I can't believe that it's been almost a month since my last post. It's not that there hasn't been anything to talk about, nor is it that I haven't had the time. Actually, shortly after my last post, the bottom dropped out as far as any new patients coming to the ship. And although my work days are still generally about 14 hours or so, the pace certainly changed.
I think the reason is that early on, writing on this blog was almost cathartic as a means of emotional release. As things slowed down, the day ended not with me needing to unload emotionally, but just needing to go to bed!
So, anyway, here's whats been going on over the last month: From our peak census of about 500 patients onboard, we steadily started discharging patients, even as more came aboard. We had about 31 of what we termed "Difficult to Place" patients who we were very concerned about whether or not we would be able to find a place for them to go here in Haiti. These were paraplegics, quadraplegics, and patients with traumatic brain injuries. It wasn't easy, and took lots of partnership building with a number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) here in Haiti, but eventually, we were able to place all 31 into local facilities.
On February 27th, we discharged our last patient, pictured here! Then came the hard part: Waiting for the word to head home. We were told from the beginning that we would be here as long as the President needed us to be, so the process of convincing people up the Chain of Command that the need for the Hospital Ship had passed was not a quick task. I don't know if President Obama actually made the decision or not, but finally yesterday at 1:00pm we got the word that we would be leaving! And last night at 7:00pm the anchor came up and we put to sea headed non-stop for Norfolk, Va! Look out Norfolk! Here we come!
But if you listened to the President today from the Rose Garden, he made the point that the work in Haiti is not done. So why bring the COMFORT home now? Good question! Here's the answer: Our mission here was to provide care that was not available in Haiti. At first, that meant any complex surgery came to the ship, as well as many critically ill due to infection. Over the last 50 days that we have been here, a tremendous flood of capability came into the country, and the local hospitals have steadily been coming online to their pre-earthquake capability. So by the middle of February, there were very few cases that couldn't be handled by facilities ashore. We continued to provide some diagnostic services such as CT scans, but eventually, even those facilities were back in business in Haiti. At last count there were five CT scanners and one MRI working in the country. So, it's time for us to go!
Also, there is such a thing as the law of unintended consequences. You might think it's a great thing for the United States to provide all kinds of free health care for the people of Haiti. But the problem with that is that then their medical professionals, clinics and hospitals can't make a living, can't cover their costs, and so can't continue to provide care, and even more people will not have access to care. There have been protests in the streets of Haiti by Haitian physicians who are being driven out of business by all the wonderful help that has come to Haiti. The help is needed, but it needs to be balanced with a strategy that will not end up hurting the country even more in the long run. So, we did what we came to do: Provide services until the country's healthcare system could return to pre-earthquake capabilities. Now it's time for me to kiss my wife! Brace yourself, Debbie!
It has been 53 days since we set sail from Baltimore and in less than three days we will be back in Norfolk! It will be good to get back! My wife will be driving down from Maryland to meet us when we arrive and I can't wait to see her! We will have a couple of days together before she heads home and I go back to the ship. By the end of next week we will hopefully be back in Baltimore and we can put COMFORT back to bed! Then I can say hi to Ruffy! He's just such a boy!
At 6:45pm this evening we were 1018 miles as the crow flies from Pier 12 in Norfolk! Let's see how far we can get in a day!