Notes on Haiti - CEO Journal Part 22

Note: While Scripps continues to serve a medical mission to Haiti, Scripps CEO Chris Van Gorder is writing updates about medical aid in progress, conditions on the ground and what can be done to help earthquake victims. For other journal entries, see the Haiti news page.

As the members of our second Haiti team continue to regroup and acclimate to San Diego and their jobs at Scripps, we continue to receive comments about their time away in Port au Prince. Below are comments from Dr. Katrina Kelly.

From Dr. Katrina Kelly

“Living two years in Brazil and traveling to many parts of Central and South America did not adequately prepare me for what I experienced in Haiti on this mission. Nor did the media coverage of Haiti have its full impact until I saw firsthand the crushed buildings and surviving Haitians.

“Most Haitians live without the necessities that most Americans take for granted. They lack clean water, adequate nutrition, sanitation, trash services, mail services, public education and health services — just to name some crucial ones. From what we saw during our stay, Haitians live day to day with this scarcity, but make up for it with an abundance of resilience, dignity and zest for life. I carry an image in my head of these Haitian women who effortlessly and gracefully walked up hills, impossibly balancing huge baskets on their heads alone. For me, this is somehow symbolic of how Haitians deal with their daily burdens of a harsh life. We joked that we needed to take a course on ‘Basket Balancing 101 for Americans.’

“While in Haiti, our team provided outpatient care at the ruins of the crushed St Francois de Sales Hospital. We did this under tarps and tents with minimum resources. Drs. Simmons and Smith had the fast-track care area, and I saw women for Ob/Gyn issues. The first full day we worked, word must have gotten out in the community. More than 70 women lined up to be seen before the clinic opened. They waited patiently in the heat and humidity — all day long — to be seen. I was surprised that the majority of women had not been seen for years for the problems with which they presented. Most of the pregnant women had little or no prenatal care. Some told me they had delivered all their children at home. (The average Haitian woman has about three children.)

“One of the women I evaluated had a breast mass that was suspicious for cancer. We did not have access to mammography and, even if we had, the appropriate care was not accessible for her. I had to send her away with a referral to a community doctor, with little hope that she would be able to afford further care. The fact that people have few resources to treat their health ailments was emphasized by people who said they take medications sold by street vendors. One woman, for example, when asked what medications she was taking said ‘Ampicillin: I take it whenever I get a headache.’

“Some of the things I saw in Haiti will forever haunt me. We saw several amputees who had experienced crush injuries. A poignant sight at a store was a young boy agilely hopping around on one crutch with a below-the-knee amputation. Another time, toward the end of our stay, we stopped to see the damaged cathedral. A destitute woman was holding a bundled newborn in her arms and pleading something in Creole that I didn’t understand. However, it was obvious that she wanted help for her baby. At first, it wasn’t clear that the baby was alive. It had parched lips and was not moving, probably lethargic from dehydration. The pediatrician who had recently joined the team directed the mother and baby to the hospital. We also toured some other hospitals and facilities in the area, and I was struck in the pediatric wards by the many children who were so thin that they looked like the chronically malnourished children one sees in parts of Africa.

“There is some progress since the earthquake, according to those who were first here. Some of the rubble is slowly being cleared by the people. Port-a-potties were provided for the people in the tent cities. The street-side market places seemed to be bustling. The health care needs are more chronic than acute in nature. Most of us left with a nagging guilt of not having done enough. However, the unmet needs seem daunting. Trash piles in the streets. The stench of pure sewage running down the street gutters is pervasive. Even those whose homes were not destroyed are afraid to go back to their homes and so remain sleeping in their tents. So many earthquake-shaken homes are still at least unlivable, or at most completely flattened. Recovery will take decades. I hope the world does not turn its back on Haiti.

“Overall, my experience in Haiti has left me with an enormous sense of gratitude. First, I will be forever grateful to the Scripps staff for allowing me to participate. Second, I am thankful that I worked with such an excellent cohesive team: Patty Skoglund, John Armstrong, Mike Sykes, Charles Simmons and Dave Smith. It’s hard not to be humbled by the Haitian struggle and even discomforted by our own seeming abundance.

“Next time my life concerns seem overwhelming, I will remember the Haitian women who balance their baskets with grace and dignity. My ‘basket’ will seem insignificant in comparison.”

– Katrina Kelly

Thank you to all the team members, and to all who volunteered to serve and who picked up extra tasks at home so others could go to Haiti. As I’ve said before, this was truly a team effort and every one of us felt the support you provided.

Chris Van Gorder

See the Haiti news page for other journal entries.