On the afternoon of March 19 president Jovenal Moise of Haiti in a press conference announced the results of the first positive COVID test in Haiti. At that moment he declared the Port au Prince airport closed and not another commercial passenger airplane has landed since that time. I happened to be on a short now turned long trip to California where I had planned to work for a few days at Loma Linda University. After several attempts to return to Haiti and multiple reservations that continue to get delayed by the airlines I am still in California working on many hospital related projects, administrative initiatives, equipment acquisition and remote management of hospital renovations. Marni was in Haiti when the border was precipitously shut down and was able to return on a repatriation flight. So although many have expressed concern for us being displaced from our home in Haiti during the pandemic I assure you that no one needs to feel sorry for us at all. We have been graciously hosted in a beautiful and peaceful guest house of some good family friends in Redlands.
Most of the expatriate hospital staff returned to the states as there was mounting political unrest and threats towards foreigners that were viewed as vectors of the coronavirus. It was not without significant reluctance that the decision to bring foreign staff back to the United States was made. We have a wonderful team both foreign and local that despite being geographically separated have continued to work together in order that the medical outreach can continue at HAH. I continue to spend almost all of my time on HAH projects, meetings, planning, and acquiring needed equipment.
At present the number of COVID cases in Haiti is just under 4000 with 67 deaths which is quite low compared to other countries where the human immune system is more coddled than in the streets of Port au Prince. We certainly cannot attribute this low death rate to an advanced medical system that is accessible to all. At HAH an abundance of precautions have been taken and like many hospitals in the US, the census is low, outpatient clinics are slower than normal, and efficiency has declined significantly. This has had an obvious impact on revenue, which has mandated unpaid leave for many of our employees. Without government aid and personal resources this has created some incomprehensible challenges.
Jonathan Euler deserves great accolades for weathering the pandemic without missing a beat. He has remained in Haiti throughout and been a huge blessing to our hospital as well as the 15-20 workers who have been able to maintain employment during the last several months. With less than normal numbers of patients we have taken the opportunity to complete a few otherwise logistically difficult projects. We were able to shut down the food service for a several weeks in order to complete the remodeling of the kitchen. This has been a much needed project that included some electrical work, replacing a few appliances, some new tile, painting the walls and fixing lights and fans. The difference is dramatic and the cost for the entire kitchen and dining room makeover was less than what a kitchen remodel would cost at your house. The simplicity of the construction will make the kitchen easy to keep clean and maintain while standing up to the rigors of cooking hundreds of meals every day.
Another major project has been the resurfacing of the floor in the main corridor of the hospital. After great deliberation we decided that the practicality and look of the original green hospital tile was the best choice for this project. These tiles are made locally, are very robust and equal or less expensive than other options. The tiles are also less slippery and do not show dirt and imperfections like some of the more modern choices. The old flooring had withstood 40 years of abuse and been patched in various places. Our gurneys can now roll smoothly through the hallways without having to go over ½” drops where new and old tile converged. (No more yelps from our patients as they were jolted over these speed bumps while rolling down the hallway with fresh fractures.)
On the medical front Dr. Geneus has led the staff through appropriate protocols and precautions. A COVID ward has been established and hosted a handful of patients. Dr. Alexis has been doing excellent orthopedic work during my absence. He frequently sends me photos of complex external fixators and well done SIGN nails for patients with various deformities and traumatic injuries.
In order to help our employees and their families we are raising $10,000 in order to give each of our 200 employees a Covid Care Package. Each package will consist of approximately $50 of food and essential supplies that will help to feed their families for several weeks. This project is a team effort that includes: a select few hospital workers who will be volunteering their time to help put these packages together, Jonathan and Mackenson who are organizing the process, and the rest of us who are contributing financial resources. If you want to speak out for social justice without having to take to the streets with a picket, then go to www.amistadinternational.org and designate “Haiti Hospital Employee Fund” on the donation link to contribute to this project.
Look What Happened at HAH in 2019
These before and after pictures are just the beginning of the story. Hôpital Adventiste is undergoing a major transformation. With an effort to make the hospital look on par with the quality of services we offer some minor and major renovations were necessary. We want patients to have a small taste of the kingdom of God when they enter the gates of HAH. We want them to feel peace and have an environment conducive to healing. This is a stark contrast to the chaos, and destruction of nature that exists outside the gates of our hospital. For many years various projects have been done at Hôpital Adventiste and have improved it in a number of ways. But this past year we were able to organize a coordinated effort to systematically clean up, fix up and overhaul the institution.
In April of 2019 Jonathan Euler who works with a nearby sister organization helped us on a small project. His resourcefulness was so incredibly helpful that I asked him if he could help us on a full time basis. Work was going slow with his other organization due to political issues and so he was able to make himself available to supervise our work crew. He has been a huge blessing to HAH. His organizational skills and ability to get stuff done is unparalleled. I also owe a lot of gratitude to my dad Peter and his friend JT Haas who have made multiple trips down here this past year and lent their expertise and work ethic to the effort. My dad still likes to put in 10+ hour days and use his skills as a retired dentist to drill holes and fix just about anything. JT recently retired from Pacific Gas and Electric where he was in charge of power distribution for the central coast of California. We have had experts give advice and others come to do electrical work but never before has expertise and the ability to get a job done been so effectively combined.
In a country where people struggle to feed their family, where political turmoil has devastated the economy, and where people are suffering from illness and injury without resources to access care, we had to ask ourselves if painting the walls, landscaping and putting up light fixtures at Hôpital Adventiste made sense. The experiment began with a few small jobs here and there. Workers were begging for more work. We provided it. The hospital needed painting and volunteers said it was too dangerous to come to Haiti so we hired local workers. Workers learned new skills, they got paid, and they fed their families. The workers and hospital employees started developing a zeal for the work and a sense of pride for well-done projects. Everyone was encouraged. Now I see our employees, patients and other visitors taking selfies in front of the hospital. Donor funds are not getting used just once, they are getting used over and over. Money is used to pay workers, the hospital gets fixed up, workers are trained in new skills and their families are getting fed. This allows us to operate our hospital more efficiently than ever and create more accessibility for patients in need. The pictures that follow portray some of the more cosmetic aspects of the hospital makeover. It is a work in progress. Thank you all for your support, it is making a difference, a big difference. We have many more goals for 2020!!
Thank you to Jonathan, JT and Peter for all their hard work!
12 January, 2010
I finish a day of work at the Cure Hospital in Santo Domingo, jump on my motorcycle and head out for the evening commute. This involves winding in between gridlocked vehicles jumping the curb a few times and finding any small path to make the 2 mile commute a little more efficient. Horns are honking and buses are belching out black smoke. I stop by a café to answer a few emails before going home to see Marni and the boys. Suddenly the place begins to shake. In Santo Domingo it was already 5:53pm. (one time zone west of Haiti) My California roots keep me from acting overly alarmed in spite of the fact that a few others start to panic. It stops, I finish my business and then go home. When I arrive the answering machine is blinking indicating a message (amazing to think that land lines and answering machines were still a preferred form of communication 10 years ago). My friend from California called to ask if I was OK. Wow! What just happened? Could it be about that little shaker that I just felt? I turn on the news. They are talking about Haiti and showing some satellite images. There is no communication with anyone on the other side of our island. News reporters just keep repeating the same lines and we keep listening to it hoping to hear some new information. The worst is feared. Thousands likely dead.
I made many trips there before and know the challenges of life in Haiti. As an orthopaedic surgeon living just a couple hundred miles away there was no choice but to go. Should I go immediately or wait until we get more information and make a plan? Marni says to go. I have no choice. I gather my team and supplies at the Cure Hospital and by Thursday morning everything is in order for a chartered flight across the island. The Port au Prince airport is collapsed and things are getting chaotic. Just as we are about to leave Santo Domingo we get word that that the American military has seized control of PAP airport closed it to all inbound aircraft. We go anyway. We had no idea what would happen, where we would get our next meal, our next shower or where we would lay our head to rest. That was not really important. When we arrive our worst fears our confirmed. We stop by a few hospitals to assess the situation. There are hundreds of patients all over the place. They are all over the parking lot, all over the lawn, in the courtyards and a few brave ones in the hallways. Almost all of them are orthopedic cases. Some seriously injured, some dying, others already dead.
Today at HAH we had a service to remember that tragic day – one of the deadliest earthquakes in the history of mankind.
Every person in Haiti over about 13 years of age remembers exactly where they were at that moment. Almost all have friends and family who perished in that disaster that took the lives of more than 200,000. Unfortunately it sometimes takes a tragedy to remind us about what is most important in life. This is true for many of us on a personal level, but it was also true for Hôpital Adventiste d’Haiti. Prior to the earthquake this “mission” hospital, was suffering from financial issues, a declining reputation, and no ability to care for poor people. The last decade has brought unprecedented donations and expertise to our hospital. In the aftermath of the earthquake this allowed an outpouring of services for those with no means to pay. Now 10 years later this still remains a priority. In addition our hospital has provided services never before possible in Haiti and is now the most advanced center for orthopedics in the country. Our laboratory, imaging center, emergency room and operating room are also offering some of the best services in the country. I thank our staff for their compassion and their devotion. I thank our volunteers and I thank our donors for all that they have made possible. And most of all we can be thankful for God’s rich blessings on this hospital. As we enter the next decade I know that there are even greater blessings in store as long as we can continue to do our part.
How Hôpital Adventiste Makes the Most Out of the Donors Dollar
As of early December the S&P stock index posted nearly 25% returns for 2019. At HAH it is our goal to give you an even higher return on your investment. Perhaps it can’t be measured in terms of an objective percentage, but I would like to share with you how we are maximizing returns on the donor dollar. The Bible says you should store up your treasure in heaven and some donors consider that done once the check is written, but others are interested in knowing how their dividends are being maximized. Either way we take the honor of managing donations seriously and want you to be able to know exactly how they are being used. Since I have put a significant amount of my own resources into this project I can assure you that the this money is being managed as if my own. The responsibility of managing all that people have committed to this project was one of the big motivating factors for us to move to Haiti full-time. It is important that these resources are used in the most efficient and effective way with the goal of ultimately giving life-changing love, hope and healing to those in need.
In order to create sustainable accessibility for patients and offer high quality care we invest donor funding into building infrastructure rather than for the never-ending burden of operating expenses. One example is the installation of a digital x-ray system. Since we installed this in 2018, we now have no overhead for the cost of chemicals and film. If we need to repeat a film, we can do it at no cost to ourselves and no cost to the patient. This means better quality, more revenue and a lower price for the patient.
We recently invested in the installation of a CT scanner. This machine is in excellent condition and was donated by AdventHealth in Orlando. The infrastructure to properly run this machine is quite complex, but we were able to do it for a fraction of the normal cost. This now provides another revenue stream for the hospital. We have also built the best lab in Haiti, financed by donor funds, which now supports not only itself but provides additional support for other parts of the hospital. Solar power is another area that we are looking into as this would relieve another $10,000/month of operating expense. We are in the midst of renovating a number of areas of the hospital and also have some new construction planned. By funding capital expenses from outside sources we are able to keep our patient fees as low as possible and maximize quality.
You may be wondering why we have patient fees at all. This is a complex topic and can be explained in another post. But be assured that our goal is to take care of everyone who walks through our doors. We have established a financial counseling center in order to meet the needs of our patients in a caring and equitable fashion. We have a fund set up specifically to support this program. Please go to the donate tab if you are interested in donating directly to the indigent patient endowment fund. We have also designed discount programs to encourage patients to come in before their condition progresses to the point where it is difficult, if not impossible, to treat.
The formula seems to be working. Patient volume is at an all-time high. People of all classes are receiving care. The hospital is breaking even on routine operating expenses for the first time in years. Employees are getting paid on time and morale is better than ever. By focusing on our mission to give the highest quality care to everyone, especially those lacking resources, the Lord is blessing this hospital in immeasurable ways.
Here are a few examples of how this works.
- Orthopaedic implants are typically a major hospital expense. At HAH we spend almost nothing on implants. Many implants are donated by visiting teams. Many instrument sets were donated in the aftermath of the earthquake and we continue to maintain and use these. Many items like external fixators can be reprocessed and used like new. The external fixator in Figure 1a is a Taylor Spatial Frame and this particular construct would typically cost around $15,000 in the US. At HAH – no cost. The fixator in Figure 1b shows a kickstand that we built with a few extra blue connectors ($400ea in the US) and carbon fiber rods. This is to hold the leg up and prevent pressure sores. In the US we might forego the luxury of this due to the $2000 price tag, but in Haiti we can build these as fancy as we want using reconditioned parts
2. We spend a lot of time sorting and organizing inventory. We don’t want to spend money on something we might already have. It is important to know exactly what we have and know where it is when it is needed. (Fig. 2)
3. This is our radiolucent OR table. I had it constructed 10 years ago in the Dominican Republic for $300. It goes up and down and does almost everything its $150,000 American equivalent can do. (Fig. 3)
4. Never let a pound of baggage allowance go unused! (Fig. 4) We try to support the local economy by purchasing as much as possible locally, but certain items must be imported. Shipping is expensive and we only use shipping services when items are too big to be placed in checked luggage. A recent piece of equipment needed to be taken to the US for repair. It weighed 80lbs so I partly dismantled it prior to packing in order to avoid overweight charges.
5. Local laborers are eager to work. They get a lot done and are learning a lot of new skills. Most of them work for less than $15 a day and this feeds multiple family members while beautifying our hospital. Our hospital provides employment for nearly 200 people. (Fig. 5)
6. Foreign staff at our hospital work either completely as volunteers or survive on a very modest stipend. (Fig. 6a) Joseph Mahoney is starting our CT scan program and provides training and administration in the department of radiology. (Fig. 5b) Joseph’s children volunteering their services (child slavery not endorsed).
7. When equipment needs to be fixed we make phone calls, we watch DIY videos on YouTube, and read instruction manuals. Often the surgeon does more than surgery. (Fig. 7)
8 Notice the lack of disposables in our operating room. (Fig. 8) We use cloth gowns and drapes and reprocess almost everything including suction tubing and electrocautery pencils. This is good for the environment as well as the unemployment rate in Haiti. And it saves money. “Pas de gaspillage” Means “no wastage” in French. The nurses know that these are some of my favorite words and find it intriguing why some American guy is so concerned about avoiding waste.
9. This is our safe drinking water project. It cost about $3000 to set up and saves the hospital a couple hundred dollars each month. (Fig. 9)
10. We have eliminated more or less all the piles of equipment like this. (Fig. 10) We either fix stuff or properly dispose of it. In the past there was often a lack of resources and ability to fix things like this. When a wheel would break on a gurney the whole thing was put outside and left to rust. After a few years someone would donate another one. The rusty one would remain in the weeds. Now we spend the extra $50 bucks, fix the wheel and keep our gurneys rolling.
I would like to give a big thanks to all of our supporters. The success of HAH depends on resources, leadership, and collaboration between a lot of people with different skills. Anyone who supports our program or is interested in supporting our program can feel free to contact us for further specific financial data and information on donating.
There is a lot of exciting stuff going on at HAH. The Lord is blessing our feeble efforts in many ways. Jonathan and his men worked like a Formula 1 pit crew this month in order to move some major projects forward. Jonathan used my arrival from a 2 week trip to Loma Linda to motivate the team and they really impressed me. Many times after a trip arriving back can be a bit overwhelming but I have to say it was exciting to get back and see all the progress. In spite of my absence for two weeks surgical volume remained just below last month’s record high and exceeded all previous months. Here are a few November highlights.
New Record at HAH
During the month of October we performed more surgeries than ever in the recorded history of HAH.
Our staff crushed the previous record from April 2018 when we did 101 cases. (That was with the help of a high powered visiting team)
Last month we did 121 cases and these were all done by our own doctors and nurses. We did 63 ortho cases, 15 general surgery and the remainder mostly OB/Gyn. Now, in reality we have the capacity to do much more, but given the political situation in Haiti it is absolutely remarkable that our hospital is rising to new levels during these tumultuous times. Many other hospitals are barely functioning if at all. It is not easy to keep functioning when every bit of infrastructure around us is deteriorating. “Peyi Lok” or Operation Lockdown has been in full force throughout the country of Haiti this last month. Stores are mostly closed, public transportation is scarce, fuel is in short supply, utilities are even more unreliable than usual and gangsters have seized control of major thoroughfares.
Several times this past month we were down to just a few gallons of diesel fuel to keep our generators working.
But one way or another it all worked out.
The Lord’s blessing on our work here is palpable. Along with that I would like to put a big shout out to our staff who have kept working in spite of adversity. They have had to traverse burning roadblocks, avoid gunfire, and often come to work on foot due to lack of public transportation. Our head nurse had her phone robbed at gunpoint on her morning commute. The bandit held his gun to her chest on a busy street and told her to keep quiet and give him her phone. So she did.
It is impressive to see the commitment, unity and religious zeal that everyone has for the work at HAH. While strife outside our walls increases, stories of healing at HAH are multiplying. Credit does not only go to our OR staff but also to our administration and ancillary staff who do the behind the scenes work to source oxygen, fuel, food and other key supplies. The goal of the gangsters is to squeeze all commercial and government functions until the society implodes and the government steps down. This poses danger to the garbage truck dudes. Trash pickup lapsed for 4 weeks until Clarens our CFO was finally able to negotiate a deal with the city to haul off some rubbish. They came at 11pm on a Saturday night to do an undercover job in order to avoid the gangsters.
As one of the only fully functioning hospitals in Port au Prince, more and more people are coming to HAH during this humanitarian crisis. We are needed more than ever. Thanks to our staff, to our supporters and to God, HAH is setting new records.
New Limb Lengthening Technology Arrives in Haiti
Naika was born with a short leg. The condition is known as congenital femoral deficiency. There are all different levels of severity which affect not only the length of the bone but also the function of the knee and hip. For Naika the issue was not a huge problem when she was a little girl but these short legs stay in proportion meaning that the difference in length between her legs gets bigger as she gets bigger. Now at the age of 17 she has a leg length discrepancy of 3 inches and walks with a significant limp. This is not a common diagnosis but for one reason or another I have attracted quite a number of these challenging cases over the years.
Lengthening of bone especially for congenital issues is fraught with complications and not considered a mainstream part of our profession. Fortunately I have had some great mentors and for better or worse have had personal experience with a lot of the complications. As time goes on I have become better at avoiding them. Many times I am faced with scars and complications from previous failed attempts when these cases present. But Naika had never before had the resources to find treatment. This was a good thing.
I would never wish a congenital deformity on anyone, but I have to admit I was secretly excited about this case. It was a challenging one but not overwhelmingly so. A new implant was developed and became available in 2011 that revolutionized our ability to perform bone lengthening. This magnetically driven distraction rod negates the need for external fixation and is much better tolerated by patients. The price of these implants is about $19,000 and is sometimes difficult to get approved even by US insurance companies.
Thinking about how great it would be to be able to offer this treatment to Naika I sent a quick message with a photo of Naika to my Nuvasive sales rep Al Thomsen in San Diego. He said he would work on it. As good of a guy as Al is I did not get my hopes up. People have busy lives and Haiti is not always on one’s mind when trying to deal with first world problems.
But Al and his company got back to me in 2 weeks and said they would be happy to donate an implant and they would personally deliver it and participate in the case just as if we were at LLU!
The case was scheduled and airline tickets were purchased. Al did not waver when reading news reports about civil unrest and fiery protests in Port au Prince.
Since I have become the “go to” for any piece of broken equipment at HAH, two days before Al’s trip, I was faced with the need to replace a unique 1/2’’ copper union on our central oxygen system. This is a bit beyond what you would expect to find at Home Depot, but I called to see if Al could source the part. I followed with a text a few minutes later asking him to warn me when he was going to the store so I could be available for trouble shooting. He said he was already at the plumbing store. This was only 10 min after I had made the cold call request!
They did not have quite the right part so he went to another place and found it. But the pieces needed to be sweated together by a professional plumber. Five minutes after that he texted me that he met a plumber in the parking lot who donated his services on the back of his mobile plumbing truck and got the job done.
Al and Craig Decker from Nuvasive arrived well, minus the implants that were placed in a suitcase that went missing at the Port au Prince airport. Fortunately that situation got resolved, albeit with a bit of stress. The case went well. I won’t bore you with the details but if you are interested I previously published a short YouTube video of the Precice® Nail Surgical Technique. The plumbing part also fit perfectly and for the first time in 4 months our oxygen system was back up and running. I also found out that Al is an experienced electrician and he was able to help me install and fix a lot of other stuff.
A big part of the success of limb lengthening cases lies in proper physical therapy. In fact this is so important that at Loma Linda University many of our patients who are coming from distant locations to have this surgery performed are required to stay in town for 1-3 months during the lengthening process.
At HAH it is wonderful to have Dr. Irma Henry who trained at LLU and her capable team provide this same high level of rehab service. Naika is enrolled in PT 5x per week and working hard to maintain knee and hip motion in order to have the best result possible.
For Naika this is like a miracle. Many of us wonder why “miracles” don’t seem to happen like they did in Bible times, but I would argue that they actually do. Jesus commissioned the disciples to go out, proclaim the kingdom of God and perform miracles in His name. Today, those of us who were born with resources, and educated in the health care profession have a similar commission. To Naika, this is a miracle. Yes maybe we do understand how that magnetic gear works, and even atheists could perform the operation, but the miracle of new bone filling in the gap and building strength with time is not something that any of us can take credit for. Watch for follow up images of this modern day miracle in future posts.
THE WEEK IN PHOTOS:
Although our hospital continues to improve, the situation beyond our walls continues to deteriorate. The streets are a mess, protests and gangster control have locked down the country. Schools are closed until January, banks and businesses are only open intermittently and getting supplies is very difficult. Trips across town and airport transfers are made with trepidation. So far the ambulance has only suffered a few hits from rock throwers. All of this has significantly affected patient flow, but in spite of that, volume overall this year is up from previous and the hospital is surviving financially. We continue in our efforts to restore the hospital. On our campus people are working and getting paid for it. The work here provides jobs for people in need, teaches new skills, and gives a sense of accomplishment. We are all working with a sense of enthusiasm and loyalty for the mission of this institution. The result is a beautiful and peaceful environment where we can share God’s love, peace and healing power which is needed more than ever in this country.
Jonathan Euler and his crew are largely responsible for this. He and I watched a few youtube videos on how to make curbs before we launched the project. Normally curbs are not something that you probably have ever noticed but everyone is pretty excited about this as the job was quite a challenge
Hôpital Adventiste: Standing Strong Amidst Political Crisis
Monday I arrive at Port au Prince Aéroport Toussaint Louverture. Michel our hospital driver is running one hour late. Normally he is always on time but today he had to take a more circuitous route than normal to avoid the fiery barricades and mobs of people that have taken to the streets.
People are riled up because the president is trying to install a prime minister accused of a string of corrupt deals. Luckily I make it through customs OK with four heavy bags of equipment for the hospital. This was facilitated by an eager baggage handler who put my bags through an x-ray machine and quickly stacked them back on my cart while whispering something in my ear. I knew what it was about. As soon as we got around the corner he wanted $50USD. I smile and give him $10, which I justify as a tip for handling the bags rather than a bribe for customs. Before long Michel arrives, and we set out from the airport taking the back streets across town. Each time before making a turn Michel looks down the street to check for barricades. When we see smoke, flames, or mobs we take the alternate street, sometimes going in the desired direction. With minimal traffic on the road we arrive at the hospital a little faster than usual.
Jere Chrispens, our CEO is not able to fly to the US on Tuesday after a fire breaks out in the airport gift shop, coincidentally about the same time the president of Haiti is supposed to depart for the UN general assembly. Flights already in the sky out of JFK and FLL are diverted and all arrivals and departures are cancelled for 24h. This is great for me because I get an extra day to work with Jere on hospital administrative issues.
Wednesday arrives. The ortho clinic is almost empty except for all of the faithful moms who bring their babies each week to the clubfoot casting program. There is almost no public transportation, there are fuel shortages, and the economic situation only continues to deteriorate. But nothing can get in the way of a mom watching out for her baby. They might not have food or means for anything else in life but they still show up to the clubfoot clinic so their babies won’t grow up disabled, ridiculed and disregarded in an already challenging life. Thankfully most of our employees live close to the hospital and loyally show up for work, albeit in some cases having to bypass rock throwing and gunfire.
Thursday is unusually peaceful except for some trauma cases that arrive including a 6 year old girl with an elbow fracture. I specifically mention her for a few reasons. It’s not because the case is so rare or amazing, but I am excited that she showed up to our hospital only one day after suffering a type 3 supracondylar fracture (Type 3=bad). In the past our hospital has had a reputation of being elitist and inaccessible. When hospital finances were tight prices were raised and poor people were turned away. In addition to not taking care of the poor, hospital finances continued to struggle. It has not been easy to show how lowering prices and creating accessibility can actually improve hospital finances, not to mention our bigger reason for being here. But this is happening.
It is by a combination of factors, not the least of which are the blessings that come from generosity. We started something called “Pwogram Ijans Aksidan” which means something like program for urgent accidents. This is a package deal that gives a 75% discount to trauma cases that present less than one week from the time of injury. In the quest to give the best treatment to the most people with a set amount of resources it makes sense to take care of injuries soon after they occur. We have many cases that present months after injury with complications or neglect. Instead of coming to our hospital at the time of injury, they went elsewhere or nowhere at all because they could not afford our hospital. Now out of work for months having spent whatever they may have had elsewhere, they need help. So this little 6 year old girl shows up at our Salle d’Urgence (ER) with an acute injury and I am excited. Her dad was processed through our new financial counseling office, given an affordable price and she got a 20 minute operation that will avoid a lifetime of disability. Multiple factors have impeded this process from gaining traction, but finally we are seeing the fruits of our labor. We would love to give it all for free, but there are other implications to that… too complex for this discussion. In any case we now have a system to make treatment possible for all and to avoid turning people away. It still has glitches but these are getting less and less.
The political situation continues to escalate throughout the week with plans for the most massive destruction ever to take place on Friday. People are demanding that President Jovenal step down. He gives a small speech – at 2am on Friday, no one seems to pay attention. People are angry about double digit inflation, fuel shortages, no electricity and billions of dollars that are unaccounted for. They take to the streets. Banks are closed, schools are closed, all major businesses are closed and the city is locked down. I see a couple of major fires already burning downtown when I go for my 6am run. Fires, road blocks and destruction persist throughout the day.
At the hospital things are eerily calm but we are safe. We do surgery and then I have time to tend to my many other responsibilities. Finally Friday night arrives and I have enough time to enjoy dinner before getting called to the salle d’urgence.
On Sabbath afternoon I take a walk down by the bay with Patrick to visit some of our patients. The conditions down there would be shocking to even the hardiest of missionaries. We see Jervens who previously had a colostomy after getting clogged up on cement that he ate, we see Michena who had burn contractures on her foot, and Jackson who had a life threatening infection, all of whom were treated at our hospital. I hear repeatedly “Bonswa blan” (good afternoon white) “Mesi mwen blan” (thank you my white). Then they bring me to see a 3 day old baby. The parents again thank me profusely for saving the mother’s life and for their baby. At first I don’t know what they are talking about, I am an orthopedic surgeon. But then I realize they had come to the hospital with mom in distress a few days before. They had no money. So I directed them to our new financial counseling office and they got treated. The system is working!!
Boot Camp Blast!
I wake up on Sabbath morning to enjoy a few peaceful moments under the mango tree, reflect on the events of the week and read a chapter in my French Bible. Sabbath is the only morning that we don’t have to hear the recently donated gas leaf blower start up at 620am. I also slept in a bit later than usual due to the absence of at least one outspoken rooster who routinely wakes up at 3:45am…
I contemplate the busy week of boot camp activities, wondering if the medical students have been as inspired by the experience as I have. We kicked off most days with a morning run, either a 5am run at the track or a 6am sunrise jaunt up the rugged dirt road hills returning through the chaos and pollution of Port au Prince rush hour traffic. Hospital worship starts at 730am sharp – a hymn, prayer, hymn, Psalms, devotional, special music, benediction, announcements and the salutation. It is good chance to practice French comprehension and greet the staff.
We then gathered around the table under the tree with our boot camp family to hear Sarah tell a story about working in a bush hospital – always with a spiritual pearl. The work strategy of the day was briefly discussed. Teams A, B and C – 3 students each take turns on different activities. The surgical service includes going to clinic, doing rounds, observing surgery, washing instruments, and organizing the OR. Sarah’s team roams the hospital looking for patients and projects that need attention. Their activities include caring for patients in the ER, transporting them to the OR, facilitating x-rays and labs, reorganizing the pharmacy, cast room, multiple storage rooms, working with nurses, repairing gurneys and wheelchairs. We also had a maintenance and grounds team which spent most of the two weeks putting a fresh coat of paint on our 300 foot wall. Lots of graffiti was eliminated, but more came in the night almost as quickly as the paint dried. Luckily there was time to repaint those parts of the wall and we now have two days of no graffiti in front of our hospital. Probably a new record.
Projects stopped at 4pm for the afternoon Kreyol class. Harrison is the professor and he did an excellent job. Everyone also got a chance to experience the hardships of life in Haiti by doing some home visits. Dr. Lamberton, chairman of the DMA program, came from Loma Linda to join us during the last several days. His sense of adventure found him on the back of a motorcycle taxi going on a home visit with some of the students. After dinner each night testimonies and experiences were shared and the answers to some difficult questions were discussed. Everyone went to bed tired.
Click the video above to see Dr. Dan Smith mellifluously insert an intramedullary nail.
James and Scott at work on a TSF
Dr. Dan Smith and Dr. James were able to do a much awaited for operation on a young boy who lives in squalor with a colostomy. He ate some cement a few years ago and plugged up his colon which resulted in 6 operations and a colostomy. The operation this week will once again allow him to have normal bowel function. This is a whole story of its own. No time now. But it is one of the many miraculous and providential events happening at HAH.
After finishing his surgery on Wednesday afternoon James and the students decided to chase the rooster down and chop his head off with a machete. The med students who just finished their anatomy class plucked him and used their knowledge to remove the liver, heart, gizzard and other innards. The rooster was then prepared with some spices from the bunkhouse and served as an hors d’oeuvre. Even the vegetarians and animal rights activists joined the occasion.
All of these events run through my head as I sit under the mango tree. Birds chirp, a gentle breeze blows, and the sun rises. After enjoying a few moments of peace I come back into the house to get away from the mosquitos, when suddenly I hear a loud boom and shattering glass. I run back outside to see James coming out of the duplex across the yard in a stupor. I find Sarah sitting inside on the floor relatively unharmed by the oven that just exploded. She is in a daze but still has a smile on her face and is chuckling about the event while holding her head. A thick smoky haze fills the house and oven parts are strewn about the kitchen. The oven was 18 inches out from the wall and the top looks like the open hood on a taptap. The blast blew out the kitchen window, shattered glass all over the porch, but the screen intact. Sarah only suffered a minor head injury from some unknown projectile. The flame had gone out while baking banana bread. Thinking the tank had probably run out of propane she tried to relight the oven. These Haitian ovens can be finicky and we learned that it is not good to relight them after the flame has gone out. Evidently the learning lesson was not clearly communicated to the students who were later cooking dinner and noticed their flame had gone out in the bunkhouse oven. Later in the day when Greg and Brianna try to relight the oven BOOM! Another blast, albeit slightly less forceful than the first. Hairs were singed, no windows blown out. Unlike the first oven this one might be repairable, or we will consider replacing with something of higher quality.
We wanted boot camp to be an authentic experience – not one that would just be called fun or enjoyable. Nonetheless it seems that everyone had a blast and thankfully it all ended well.
Good times with Greg