Monday, February 15, 2010

Wrapping it up

It's been eleven days since I left Port-au-Prince; ten days since I arrived home. Plenty of time to reflect on my time in Haiti, right?

Probably not. I don't think that I'll be able to digest the entire experience for quite some time. Compounding my disorientation (it really feels as though Haiti is on a different planet, on the other side of a time warp) was Mom's death. Sometimes I start crying for no reason. Other times, I know the reason: there is so much to be sad about, both in my life and in Haiti. But still, there is much to do and much to be glad about.

There are a few things that I'd like to share with you, before I close out this blog. One is a series of articles published in the Valley News, in New Hampshire. Here's a link: If you follow the link to the article titled "Building Trust," you'll learn more about the clinic in Bolosse. Many thanks to Gregory Trotter and Jason Johns for this eloquent, insightful series. (Does anyone know how to recommend someone for a Pulitzer prize?)

There is another group of nurses from Allegheny General Hospital leaving for Haiti in two days. A huge part of me envies them; it would be wonderful to go back. But for right now, my family needs me (I like to think) and I need to spend more time recovering from the trip, and from the loss of my mother while I was gone.

I'd like to thank you all for following along on my journey. I always felt as though I had a cloak of prayer and friendship around me; I know that was you, keeping me in your thoughts.

Please, pray for Haiti.

Love you all,

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Sad news

Good morning, friends.

I am now in Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic. John and I expect to be home in Pittsburgh by 5PM or so.

I wanted to let you all know that I received word of my mother´s death yesterday. She was 93 and though she had been spry for much of the past few years, I knew that she was very tired. There may have even been a part of me that knew I would never see her again.

Before I left for Haiti, I told her that I loved her, but did not tell her of my plan to go to Haiti. She would have worried too much. And while I was gone, whenever she asked my sisters, ¨Where is Cece¨they always replied that I was at work. Which was true.

So, I leave for home with personal sadness. And though my loss is painful, I can´t help but think of those in Haiti who have lost all... family members to whom they never said farewell... children, parents, siblings. I had Mom for a long time, and she was wonderful.

I will post again from home, and wrap up this blog, when I can. Maybe next week.

Love you all,

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


Hi all! John and I will be heading out today. The initial plan was to have us on a flight out of Port au Prince to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic earlier this morning. Now, we are waiting at the hotel till about 12:30, at which time we fly (helicopter, I think) to Santo Domingo.

We will stay overnight there, and fly home tomorrow. Fred and Stephanie, we don't have specific flight info yet but I'm sure we'll be able to find a computer in Santo Domingo and will update you tonight. Sure would be nice if we had warm coats waiting at the airport! And Fred.... shoes and socks please!

We love all of you who have been following our travels. I plan to blog more tonight, and after I get home.

Much love, and thanks for your prayers and support,

Cece and John

Monday, February 1, 2010

To Stephanie

Hi Steph I miss you and love you very much. I hope everyone is okay at home. Is Kiwi taking her pills for you. Do you think Macy will recognize me when I get home. We are supposed to fly to santidomingo on Wednesday have not got word yet when we leave fromthere if it will be Wednesday or thursday. I have been well and actually feel recharged after a couple of days out of the wards. I have been working post op. I will let yu know as soon as I have an arrival time in Pittsburgh. As you know how I type I am not going to say any more I need to shower and attend team meeting.

Last pics for today

I love this picture. This is one of my roommates, Simone, with Dr. Mike, a pediatrician from the Baltimore area (I think). Since there are still IMC volunteers sleeping on mattresses in the conference center, those of us with rooms share the showers. Dr. Mike is a nightly visitor, and a delightful guest when he comes to call. Here's a guy in a Tommy Maddox Steelers jersey on the streets of Port-au-Prince. I've been on the lookout for someone wearing Steelers gear and knew that I'd eventually spot something. People here wear anything appropriate and serviceable. (I've even seen a lacrosse jersey, Dan!) And always, always when they come to clinic, the children are dressed as if they are going to church, in their Sunday best.

The clinic was closed on Sunday (yesterday) so that the staff could have a well-deserved day of rest. We delivered supplies anyway, just to see what was happening in the neighborhood. I took Dr. Bindy with me on a whim; this was her first visit to Bolosse. While we were there, a gentleman asked us to look at a sick baby. The sight of this severely malnourished child is one that I will never forget.

We took the woman and four of her children to University Hospital, where Concern had just that very day opened a center for supplemental feeding. Here is Bindy, holding a 2-year-old girl who is not only malnourished, but has been blind from birth.

This is the last image for today, the one that burdens my heart more than anything else I have seen in Haiti. It is the 3-month-old boy who we brought from Bolosse to the Concern feeding center. He weighs about four pounds.

My heart is heavy, and I am tired, and it is almost time to come home. I have one more day here; I think we leave on Wednesday. But right now it is very cloudy and windy; it looks like a storm is brewing. And when it comes... and it will come... where will they all go, those who sleep in tents made of thin sheets, whose floor is the earth, or who sleep on the streets because they are afraid their houses will collapse upon them?
Pray for Haiti.

Just a few more

This is a lovely Catholic church which has been on the campus of University Hospital for years. My roommate Nicole, who was born at the Hospital, was baptized here. It is no longer safe to enter, thanks to the earthquake. But this was the scene last Sunday morning as worshippers gathered to pray. We saw similar scenes as we drove to Bolosse that morning: makeshift churches on street corners and in alleys, with people gathered together to worship. Directly across the street from the church, this is all that remains of a nursing school. I am told that there are at least 50 bodies in the rubble. This breaks my heart, as does nearly everything I see here.

The woman in the wheelchair is the sister of Dady, a Bolosse native who speaks pretty fluent English. She has been paralyzed for many years "from a fever;" she is now 32, and depends on Dady for her daily needs. (That's Dady standing next to me, in the striped shirt.) I am going to try to find her a decent wheel chair before I leave, but that will probably be difficult; all wheelchairs are probably spoken for by the new amputees. And where will all the leg prostheses come from? So many are needed just at our hospital; and I understand there are countless new amputees all over the affected region.

Here, there is some semblance of normalcy: men play cards in the street in Bolosse, laughing and talking. There are a few active daily dominoes games that I see whenever I walk through the neighborhood surrounding our clinic, but I can't convince any one of them to deal me in. No doubt they have heard of my prowess at dominoes, and fear me.

Here is the current clinic staf at Bolosse. That's Lylie, the de facto mayor of Bolosse, on the far left. When she talks, believe you me, people listen. For now, everyone is a volunteer at the clinic, but IMC will be interviewing soon, and will hire six nurses to be the full-time staff. I hope I'm gone by then; I can't bear seeing the faces of the nurses and other volunteers who won't be offered jobs. It will break their hearts; they are desperate to work. And they have all worked hard to get this clinic up and running.

A few more pics

So, after a long hot day, sometimes a beer is a good thing. This is me with Diana, a doc from the midwest, celebrating the fact that the price of beer has gone down from $7 to $4. (I guess we poor medical people weren't as willing to buy pricey beer like the CNN and FOX crews were.) And to me, sometimes it feels very strange indeed, that the people of Haiti have nothing and I'm worried about the price of beer and whether it's cold enough. But I have learned that I need to disconnect myself at times from the things I am seeing and doing in Haiti; they will stay with me always, but they can't stay as a burden on my shoulders. Kind of like my flight nursing job: I have compassion for my patients, but can't take them all home with me. It's a self-preservation thing. Sorry this one's sideways. I taught Shiloh how to make glove balloons for the little kids at the clinic. He is now one popular guy!

There is water on the streets in many places, even almost 3 weeks after the earthquake. Drivers are extremely cautious in these areas; until the water recedes (which I think will happen when the water mains are repaired) there is no way of telling what kind of hole they might inadvertently drive into. (Hey, is that Freddie driving by in the black Jeep Cherokee???)

We walked through a desperately poor area in the lower portion of Bolosse called Cite du Soleil. Its name is about the only pretty thing in this area. Most of the residents live in metal shanties. Here, Shiloh looks out towards the port. The structures on stilts are the latrines. You can see a few small children in the photo on the right. Nearly every child I have met here has been friendly and curious about my white skin.

Until just a few days ago, this one faucet in Bolosse served about 5000 people. The water is not potable, and the faucet was only turned on for a few hours each day. Now, Oxfam has placed a water buffalo with several faucets and potable water near this site.

More pictures

Here I am, in front of the medicine cupboard in the clinic at Bolosse. Left to right: an unknown volunteer; Samuel Abela, whose wife sustained a pelvic fracture in the earthquake; Nurse Johane; me; Nurse Yolande; Nurse Magda; Nurse Marte; and Ramones, a translator who came to the clinic that day. This was on the first official clinic day. (Brian and I had a brief, chaotic clinic the day before in a much less desirable location. That story is best told over a cold beer.)
This is Brian, the doc who worked with me in establishing the clinic at Bolosse, seeing patients on our first day. On the left, in the baseball hat, is my translator, Shiloh.
This type of bus is commonly used for public transportation in Bolosse and Port-au-Prince. This particular bus was parked on a side street in Bolosse when the earthquake struck. The ten people who were sitting on the curb behind it were all killed. Across the street was a small, private medical clinic. It, too, was destroyed, and the physician killed.

Here's John Z. talking with Dr. Henry Hood. Henry is an orthopodfrom Columbus, OH with lots of disaster and relief experience. He's on the board of IMC. Coincidentally, Henry is from Washington, PA (where I went to nursing school) and a few years ago he had his fem-pop bypass (vascular surgery) at AGH by Dr. Dan Benckart. Henry is one cool dude.

Monday 2/1

It's hard to believe that this experience is drawing to a close for me.

I have found my replacement for the Bolosse clinic: a wonderful, Haitian-born, Creole-speaking nurse named Carmel. She lives in Chicago with her family, and arrived in Haiti two days ago. She said that she cried the entire first day to see what has happened to her homeland.

Now that the clinic has a sort of routine, and is fully staffed by Haitian doctors and nurses who plan to work there long-term, the plan is for IMC to support the clinic by providing supplies and maintaining a daily presence. I had been worried that I wouldn't find someone suitable (not that I'm particularly irreplaceable, but hey, I worked hard to start the clinic and wanted to find just the right person) but Carmel appeared with a group from Chicago, and from the start, we clicked. The nurses at the Bolosse clinic love her; she is able to answer their questions fluently and is doing a lot of teaching.

So now I feel that I can wrap things up: my mission here, though I didn't know it before I left for Haiti, was to establish a clinic for people who had no other medical help. Dr. Brian and I started the clinic; I've managed to keep it going with God's help and the support of IMC; and the best news I could ever hope to get is that the clinic is running well into the future. Lylie, the leader of the community of Bolosse, is planning to visit New York City in March; she has many English-speaking friends and family there who can translate, and I look forward to hearing good news about the clinic's operation.

As far as everyone else goes: Nicole has spent much of this trip in Petit Goave, a community more than an hour's drive from Port-au-Prince. She packs big boxes full of supplies and goes for two or three days at a time. I saw her briefly yesterday when she stopped at IMC to refurbish her supplies; she looks great, is happy, and doing what she can for her homeland.

Bindy, the lone SEIU doctor among us, voiced concern at the start of the trip that she wouldn't have much to offer to the Haitians. But it turns out that her contribution has been great; the need for primary care in the community is immense, and this is her field. She's a trouper, she throws herself into whatever she's asked to do, and she always does it with a smile.

Simone has spent most of her time here at the mobile clinic in Petionville. Though it was rough going at first (they don't have a permanent, secure structure such as we have in Bolosse and, as everywhere, the need for medical care is great), her team has gotten into its groove and cares for many in what was once a country-club atmosphere, but is now a tent city.

John has happily been transferred, at his request, out of the medical ward and into the postop care unit. There is much more light and air there, and I think more staff to help care for his patients. Stephanie, John talks about you all the time. He misses you and all of your "kids," and just this morning said that he's eager to get home to you, his brothers and sisters, and the kids. It's clear that he loves you, even if he forgets to blog it sometimes! Look for a message from him later today.

As for me, I'm slowing down my pace. I took the afternoon off to come back to the hotel and care for a friend who is feeling ill (she's asleep in my room right now, IV in place, and hopefully will be well enough to eat dinner). The leadership at IMC seems to recognize that a two-week deployment is plenty for anyone to handle, both physically and emotionally, and they are very understanding when the "short-timers' syndrome" kicks in.

Fred, I'll call with flight arrangements when I get them. We have been told that they would like us to be in our own homes by the night of the 4th, and so far, getting folks home seems to be going pretty smoothly. Every few days a new group arrives (usually looking shell-shocked, as I'm sure that I did nearly two weeks ago) and then a tired, seasoned group gets to go home. Soon, that will be me.

But I plan to return someday. Part of my heart will stay here.

Love you all...

Please, continue to pray for Haiti.