This is the second in a series of first-hand reports from Haiti shared with WRAL News by Jim and Shirley Kelley.
Tuesday, March 2
We arrived back in Miami after midnight, and got to bed at 2:30 a.m.
The daily blog didn't work out. Too little e-mail capability, and we were usually too tired to do it anyway. So here's a summary:
Our flight was rescheduled to 5:45 p.m.. By the time we get to Haiti, it's dark - and the runway lights have failed. We circle around for a while, then divert to Santo Domingo and sit on the runway. At about 10:30 p.m., it's determined that the lights won't be fixed tonight. We deplane, find benches in the airport departure lounge and spend the night.
We leave Santo Domingo at 9 a.m. By noon, we have arrived, "settled in,” and I work in the supply tent until 7 p.m.
We have a cot in the main tent. It has a dirt floor, but it is air conditioned. There are 170 cots, with less than 12 inches between them. Room for a bag in front of the cot. Mike told us it was difficult to tie up the nets in the tent, so we built a frame for our mosquito nets from sections of pvc pipe and brought it with us. We also brought about 50 pounds of dried and canned food and juices.
Three choices: What you bring, local prepared food, which the patients and many of the staff ate, and military MREs (Meals Ready to Eat). We ate our own food and MREs. Some of the new version MREs are pretty good.
I never felt hungry and had to think about taking time out to eat every day. An easy way to lose weight.
MASH without the tent!! A four stall unisex (with shower curtains), overhead cold water shower, plywood "privacy wall" from knees to shoulder. The suggestion was to shower in swim suits. I showered in undershorts and threw them away when I was finished.
Hot. In the 90s every day, sunny, no breeze. Felt much hotter than N.C. in August. No shade in camp (this was getting fixed as we left) so eating lunch often meant finding a corner next to a tent or going into the sleeping tent.
The rainy season is due NOW. Luckily, we only had one night of heavy rain, however. Heavy rains will flood the camp site, so ....
The "new" hospital …
Over the next 3-4 weeks, the hospital will be completely rebuilt on the same site -- graded, raised above ground level, filled with stone, etc. The new tent room will be floored. There will be a mess hall, shower building, etc.
The hospital tents and supply will also be totally rebuilt.
Of critical importance, the entire area will be fenced, and there will be only one entrance gate into camp. This should almost eliminate a major problem of unauthorized locals coming into the area - looking for jobs, "shopping,” etc.
The supply tent …
Today is my only day here -- Huge tent, open-sided. Chaotic.
In the center, piles of boxes shoulder high on the ground; much of it medical supplies brought by docs and nurses who have left. Sorting is very difficult if you don't know medicine. During the week, volunteers - including soldiers working on days off - make a huge dent in this. Many more shelves are built. Still much work to be done.
Wednesday, 2/25 ....
I met a search and rescue volunteer specialist from the NY City fire dept. who has been here since Jan. 15, staying on to help wherever he can. He has been trying to get us 12 oxygen cylinders located at a big storage yard controlled by the US Army. I am able to get a letter from the Haiti gov't which gives us the right to remove the cylinders "and any other abandoned medical equipment.” We end up taking the cylinders, 3 large water purifiers and a number of large pallets of medical supplies. At another Army facility, we acquire 12 cases of MRE meals.
Thursday, 2/26 …
We finish moving the supplies into camp. We then locate an Army medical supply detachment about 10 miles away, and establish an agreement that they will refill oxygen for us whenever needed. These people are extremely sharp and could not be more cooperative.
Later, on Sunday, I take Henry, our local hospital employee ("O2 Henry") and let him handle the whole process by himself, using our authorization letters. It works, and again the Army folks are most helpful.
Saturday, 2/28 ...
The logistics desk (a 4x8 piece of plywood with pallets for legs) is where everyone comes to get everything solved and every question answered … by a staff with a 95% turnover every seven days.
It is chaotic and very frustrating at times, but Shirley makes the point that at the end of each day, all the issues somehow get resolved before we go to bed.
"Miracles Performed Daily" should be the motto. Volunteers from everywhere doing amazing things.
For them, the most frustrating problem is that they KNOW they can save a patient's life or solve a medical problem - but they just don't have the equipment or capabilities here. They just hate to give up.
Example: On Saturday, a young student nurse comes to us from the local hospital, asking (begging) us to accept a patient with a severe head wound that they cannot treat.
The chief medical officer very reluctantly determines that we cannot help. He calls in the neurosurgeon, who also agrees. Case closed ... but not quite.
A half hour later, I learn that the neurosurgeon has gone to the local hospital to examine the patient.
Tough as it is for the doctors, it's even harder for the nurses. They get really invested in the patients, especially the children.
In the first three days, 7 children die. I imagine that most of these nurses have never seen these levels of fatalities. Shirley and I have been insulated from this until Saturday.
More Saturday, 2/28 ...
A four month old baby dies (some may not wish to read this).
There are a number of deaths Friday night and I am asked to work with the chaplain. We walk into the pediatric tent. The child's mother is grieving (wailing) outside the area where the child is. The child is laying on the cot-bed, dressed head to toe in a sleeper. He looks just like a doll with his eyes closed.
Four of us surround the cot. The father, me, the chaplain, a Haitian chaplain and the nurse to the side – in tears.
The chaplain asks if the father wishes to hold the child and hands the child to him for a moment.
The child is then placed on the cot and the Haitian chaplain motions that we four should kneel and extend our hands over the child. He then proceeds to hold a funeral service for the child, in Creole.
During the service, the mother, now quiet, comes and stands by the cot.
Behind me, a nurse is feeding a preemie, and in the cot to my side lies a six-year-old who has died earlier that morning.
The chaplain has told Shirley that he is getting overwhelmed, and at the end of the service she comes in and picks up the child (now in a body bag) and carries him outside the ward and to a tent serving as the morgue.
Shirley returns and together we carry, on a cot, the other deceased child (with no family there) to the morgue tent.
Back to the nurses ...
Despite the emotion, almost every nurse finds the work totally rewarding. One experienced nurse says "I love it. I'm healing patients; not filling out paperwork."
Sunday, 2/29 ...
I have been assigned the job of barista, and I don't even drink coffee. Up at 5 a.m., the first thing I do is blow the circuit for half the camp's security lights. But everyone says the coffee is wonderful. They're lying.
Monday, March 1
I meet the founder of Shelter box, from Scotland. If you are looking for a way to make a meaningful and substantial donation or group donation, look them up on the web.
Shelter box has provided all of the auxiliary tents which are housing staff; serving as isolation wards and the morgue etc.; as well as between 4,000-8,000 tent packages to families.
Next week he will be in Buckingham Palace to receive the OBE award from the Queen, so you know this is a legit charity.
Another day at the logistics desk, and we pack and leave the camp at 7 p.m.
There are many more things I could talk about, but I hope that this gives you an idea of what is currently happening at the hospital.
For more info on the University of Miami Haiti Hospital go to med.miami.edu. There is a continuing need for licensed doctors and nurses, and PT and wound care specialists, along with social workers and psychologists/ psychiatrists.
You won't say you loved it; you will say you're glad you did it.
-- Jim Kelley