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.
Well, it’s Tuesday, Feb. 9 and our team is back. Tomorrow, we will meet to debrief on the experience and start the planning for the next phase, whatever and whenever that will be. Earlier this week we received an e-mail from a nurse practitioner we worked with closely in Haiti at Saint Francois de Sales Hospital, Luc Bouquet. He acted as the facilitator between the hospital medical director, Dr. Caidor, and the visiting teams from the University of Maryland and Scripps.
He said that the fast-track area was overwhelmed as they were seeing between 150-200 new patients a day with all kinds of medical conditions including pregnancy, hypertension, diabetes, upper respiratory infection, peptic ulcer disease, gastric reflux, and malaria. He indicated that there were few, if any, Haitian physicians available and they still needed help. He also made a request for medications and equipment. We may be able to help with some of his requests, and for the others, we will pass them on to agencies better prepared and designed to help. Luc also asked us to pass on his “thanks for the wonderful team.” He added, “They have made a world of difference."
As I conclude this series of updates, let me add the comments I received yesterday from Maureen Shackford, RN, one of our team members:
I have spent a lot of time reflecting on our time in Haiti. It is difficult for me to put into words the things we all as a team experienced. The week we spent there flew by and I left wishing I could have stayed longer. The Haitian people are some of the most stoic, graceful, beautiful, kind, and inspiring people I have ever met. They have touched my heart in ways they will never know. I am so blessed to have had the opportunity to join the Scripps family, and my own family on this mission. I am forever changed by this trip and forever grateful for being able to come along on this journey. To borrow the quote driving our friend Patrick’s mission: Se gratis nou resevwa, Se tou pou nou bay. Freely you have received, freely you give.
As you have read in almost all of the updates, we are finding it difficult to explain what we experienced in Haiti. Mere words do not seem sufficient. Since I have been back, I have produced a PowerPoint and at least three videos for use here at Scripps and even those feel insufficient. The sounds, smells and sights cannot be expressed in any way I know. I and the others have tried — and I have been moved by my colleagues’ descriptions — but I don’t think we will ever be able to adequately express the experience.
But I will try to personalize the mission from my perspective.
I keep thinking about the people we touched. Mostly our patients of course, but even those we just saw in the streets. I remember the eyes following me around the courtyard and through the tents as we made rounds. I remember the eyes of the patients we were putting to sleep for surgery. I remember the eyes of the family members watching and I remember the eyes of the staff members at the hospital. There was rarely a look of fear. Rather, in some cases, the look was very distant. In other cases, it was a look of hope. In almost every case there was a look of trust. We were strangers and yet we were not.
We all wore clothing different from the Haitians, be that our Scripps Medical Response Team shirts or our scrubs. We were all strangers but easily identifiable as people who came from far away to help them. The look of trust made me feel good and yet it scared me. I knew we could help some but not everyone. I knew that we had some tools available to us but not all of the tools we needed. I remember watching a woman — older than the average person in Haiti with pneumonia and congestive heart failure. Brent and I discussed her case and decided that she was going to die that day and there was nothing we could do. She passed away within the hour — just one more Haitian to die — one more number to add to the list. But for me, she was a patient we failed. There was nothing we could do but I still think about her and probably always will.
But then I think of Jean Kendu — the patient Dr. Brent Eastman told you about yesterday. Jean became a personal mission for Brent and me. He was the first person we operated on — yes, I use the word “we” even though I only helped a little. Before we arrived at our hospital, the order of the day was amputation — amputation to save lives. We had the first chance to save limbs.
I can’t tell you how proud I was to watch Brent operate for the first time. I have worked with Brent for 10 years but never had the chance to see him in “action.” With limited tools but great skill — and the realism, dignity and love he mentioned yesterday — he did all humanly possible to save Jean’s life and limbs. We know we saved his life, and we hope we saved his limbs. Jean’s story and those of others help to mitigate the sense of failure I feel for those we could not help.
I remember the little girl that tugged on my sleeve — pulling me to see her little sister in a crib — and I remember talking to her until she went to sleep and the smile of her older sister sitting nearby. I don’t know what happened to them — they were gone when we came back for the second trip.
I remember how the eyes of the Haitian nurses grew warmer the longer we were there. We were not culturally sensitive when we first arrived, but we learned and by the time we left, a group of Haitian nurses gathered together so I could take their photograph. Now the eyes were warm and appreciative. We were colleagues now. We served together in a great disaster.
I will always remember my pride in Scripps — the people of Scripps. When we called for volunteers to go into harm’s way to help others, we had one thousand volunteers in a little more than an hour. I thought of the firefighters and police officers who ran into the World Trade Center on 9-11 when everyone else was running out. That’s what our Scripps people were willing to do: run into a disaster to help others while everyone else was running out.
I will remember a most remarkable team that I was fortunate to join: my first, my partner, Dr. Eastman. And then the rest who joined for the second and most important mission: Drs. Eastman, Shackford, Peterson, Austin and Capozza; our nurses, Kelly Hardiman, Deb McQuillen, Maureen Shackford and Patty Skoglund; and my logistics and support partner, Rob Sills. Maybe we were lucky in selecting this first team but I have a hunch we could have taken any group of 11 Scripps physicians and staff members and we would have made a spectacular team. Several of our team members have indicated they already miss the team. I do too. We shared something special and I thank them from the bottom of my heart for letting me join them.
I will remember those who supported us. Mr. John Bardis, president and CEO of MedAssets, is #1 on the list. Without his personal support and the use of his aircraft and personnel, we would not have been able to complete this mission. Several years ago, John gave me a humanitarian award. I feel embarrassed to have accepted that award from him. He might be the greatest humanitarian I have ever known. Somehow and in some way, our organization will recognize him for his contributions to our mission. As far as I’m concerned, John was with us as we took care of each patient in Haiti. I still remember his aircraft crew wishing us best and saying, “God bless you” as we stepped onto the tarmac in Haiti. We would not have even been there if it were not for them.
I will remember the Papal Nuncio. He gave us protection and transportation. He knew we were there to help Haiti and he helped us to be successful and safe.
And finally, I will remember the e-mails and well wishes from all of you. I never felt alone in Haiti. I had my family, my teammates and I had each of you with me.
Yes, I am proud of Scripps, our Board of Trustees, our physicians, and our nurses and all of those clinicians and support people who make Scripps strong so we can care for patients every day here at home, and occasionally those far away from home.
Yes, I’m bursting in pride and I want to remember that pride for a long time to come. And, at the same time, I won’t forget the eyes. They are still there in Haiti. They are still filled with trust. And they are still filled with hope.
God bless you all.
Chris Van Gorder
See the Haiti news page for other journal entries.