Notes on Haiti - CEO Journal Part 9

Note: While serving a medical mission to Haiti, Scripps CEO Chris Van Gorder is writing dispatches 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.

Hello to everyone back home.

Our team hit the ground running 100 mph today. I think we were all refreshed by a good dinner last night and a good night’s sleep. We jumped into our transportation at 8 a.m. this morning and ran into traffic in the downtown area. It’s Monday and Port-au-Prince comes alive just like any big city when the work week begins. Talk about gridlock — when very few driving rules are followed and there are no stop signs and very few street lights (I’ve seen two), it’s easy to get stuck in one intersection for 10 minutes or more; and I mean the “middle” of the intersection.

When we finally arrived at the hospital, the number of people in the hospital compound had probably doubled and the triage area was overflowing. Several had untreated fractures and most had untreated wounds. I’m told there were 200 in triage or “the clinic” today.

Yesterday we set up a dressing change area that streamlined that work, but many dressing changes still take place in surgery or the bedside, depending on what is appropriate.

We now have young Haitian interpreters with us. Dr. Eastman, Kelly Hardiman and I had a high school senior with us but he has a tendency to wander away so we have to keep finding him. But without interpreters, our jobs are much more difficult.

Issues between the Haitian physicians and nurses appear to be resolved. Haitian doctors are taking care of several patients identified as “private patients,” and the nurses are being incorporated into our teams. We did find out how to gets labs completed today: just go to the lab, get your own phlebotomist and take her to the bedside to get the proper samples. Otherwise, orders are often missed or ignored. I suspect because of system or language issues.

We did 20 surgical cases today (probably 40 since we have been here) and rounded on patients in the hospital twice. The cases are all orthopedic and wound related at this point in time. Supplies of some items are more than sufficient, but other items are in short supply.

A few minutes ago, an Army Captain and his squad from the 82nd Airborne came by the hospital. The Master Sergeant identified himself as part of the Civil Affairs Unit, but the Captain was (or had been) an orthopedic technician. He was checking on the Americans at the hospital, but also wanted to know if there was anything we needed. We gave him our wish list — not expensive by any means, but supply items and small equipment that will be very important for this hospital. His sergeant took the information down and he said he would run the list up the chain-of-command right away. He also told us that actor Sean Penn was very active in Haiti right now and they would get the list to him, as well. I hope we can get at least some of the equipment and supplies — and soon.

Dr. Eastman and I operated on a patient we worked with a week ago: the man who would have lost his leg and arm due to a compartment syndrome had Brent not been here to do the case. I’m pleased to report that this patient’s wounds are healing and he will keep his limbs. I spoke to him briefly today before he was put to sleep for surgery and he was much more positive — and thankful. It was rewarding to see his smile. He still has a way to go and probably can expect at least one or more surgeries, as well. When Dr. Eastman was writing his post-op note, he told the patient’s fiancé that he (Brent) liked him. The fiancé told the patient and he reached up with his good arm and hand to squeeze Brent’s hand while saying, “I like you, too.”

Among our supplies, we brought stuffed animals with us on this trip, along with hand made cards from children at home. We handed those out in pediatrics today, and we were mobbed. This was a very different reaction than we would have seen at home — another sign of the poverty here in Haiti.

Just a few minutes ago, Dr Eastman and I experienced one of the more poignant moments since we arrived. Dr. Jean Marie Caidor, the medical director of the hospital, asked to meet with us in his makeshift office in a tent where the laboratory is co-located. He wanted to meet privately with us to say thank you. Through an interpreter, he said the hospital has been destroyed and, very soon now, will have to be torn down. He said that this is a hospital for the poor — the few private patients help fund the care for a majority of the patients, 80 percent pay little to nothing.

He said they would not have been able to continue taking care of the patients without our help, and he wanted to know if we could continue. We told him we would continue to help with teams probably smaller than this first team, and hopefully, we can obtain some funding for our mission to Haiti from members of the community. I guess the meeting was poignant to me because it was simple, sincere, and private. Anything more would have been inappropriate under the circumstances.

Tonight we will be going to a local boarding school for a spaghetti dinner with the teachers, students and our colleagues from the University of Maryland. The students survived because they were at the boarding school. Most lost members of their families at home.

Tomorrow, we will be back at the hospital where I expect another busy day.

Talk to you soon.

Chris Van Gorder

See the Haiti news page for other journal entries.