Saturday, January 23, 2010

From the Trenches

Via Chaos Manor:
Report: Boots Back Home: Haiti, piece by piece...

Jerry, FYI.

---- To my family, friends and friends of friends -

First of all, I am humbled by the outpouring of support that Carla and I have received since last Friday when I received the offer to jump on a medical supply plane to fly to Haiti.

The details of our journey would challenge even the most interested of you to endure, so I won't belabor that. I would like to distill my experience down as best I can and share what I've learned from my time on the ground among the Haitian folks I was blessed to encounter.

The Haitians are an amazing culture. I found them friendly, patient, appreciative and incredibly resilient. They are, for a variety of reasons, thoroughly impoverished, and most in the country lack what we would consider even the most basic of daily needs. The average per capita income is $300.

Per year.

The damage resulting from last week's earthquake is devastating. As I watched CNN coverage this afternoon, and replayed the events of the last few days in my head, I can assure you that the images are every bit as tragic as they seem. The damage is beyond belief. The suffering is palpable. The smells are real. But the people are not broken in spirit.

One Haitian told me that his advice to those around him is "patience". He said they have a saying in Haiti, "Piz a piz" (phonetically) which translates to "piece by piece".

There are amazing missionaries representing Christ throughout the country. Most of the guys and girls I met are pouring their energy into the children, either through childrens' homes, orphanages or support centers. Two in Jacmel I would direct your support to are "Hands and Feet" and "Joy in Hope". I've rarely seen people "walk the walk" like these people. They are changing lives every day.

We also had the opportunity to interact with various military personnel on a daily basis.

We joined with a Canadian expeditionary force on Monday in Jacmel to assess the injured people in that town. Jacmel was cut off from any possible ground support from Port au Prince (as if there was any to share, right?), though greatly effected by the quake as well. The Canadians have chosen to direct their efforts into that town, and should have a field hospital up and running by Friday. They will ease the suffering quickly when that is done. They were very professional and clearly motivated to help.

After we arrived at the airfield in Port au Prince, we connected with the US military medical personnel as well. These guys are working hard and doing great work. We also met several other civilian orthopedic surgeons and medical personnel that were trying to get more supplies flown in. The docs in the local hospitals had lots of patients, but few beds and were either out of medical supplies or medications.

The way Port au Prince is currently managed, the UN has responsibility for the city and the US military has control over the airspace and the airfield and is managing the huge amounts of material being brought in for distribution. This is an air field that typically sees 5-15 flights a day. It is a single runway. They are now coordinating up to 280 flights a day! Every incoming flight has a specific time slot assigned. It is not negotiable. Every flight and its contribution is carefully and specifically assessed with regard to its need and time/space available.

I have chosen to address this specifically, because reports through the media have - either out of frustration or the need for even higher drama - continued to highlight the lack of supplies, portraying it as some sort of dereliction. I spoke with a Major in charge of assigning flight slots about this specifically, since I had been in contact directly with a major orthopedic trauma supplier that was having trouble getting to the island.

What we all need to understand is that the one airstrip that is available must supply 2 million people a day with food and water. The number of flights necessary to make that happen is enormous, maybe more than they can handle. So they are always playing catch-up just supplying the necessities. Add to that the influx of military personnel, both US and UN, and you have a logistical nightmare. If they are able to restore the port to a usable state, the supply side of the equation will quickly be solved.

In the meantime, decisions have to be made with regard to what is essential at that time, based on best information, and I'm personally glad that someone else is making those incredibly hard decisions. They care, deeply, about what they are doing, and they are doing their best. I've never met a finer, more dedicated group of young men and women in my life, and I am proud of what they are doing in this crisis in the name of our country.

Medically, all around Haiti, the problem appears purely logistical as well. Every health care provider I spoke with said the same thing: the problem is not personnel. Doctors, nurses and the rest are in the country and ready and willing to work. There are no facilities that anyone could identify that needed more help at this time. Remember, mounting injuries do not necessarily equate to an increased need for providers. The rate-limiting step in this arena is access; access to facilities, beds, OR's and supplies.

As an illustration, The Methodist Hospital has 900 beds; Ben Taub, 650. There are 30 "hospitals" in the entire Port au Prince metropolitan area on a good day. Three have over 100 beds. Total beds, all institutions, 3.5 million people: around 1600. And that was before the earthquake.

There are an estimated 250,000 injured to a variable degree.

Do the math.

They need more beds and more supplies (from a medical perspective) more than anything, regardless of what Anderson Cooper tells you. It broke my heart when messages starting pouring in about how "doctors were desperately needed" in Port au Prince, according to the media. I knew that surgeons all over the country would be thinking about doing what we did - jumping the first flight to Haiti to try and ease the need.

What they need are more hospital beds and OR's, and that is exactly what is happening day by day. The arrival of the USNS Comfort today adds 1000 patient beds, 80 intensive care unit beds, 950 naval hospital staff and 12 operating rooms.

So what do YOU do?

My family will be praying - for the broken folks, for the hungry, for the thirsty, for our soldiers, for the pilots and drivers, for the medical staff. They need wisdom, discernment, faith, safety, protection, hope, courage and patience.

My family will be giving - to the orphanages, to the suppliers (like World Food Program), to the Red Cross, to anyone else that I think needs it more than we do.

My family will be planning - on how we can contribute with our "hands and feet", walking the walk, as it were. I want to go back soon. I will plan better next time. I will connect with an organization that can best direct my skills, perhaps to a facility where the staff needs a break or a respite of sorts. And I want to take my family to Jacmel, to meet these folks that have given their lives to love children that no one else would love.

I'll close saying thanks again for your prayers for me and my family. I felt every one. Through God, they gave me the courage to do things that were beyond what I could do alone.

Let's not waste this earthquake. Let's be both persistent and patient. Let's make life better for these wonderful people in the end and show them more of what the love of our Saviour looks like.



When you hear talking heads criticizing the US role in Haiti, ignore it. The media is populated by attention whores who think the rest of the world wants to listen to them whine.

1 comment:

CEF Matrix Team said...

Nicely done! It showed up for me, so probably for many other is our group, that use GOOGLE ALERTS for the term "Canadian Expeditionary Force". We study Canadian soldiers and events of the Great War 1914-1919, however the CEF term now brings up modern day events as well. Keep up the good work!