was there with something I needed to do. I could have gone looking, and I probably should have, but I told myself, “If I can make it to my stateroom without the tyranny of the urgent grabbing me on the way, I’m going to go straight there and try to write something for the blog. Well, I made it! So far, the day has been 15 hours. I’ll spend about an hour trying to write this (and get it loaded to the net which is whole nother problem!) and maybe I can get a good night’s sleep.

But even as I’m typing this, we just went to Flight Quarters.

I’ve said this before, but it is so strange to experience the changes to the space-time continuum that has happened over the last two weeks. Two weeks, it can not possibly be only two weeks since we arrived here in Port-au-Prince. So much has happened, so much has been done: We’ve treated over 700 patients, every one of them severely injured. We’ve done over 500 major surgeries including 38 today. We’ve sent over 300 people who came to us broken, bleeding and dying back home to their families. And we’ve stood by 21 souls as they’ve torn this earthly veil and joined the hundreds of thousands of their brothers and sisters who fell victim to the power of nature to shake our world.

Several days ago, I took pictures of some of the other ships here serving in Haiti. I don’t know which ones they were exactly, but we’ve had ships associated with two ARGs ( I think that’s Amphibious Ready Groups, but I’m not sure. We live and die by our acronyms and all I ever call them is ARGs) lead by the USS NASSAU and the USS BATAAN. We also had one CSG (That’s Carrier Strike Group) headed by the USS CARL VINSON. The VINSON and her escorts have left us now.

There are also a number of Partner Nation ships here. This is a picture of the French ship SCIRACCO (sp?). Her Captain and Senior Medical Officer came to the COMFORT for dinner with our ship’s Master, Captain Holley. Tonight we had a visit from the leader of a group of Colombians here rendering assistance to the people of Haiti.

Our Intensive Care Artist has given us two more drawings that I am sharing with you. They really are telling of the scope of this tragedy.

Tonight we’re getting a shot in the arm! We have been overwhelmed with major Orthopedic Surgery cases. Broken femurs, broken legs and feet, broken pelvises, shattered arms, broken backs, broken necks, and broken skulls. We left Baltimore with one Orthopedic surgeon onboard. We received several more when we were plused up after our arrival here, and today, we’re receiving 10 more! Six of which are Orthopedic Trauma surgeons. We plan on running three OR’s 24 hours a day doing nothing but Orthopedic surgery to burn through the hundreds of surgical patients who have been waiting since the earthquake more than three weeks ago for a chance to have their broken bodies repaired.

We also have some new equipment that we’ve received to help them do the voodoo they do: Three C-Arm Fluoroscopy machines. Complete with tech rep to get them up and running and two Radiation Physicists to calibrate and certify them safe for use. These expensive pieces of equipment weren’t ordered until after we arrived here in Haiti. So in less than two weeks, the Naval Medical Logistics Command in Frederick, Maryland turned around a request for these machines, got the quotes, wrote the contracts, got them shipped, then the Supply team got them hop scotched from Jacksonville to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, out to the BATAAN and then yesterday, finally lifted to the COMFORT. Purely amazing!

OK, that’s enough for tonight. It is getting late and I need to finish this and check to see if that tyranny of the urgent is waiting outside me door!

And Debbie, I love you so much! We’ll be home soon! Well, someday!