Friday, February 19, 2010
40 Parker Street
Newburyport, MA 01950-4056
OR call if you have questions: 978.499.3800
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
A number of people have commented on this video, most positive, some negative, largely due to the choice of music. By way of explanation I should point out that i never intended the words to be literal beyond the idea that there is hope and this is what i saw in the faces of the people I met while in Port Au Prince. I guess Imagine has more personal ideas attached to it than I expected. The Haitians are a deeply religious people and in no way did I intend to say that should be otherwise or to say that Haiti is not in a dire place right now. I guess this was just my emotional response and a way to say that i think what will persevere will be the people and their ability to rise above.
That's where solar cookers come in. They are completely sustainable, can be used to cook AND purify water by boiling it, and are relatively inexpensive. What better way to help in a concrete way than give someone effected by the earthquake a means to cook and prepare drinking water without it costing them anything. And the best thing of all, it won't cost you much.
For just $40 Solar Cookers International will send a solar cooker down to Haiti and deliver it to someone who needs it. I just got off the phone with them to check some info and they have people on the ground who are delivering the cookers and teaching folks how to use them. There was already a system in place to introduce cookers in Haiti prior to the earthquake so they are continuing to work with those contacts. They are also working with a Methodist Orphanage and several NGOs as well.
Friday, February 12, 2010
Being back in "civilization" is a bizarre adjustment. I know how odd this sounds but in a very strange way i miss Port Au Prince. It's hard to walk down the street here knowing that there is no chance a little child you've never met will suddenly take your hand and look up and say "hey you". I miss that simple kindness that they offer. Their smiles, their open hearts, and their incredible perseverance. I sat in the Miami airport listening to a man upset that they were out of his favorite candy bar and wonder where we've gone wrong.
I think the greatest lesson I learned during my two weeks in Haiti was the concept of what is truly important. It's cliche I realize but these people, who had so little before and have so much less now, are truly wiser than most of the people i have ever met including myself. I was and am astounded by their nobility, their willingness to offer you the one chair that they own to sit in, and their kindness. Unlike other poor places I have been in my life, I look back on Haiti and realize that in my time there, not one person put their hand out for money. Not one. And these are people who certainly need it. People asked us for water, and for food, which is understandable, and they asked for work as drivers, interpreters, bag carriers, but they did not ask for money. I think that says a lot. They are a strong proud people who continue to stand up tall every time they are knocked down and i was and am humbled by their ability to do so. I only hope that I can accept that into myself and not forget it as i invariably slip back into the corporate ad driven conspicuous consumption as happiness culture in which we live.
Personally coming back has been tough. For starters, I sit in my house with heat, electricity, running water which honestly confounds me at this point, and food in the fridge and I can't help but feel terrible that i have left friends behind who are sleeping on the street. My kids get up in the morning and go to their school everyday and 90% of the schools in Port Au Prince are gone and will not be back any time soon. I check the Haitian forecast every morning for fear that the rain will start as I know what that will mean to so many of the wonderful people I met. I wish i could do more fore them.
On a small level I have secured some tents and are sending them down for people i know. It will help them but it doesn't seem like enough.
My friend Andre who was there as a photojournalist said that coming back from these situations is always the same. Its like a huge emotional balloon that is instantly inflated and then over a month or so, a slow leak let's all the emotion out again. He's a wise man and I now understand what he is talking about.
I'm going to wrap up because there are things I'd rather not write about. If you have been reading this thank you for indulging me and allowing me to spill. I kept this blog as much for an outlet as I did to let people know what was going on down there and it has helped immensely.
Many people have asked what they can do to help and here is what i have told them. For starters, give as much as you can and continue to do so for as long as you can. Haiti will need help for 10 years and then some. Partners in Health is a great organization and can use everything they get and use it well. In addition, St Damiens, a free pediatric hospital in Port au Prince that i visited and have been sending supplies to is also a great operation. They are associated with an Orphanage called Friends of the Orphans and can always use your help. If you are a medical professional you can sign up with Partners in Health to go assist as well. If you want to do something specific, raise money and donate a Shelter Box which will save lives once the rains start.
But the best thing you can probably do is to help someone and you don't need t go to Haiti to do it. There are people and organizations that need help within a mile of where you live, I pretty much guarantee it. Seek them out and offer your time and actively help someone you don't know. And if you can, try to help people who are as different from you as possible. It will make you realize that deep down we are all human and have the same needs and will help you open up to people that you might not have before. Can you imagine what the world would be like if everyone did this? But of course it can't be unless we all start doing it ourselves first.
Monday, February 8, 2010
Being back in "civilization" is truly alarming. For starters I've arrived in the middle of the superbowl aftermath so everyone is talking about the game and wearing all sorts of expensive superbowl crap. Having been out of it for a while the conspicuous consumption is simply shocking.
I'm sitting in the middle of a giant air conditioned terminal that is weather proofed and plumbed and wondering how many people from one of the tent cities could live here. 5000? 10000? I know that seems ridiculous but the way they pack themselves in I'd say it's possible. No rain no dirt indoor plumbing. I know it's ridiculous but if we can build a huge building for transitory travelers to wait for a few hours in comfort can't we do something similar for people who are literally on the verge of non existence?
Anyone who knows me knows I hate bottled water but as I walk through the terminal past fountains that pump out chilled liquid gold and then watch as people shell out $5 for water from Fiji instead I can't help but shudder. What those little kids who hold out their hands and ask for "dro" wouldn't do for a fountain that gave them unlimited water. I'd like to rip them from the walls and send them where they are truly needed.
I don't mean to sound angry but perhaps I am. It's just hard to know the state of things a mere hour and a half flight from here and watch as overweight travelers chug half a bottle of water before chucking it and complain that they didn't like their seats at yesterdays game.
Everything is relative I guess and in fairness I know nothing about these people but it's tough to reconcile.
It's very odd to be leaving haiti on a private gulf stream that costs more than most of the villages will ever see in a lifetime. Last night I woke up as I heard rain on the tent. I had left some laundry to dry and was worried of it rained that I'd have a problem with packing wet clothes. As I got out of the tent it occurred to me that I was worried about the rain getting my clothes wet and less than a mile away 20000 people are worried about the rain for a much more important reason.
It didn't rain very much last night after all. But in a few months time it will and when it does people will die. It's a sad fact but it's just that simple. Unless something is done extremely soon and money says it won't be.
And here I sit reclined in my leather chair texting on an iPhone rocketing through the air at 34000 feet.
Northing makes sense.
I don't mean to sound bitter because he's an activist and ver well may do some good. Along with the likes of Harrison ford who flew in a private medical team yesterday he'll make headlines while the true heroes here are the haitian people and the Haitian docs who are stepping above and beyond what anyone could expect. Yet no one will head about them. Also the docs back at the compound who have come off the night shift at general and are sleeping on the concrete courtyard because the tents are too hot. No one will hear about them either yet I bet every one of them will be back.
But haitis acting future is looking brighter so I guess that's good right.
from la and as they were one of the only hospitals left standing in pap they were overwhelmed. They told me they had 120 beds and over 900 patients when I called and that they were in need of everything.
I put out an email to the shalhevet community and within a day had several doctors nurses and pharmacists ready to donate supplies. With the help of Emma, one of our amazing seniors, we were able to send about 100 pounds down on a private jet that flew the night before I left. I then brought supplies with me as well but there were more supplies available that we had not been able to collect.
On my flight down here on virgin I was talking to the stewardess and mentioned the supplies and that I'd have to figure out a wAy to get them to Miami where they could be taken to pap. Within 5 minutes she had spoken with the captain who had radioed corporate and I received an email from virgin in San Francisco who, as of this email and after working with Emma, will be delivering everything we have next week. Very cool.
St damians is being used by everyone for obvious reasons and there are people everywhere. That said it's clean, a very nice facility, and relatively unhurt by the earthquake. I went at night and things were quiet so I just said hello to a few people and left. Still nice to see who we are helping though.
As an aside the us embassy which was built 6 months ago is down the street. It's massive takes up a city block and heAvily fortified. Untouched by the earthquake it's surrounded by rubble.
Sunday, February 7, 2010
At 9 we headed down to the church (it's actually one of the dorms since the church is full of patients) and filmed the church service for 2 and a half hours. It was actually quite beautiful as there were several choirs and a lot of singing in general. That said, some of the speeches went on a bit long and since they were all in Creole they seemed even longer.
Dr. Farmer made a speech which even with the language barrier seemed to me to be quite impassioned and funny as well. He has an interesting manner about him and reeks of sincerity. Joia also spoke and invoked the We Shall Overcome saying and then in a really beautiful voice sang an acappella version of the song in French. It was quite stirring and the entire congregation filled in for the second verse. Pretty cool.
We had heard that there was supposed to be a memorial service but for some reason it didn't happen. The most stirring point of the morning though was communion. As people were lining up a bunch of the nurses got up together. I recognized a few of them and some were new but one in particular caught my attention. A young Haitian nurse all dressed in white missing her arm just below the elbow. It was fairly obvious from the dressing that this was a recent wound. So here is this woman who has just lost her forearm within the last few weeks and who knows what else and she is back to work. It's amazing and truthfully from what I've seen not out of the ordinary.
We then shot an hour long interview with Dr farmer. He's a pretty incredible guy and extremely humble. Pih has hospitals in Peru Malawi Siberia Rwanda and a dew other places I've forgotten. All are in the middle of slums and all are free. It's quite impressive. The whole model revokes around the community health worker idea. Employee and train people to do community outreach and follow up so that patients continue to improve. At the same time work with them to improve nutrition housing and education. And no one is denied. I'm sure the reality is not always as cut and dry but it's extremely impressive and even he admits it's not really all that novel of an approach just no one seems to be doing it. He was asked about the aid coming into Haiti and pointed out that aid doesn't do anything unless it actually shows up. He pointed out that since the hurricane hit in 08 less than 10% of the pledged money has come in.
We drove to la colons to visit la hospital de los cohobes, the hospital we had seen the night before. It's even more impressive during the day. I took a walk through the village to shoot some b roll and as usual found a gaggle of kids who tagged along to watch the video screen. They are always really. Ute and inevitably one or two of them will Come up and take your hand to walk with you. They also all say good morning regardless of why time it is.
I shot a few street scenes and some pics of the kids and then saw a square area with a roaster in it and benches around it. I asked Andre our driver if it was what I thought it was and you guessed it a cock fighting arena. Lovely. I try not to judge but that did bug me a bit.
Were back in port au prince tonight for one last night on the concrete before we head home. I won't miss that much. I also won't miss the 14 hour shooting days, eating power bars, cold showers, washing my clothes in a bucket, the same one we use to add water to the toilets when we want to flush, mosquitos, Exhaustion, heat rashes, chloroquine, death, amputees, destruction, low flying cargo planes, children asking for dlo (creole for water) and so many other things. What I will miss though are the Haitian people and the docs and nurses I've met here.
One in particular is andre our driver. For starters he's a mad man behind the wheel. Safe but he doesn't like to get stuck in traffic so driving on sidewalks going the wrong way and pushing through where a car shouldn't fit are all fair game. He seems to enjoy cutting off UN trucks as well which I find quite funny.
Andre is probably in his 40s but it's hard to tell. He's a hustler, not in a bad way but in a works every angle to provide for his family way. He was telling me about a couple of jobs he has including Amway and how they have all stopped and now he is driving for a tour company. He is struggling as he has three kids who are 18 to 20 and he doesn't want to send them to the states bit may have no choice. His family and house are ok but he has been sleeping outside with them anyway as everyone else is doing. He's taken in several friends as well who have lost family and houses. Scott told me that one of Andre's friends had lost everything and that he was going to ask pih for a tent for his friend. I went up to Andre and said " I hear one of your friends lost his house" intending to then ask what else we could do for him but Andre cut me short and said " most of my friends have lost their houses". It's quite sobering.
He's a great guy though and had a great sense of humour. We've had a lot of talks about Haiti and religion as he is very religious. I asked him bow he could except the earthquake and still believe in god and he said that he doesn't understand it but he knows that everyone has a mission in life and if you were spared there is still work to be done.
He told me about a friend who had lost her husband only to find that two days later he w alive under a building. A huge pylon had crushed him from the waste down and it took another day to get a machine to lift it up. They gave him medicine of sown sort and food and Andre said he was lucid and smiling and everyone thought he'd be ok. They lifted the pylon and he died a few minutes later.
You hear these crazy stories everywhere.
One other thing we heard today is that the us geological society or something like that is predicting a 6.0 here within the next month. I can't even imagine. Andre told me that outside of town people have been flocking to this area where two hills moves so much that they are actually touching now. He said he'll send a pic.
We leave on either a pih charter or a military cargo plane to tomorrow at 1. Depending on where we land (the military takes you where ever they go). I'll be back on Tuesday.
The rest of the morning was a bit slow. We went with Joia to the general hospital, which has slowed down even more since we were there the other day. Sadly, the patients who are still there now are the chronic cases and I some ways are even tougher to see than the quake victims as they are victims of a living situation and not a natural disaster. Lots of infectious disease and lots of problems they can't nail down.
After we left the tent, I asked Joia how she keeps from crying all the time as I had had a fair amount of trouble holding it together while filming in there. She pointed out that you quickly learn that crying in there would be for her not for them and is the last thing they would need. I told her I agreed but pointed out that was the reason why she didn't, not how she didn't. She considered that and the offered up that it was probably related but that it eventually comes out in some form or another as she's doing something mundane like washing her car or opening a letter.
We then went to meet up with Dr. Paul Farmer, the founder of PIH and a real visionary. Dr. Farmer had come in the day before but had been meeting with officials and dealing with the work he and Bill Clinton are planning for the future of Haiti.
From the moment you meet him, you know this is someone special. He's the kind of guy that the room just gravitates to. Says hello to absolutely everyone knows everyone name and always has a smile. When we met up with him he had a small bag of knitted baby bonnets that his mother had made to send down.
Dr. farmer has been in Haiti for 25 years and founded PIH. They have built one hospital in Cange and rebuilt or retooled 10 others around the country that they work with but are publicly run. He graduate Harvard and decided that curing TB was going to be his mission by stopping it. He has been working in Haiti as well as many other countries around the world because he holds that the poor need first class healthcare much more than the rich do.
One of the incredible things they have done is to build a better mousetrap. He pointed out that Cange and mass general back in the states have roughly the same number of patients per year but that Cange has a 5 million dollar budget and mass generals is 2 billion. Something wrong there. He gave us a tour of a hospital they had rebuilt in Beladaire. The facility cost $700000 and was built on 9 months. It's open air except for the personal rooms because sunlight and fresh air are TB’s enemies. I have to say between that hospital and a hermetically sealed one like they have in the us where docs tell you to get out ASAP to avoid infection, I'd take Beladaire.
He took us to the TB ward and pointed out that in the states they have negative pressure rooms that cost $2000 a day. The purpose is to keep germs from leaving the room. Wanting to achieve the same outcome with less money, the rooms gave fans and the hallways open on either end and in the ceiling with fans constantly moving air. As a result all room doors will close after you and air is constantly being pumped out creating a negative pressure situation. Their rates of infection show this to work according to Dr. Farmer.
We ended up coming back to Cange with him and Joia and at staying her place tonight. He told us that in the morning before we had met up he had gone to the US comfort to assist in finding a body of a patient who has been sent there and misplaced. It's amazing that this world renowned doctor who is meeting with heads of state and inning an entire hospital system through his org would take the time to personally look for a body of one of their patients who was misplaced by an entirely different org. He eventually identified who it was.
We drove out to Cange at night and our driver Andre did an amazing job. As I mentioned last time the road is really more of a dried rock strewn riverbed than a road. It's pitch black at nifty since there are no lights except for the ridge fires that are set to burn the trees to make charcoal and there is always the potential of a goat or two at any given moment. Andre is shooting along in our van at around 70 kmh and fishtailing and slaloming as if it was nothing. I took some video and will post when I cam because it was wild.
Tonight we sleep on the floor in Cange as they are full up and tomorrow we will join in a memorial mass being performed for all the doctors here.
Heading to Miami on Monday and then home on Tuesday and I cannot wait to see my family.
We then stopped in on two mobile clinics the second of which was set up today in the same tent city we visited yesterday. We followed Joia, the chief medical director, as she saw patients. It was about 9:30 and the clinic had been up for an hour. Everyone stands in line to be seen for medicine for everything and they are all given a number. Joia sat down at a table and I noticed that the first woman she saw was number 215. By the end of the day they saw 1200 patients, as their policy is not to stop until everyone has been seen.
One of the great things about shooting something like this is you get to really check out the details of people. Every patient who sat down was immediately extended a hand and then after a greeting, Joia would continue to hold their hand in both of hers as she talked to them for a minute before starting an exam. It was all in Creole but it seemed to take the same tone every time, along the lines of ‘How are you?’ ‘How are you feeling today?’ ‘How long have you been here?’ - not being asked by a doctor, but by a fellow human being. As I've said before it's what makes PIH amazing: dignity.
We left the clinic around noon to meet up with one of the nurses from Cange who had come back to PAP. She lost her sister and her niece in a church that collapsed and is now supporting her brother in law and his 9 remaining children. We went with her to the church which see saw for the first time and was just gut wrenching to see. The top two floors had pancaked and the only gap you could see was in place because of a school chair that had somehow held up. It doesn't seem like anyone could have even known it was coming. Later she told us that she had talked with her brother in law and they had found an org that may adopt the four youngest children. I can't fathom having to make that type of decision. The strength that I have seen here is like none other.
We stopped into a supermarket to grab some drinks and to my surprise the shelves were stocked. Sort of odd to see.
There were military guys in their teens with ak47s buying junk food, but other than that it could have been anywhere else. Now this is only one store but it occurred to me that people are starving with the shelves stocked because they are too poor to buy anything from a store. I've said it before but the earthquake is only the latest in a long line of calamities to befall this country.
We spent the rest of the afternoon in traffic, literally, and got back to tent city in time to shoot an interview with one of the docs.
The surgeons from Cange have come to tent city as they are heading back to Philly in the morning. There is no room left anywhere so they are sleeping on the steps of the palace. I ask them what their final tally was and they told me that in 9 days, they’d operated on 77 people. That's with only two surgical teams. They said that back in the real world they would do about 50 a month and that's in a big month.
It's wild to talk to them because they are exhausted and dirty and worn down but every single one of them says they would and will do this again in some way and can't wait to come back. Amazing.
Thursday, February 4, 2010
We drove around the city to see different sites for a bit. Every time you think you've become numb to the destruction, something else comes up around the corner and smacks you down. I was shooting on one street and an elderly man took us down an alleyway to see why was left of his house, which was essentially nothing. It's heartbreaking to see. His family was using buckets to try to clear away debris in an attempt - I'm assuming - to reclaim anything they can. Imagine losing everything in an instant.
We then met up with Joia the medical director for PIH and sat in on a meeting with the Minister of Public Health. Most of it was in Creole but essentially he was talking about how happy they were to have PIH involved and how once they were part of things stuff gets done. Joia reminded him that their hope is to help them get to the point where they aren't even part of he picture anymore.
After the meeting I made a phone call to Shalhevet the school I work at in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, it was short as we had to run but they played it over the loudspeaker at an assembly and it was nice to hear all the folks there clapping when I was done. Sorry I couldn’t talk longer!
We then headed to one of the mobile clinics that has been set up that was absolutely mobbed. One of the PIH workers wanted to show Joia another tent city they were going to be setting up in and so they started to walk with me hand holding a camera in front of them walking backwards like I'm used to. Sadly for me, the walk was about a mile and a half! But just when I was starting to feel sorry for myself, I swing around and saw where we were going. It's one of the larger tent cities and based on the birth rate they are seeing, they estimate the population to be between 15 and 20 thousand. Imagine 20 thousand people living cramped together with no sewage, no electricity, nothing except a few possessions and the wood and sheets that form the walls. It's really more like a sheet city.
We followed Joia for a while and then when she was done, we went off on our own to shoot video of the city. Now consider what you have heard and seen on the news about these cities and then listen to the truth. Scott and I walked through these tents that are cramped together by the thousands with about 6 inches in between and not once felt on danger for the 45 minutes or so we wondered around. We had no interpreter and were constantly welcomed and were even invited into a few peoples homes which we took advantage of. It's amazing how people are proud to show what they have done and yet at the same time you can see the trauma on many of their faces at the same time. I know that seems odd but it's all there.
We rounded one corner to find this elderly gentleman working away on an old foot operated sewing machine. He was a tailor and was fixing shirts on the dirt floor in front of his tent surrounded by everyone and working away.
The thing I will never forget though are the kids. They are everywhere and constantly say "hey you" and then want you to take their picture. They also want to high five and knock knuckles all the time. Scott and I spent a lot of time surrounded by hoards of kids, and we even flew kites with them for a bit. They are all so happy and with the exception of occasionally asking for water and food. Even though they were wonderful and so nice, it's heartbreaking because these kids will be living there when my kids graduate day school. They'll be there when my kids graduate high school and they'll probably be there for a while after that. And that's if they make it that long. These camps are essentially permanent and that’s the horrible part of it all. That, and the randomness. My kids are safe at home and these kids are here, and when it comes right down to it, it’s not much more than a coin toss. Crazy.
There was a large group of people gathering in one area with a guy with a bullhorn getting them riled up, I'm guessing over food issues. Even then, though, with hundreds of people chanting, there wasn't any concern of problems. It's incredible and I only hope they get the relief they need.
The one thing I can say with certainty though is that God was in that city. I don't even know quite what I mean when I say that, but it was a profoundly spiritual place that oddly at face level seems like the last place you'd think would be spiritual. I can't really explain it but there was true goodness there and true… I'm not sure.
We heard today that one of the mass graves has 50 thousand people in it. The death toll is now expected to be 200 thousand.
Senegal has offered free land to anyone from Haiti interested in settling there.
I miss my wife and kids more than I can say.
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
While we were waiting for five spinal patients to come in from cange we met one of the guys who was in charge of setting the whole place up. He was about 55 walked with a limp and was delivering water to sick patients. He told me that he had over 100 combat missions under his belt Now one of the guys who is full time with the crisis response team. I asked him if it was hard setting these places up and he pointed to his cap which read US Airborne and said " not with this... I just walk into the army compound and pretty soon we have everything we need.
I guess that's what has amazed me most about this experience. Instead of planning and strategizing like things usually are done there's this we need to get this done so were just going to do it and figure it out as we go attitude. As he pointed out in a tragedy like this there is no use planning because everything changes so fast.
The patients all made it safely from cange although one of the ambulances broke down so they were delayed. Due to the overflow of patients they did not have enough back boards to bring everybody on so they took doors off the rooms and used those. It was pretty funny because one of the docs was having a hard time tracking down the last door and was worried that they'd kill him when he got back if he didn't have it.
One of the great things about being here is getting to watch as these things come together. There is such a great feeling when one of the serious patients is finally in a place where they can get the help they need.
This morning started out with more of the same as we headed to the Airport where the patients who were flown in last night were finally arriving at u of Miami. Again the docs needed to fly them so they started calling around until the Canadian search and rescue guys agreed. While we were waiting they then needed to find transport from the copter to the hospital which was only about 500 yards but with spinal patients and four of them a tough distance. They made some calls and got two American ambulances to come get them. Incredible to watch these things happen.
We spent a good deal of time at the airport after waiting for the medical director of pih to arrive. She was late so I spent some time talking to our driver about Haiti.
The medical director finally arrived and we will be following g her for a few days. We took her to the general hospital which in just a week looks like a different world. No one sleeping on the street relative quiet and a much lighter caseload. Port au prince itself is starting to spring back to life as can be seen by the horrendous traffic and the trucks of rubble driving through the streets.
We were told that right after the earthquake u til just before we came a large area near the morgue held 900 bodies stacked 4 high and that bodys were stacked like chord wood on the sides of the road. It's quite amazing that the government was able to take care of this so quickly and supports the rumours of mass graves outside of town.
We sat in on a few meetings with the med director Joia and some of the hospital staff. Pih feels that the best way to move forward is to get the medical school back up and running and has agreed to turn a hospital they are building outside of town into a teaching hospital complete with dorms etc. That will function as the med school u til the old one can be rebuilt. Thy hope to have it finished in 9 months but want to start classes asap. It's very like them. Find a problem and fix it.
We then went to the minister of public health and spoke with him for a while but his schedule changed so we will be meeting with him in the morning.
Joia told me that 1 penny out of every dollar that comes into Haiti as foreign aid goes to the government and as a result the government has no power and the NGO's are doing everything. NGOs can't run a country there needs to be a strong transparent government to get things done so they are fighting to change this model. It's interesting to here one of the execs of an NGO say that but she's right. I asked her about corruption and she pointed out that the us govt is corrupt and that doesn't seem to stop anyone. She's got a point but it's not quite that simple.
Two numbers which have struck me are that90% of the schools have been destroyed and over 1 million people are going to need rehabilitation of some sort or other. It's incomprehensible to me how they will get out of this.
One of the nice things to see is that the government is starting to build tent cities with some decent looking tents. These will be good for the short run but when it starts raining in march it's going to be trouble.
We are now back at Aristides compound with the docs sleeping in tents on the ground. A few things I have noticed on a personal level since I've been hear. Not looking in a mirror for over a week is a wild experience and worth a try. You can live on only food bars steamed rice water and plaintains and mangos but it gets really boring. Flush toilets and running water as well as toilet paper are things that should never be taken for granted.
But having said all of that and being utterly exhausted I constantly remind myself that I will be going home soon and for many my reality here would be a welcome step up.
Be thankful for everything you have and do your best to take nothing for granted.
Monday, February 1, 2010
Next up we went into Cange which is essentially one dirt street long with vendors and houses on either side. The docs found the parents of a girl in the hospital who had shattered her forearm and was ready to be discharged. They explained that they were doing a preliminary assesment to determine how best to get her home and continue her treatment. This is another amazing aspect of PIH. After a patient goes home a worker from the hospital will check in on them as long as is considered necessary in order to make sure that they are recovering well. n this case they were in Cange but in the case where they are farther out, PIH employs locals that have healthcare training to monitor recovery, help when necessary and phone in so that the patients progress can be tracked. We walked about a mile, up a steep incline to a little series of tin shacks where the girls mother and father showed the docs where she would be sleeping and they assesed how to get her there.
We then went back and they loaded her up in an ambulance and drove her to the base of the hill. Then, with great care, 4 guys took turns carrying her stretcher up this steep terrain and into the house. They set her down on the bed, made her comfortable and gave the mother and father a 20 minute summary of everything they needed to know and answered their questions. As we were leaving I asked when they'd be back and one of them told me someone would be by that afternoon. Can you imagine this happening in the states? And for every patient no less? Aftercare is considered no less important than the initial hospital stay and with houses with tin roofs and dirt floors it may even be more important.
The house itself was really interesting. Made from tin and wood that had been picked from other places using nails that were bent and rusted it consisted of very small rooms that I could barely stand in. That said it was clean, neat and obviously a great source of pride as they had painted it quite vibrantly, decorated it and had several ornate wood cuttings as trim. Very pretty.
We came back to the hospital and did a few interviews with one of the chief docs and a nurse who lost her sister and is now going to be caring for her 9 children. It's incredible how everyone is coping and I have seldom if ever seen the type of strength they have shown. Everyone here has lost someone, some their entire families and yet everyone is here working because they feel its the best way to help.
We also talked with a surgeon her from Philly who could not believe how amazing this place is. He pointed out that if American hospitals ran this way no one would have a single complaint. When i asked him about money he pointed out that the operating budget for the whole hospital is in the low single digit millions yet they treat as many people as some big city hospitals. Go figure. OUr director asked him if there was one case that was the toughest and he told us about an 8 year old who came in with a major head injury. The only way to save him was to open a burr hole and relieve the pressure but that he would need a nuerosurgeons care afterwards and they don't have one here. There was a hospital they contacted in Port Au Prince who could have helped but was not willing to do so. So it was decided that there was nothing to do for him and he died. 8 years old and his mother had just buried his father as well. The docs offered to the haitian staff to say they'd like to pay for his funeral as she had no money and they were told that she had opted to have him go to the morgue where the bodies "just disappear".
Several other tough stories today that I'd rather not go into. Terrible things have happened here but wonderful ones as well. It's an odd place.
This evening we met with the priest who started this place back in the 60s before he asked PIH to get involved. He explained that there was nothing here and he came when thousands of locals were displaced by the flooding of a valley for a power generating system. Of course they got no power from them. Anyway he described the begiinings and getting water up here. He mentioned that where there is water there is life and finished by saying in spite of it all he was happy because he had been given the ability to make others happy. How cool is that. Through all this, that's his feeling. My grandmother would have liked him very much because that was her philosophy as well.
Sunday, January 31, 2010
We followed the docs on grand rounds. There are people everywhere but that said everyone is being treated well. The pih philosophy is to not turn anyone away and no one is charged. What's more amazing is that almost all of the staff is Haitian with a handful of American docs here because there are so many patients and they are just slammed. The patients range with problems all over the map and sadly many amputees. The peds ward is the toughest yet all the kids smile and wave as do the parents. It's horrible to think what some of their lives will be like when they leave here. Life is hard enough with four limbs here.
We followed a few of the docs after rounds and watched them adjust a few casts and reset a young boy's leg. The care they give is completely wonderful and it's great to watch them hug and play with the kids even though there is a language barrier.
We also sat in on a beautiful church service run in one of the clinics because the church is being used for the wounded. It was quite moving and beautiful and odd to hear a sermon in Creole where I recognized the word Israel so much.
We then gowned up and headed into the two ERs to watch a biopsy and a broken arm. It was pretty wild. I asked the surgeon about the biopsy and he told me that there was some debate as to whether or not to do it. If they find he has cancer there is very little that can be done so some of the docs questioned whether knowing was a good thing. Hard to say.
The broken arm was interesting as when they started they noticed healed gun shot wounds and when they opened his arm realized this was an old wound and the guy probably hadn't been able to use his arm for years. He came in saying it happened in the quake. This is happening a lot since people see the opportunity for good health care. The irony is that pih would have helped him when it happened.
We finished the day doing some interviews with the staff including an imaging tech who lost her husband and son. Everyone here has lost someone and some even their entire families yet they are here working to make people better. It's humbling to witness.
The pih facility here in cange is sort of like the citadel. A huge compound with the hospital a school a nutrition center a church and a host of other services. They started by trying to treat tb and HIV and then realized that treatment was no good if they didn't have water, shelter and food. So they started working on clean water and nutrition as well as home fixing/building. Then they moved into nutrition as well. It's really incredible. And when you think that everyone who walks through the door gets whatever they need for free- surgery, aftercare, hospital care, medicines- sounds sort of cool doesn't it? And this is Haiti. I think the greatest thing that I've heard since I've been here has been talking with Konji, one of the pih crew. He summed up their philosophy like this. Pih is not necessarily about saving lives, although that is what we aim to do here. Pih is about assuring dignity and letting everyone know that regardless of who they are or where they are from, the utmost possible was done to give them the best care possible because that is the right of every human being. These guys rock.
We traveled to Cange today where we are staying for a few days. Cange is about 3 hours from the Dominican border and is on what is one of the two roads that lead to Port au Prince from the dm. Half of it is paved and half not so I can see why getting supplies in is rough.
It's extremely rural and along the way there are a tremendous number of people living by the roadside in tin shacks. Most are subsistance farmers by the look of it and as such were largely unaffected by the quake. I have to admit it's nice to be somewhere where you don't see destruction and smell the smells of death for a change.
Cange is where Dr. Farmer started pih and the hospital here is absolutely huge and spread out over many acres. It's the first of 10 hospitals that they built in Haiti and understandably the flagship. It's a bit surreal to be staying in this oasis, sleeping on a real bed with clean sheets, and looking out on a gorgeous vista when so many people are suffering such a short distance away.
Having just written that, it occurs to me that minus the earthquake and the sheer numbers of the displaced, Los Angeles is no different as we will go to dinner and a movie while people up the street look for a place to spend the night. Much can be learned from all of this as there are troubles and need everywhere. But I digress.
We spent the day touring the hospital and checking out the town which is essentially one dirt road. Imagine a sophisticated hospital in one of the most rural poor areas one can think of and you understand what the pih mission is. Free healthcare for those who need it most and what's most important is that the majority of the hospital is staffed and run by Haitians. That's the key.
We met some lovely people on the street. It's sad but in la these are people I might never meet or interact with for many reasons and here it's different. Everyone smiles. Scott our sound guy and I were watching these kids pound what looked like corn meal in this old rounded in wooden stump that looked like it had been used for thirty years all smoothed out and beautiful. The kids were smiling at us so I pointed at myself and then at what they were doing and they offered us a chance. It was pretty funny because with two people you need a rhythm and we didn't have much. It was a nice connection though.
Scott and I are pretty much attached at the hip as he needs to be getting sound be out of my shot and yet we have no idea what will happen next. He's very good and has done Survivor and Amazing Race for years so he knows how to move. Cool stories from those shows too.
Off to bed in a few but I'll leave you with this. Pih had worked out a deal with several hospitals in the states to take the most seriously wounded patients for free health care and the military had offered free transport. Quite a feat. Andrew our pih contact tells us that the state department will not grant visas because the cost of the patients care will be too great. Amazing.
We started out by following some of the pih docs to one of the medical tents in the tent cities. These cities are really not to be believed. Very mad max after civilization has fallen feeling at least visually. That said everyone is amazingly friendly and smiling as long as you nod to them first. I'm assuming that is because I have a camera and they are tired of cameramen as there seem to be two or three per Haitian.
To give you an idea of the tent cities imagine central park filled with tents. Not tents that you would buy by the way but tents made out of anything they can find. There is a saying here that everything goes to the dump but the only things that end up there are rocks and dirt. I watched as one man was pulling nails from a piece of old wood, straightened them, and then used a rock to hammer that wood on the top of his lean to.
The other thing is that there are kids everywhere and they are constantly asking for food and more specifically water. They don't look malnourished but to have a 5 year old come up and speak creole to you until you realize he wants water is completely heartbreaking.
The problem is that if you give something to one of them you soon have a swarm of people and there is potential for a problem. It's tough to figure out what to do. I've taken to giving things out as we leave an area and handing things to anyone who asks while we are at a light. I don't know. It's very hard.
One of the really weird things is that most of the out of towners - the docs and journalists - are white so you have a situation where the lighter skinned people have water and food and the darker skinned folks are looking everywhere for it. It's truly disturbing. One of the emt guys we met from NYC told me he'd been eating at the military tent. I asked him why they didn't mind and he responded oh they'll let anyone white in. Disturbing.
We left the tent city and sadly I realized on the way the I had lost my still camera. The cam I could care less about but it means all my movies and stills are gone. Again nothing compared to what surrounds me.
We then boarded a military boat and headed out to the US Comfort a floating navy hospital ship that holds a thousand patients. The Comfort is where the more serious patients are sent and one of the docs wanted to do follow up.
You may have heard about the port being shut down to ships and we saw why. Huge cranes on their sides in the water and a roadway the size of the 405 now completely submerged. Mind you this wasn't a bridge but a road that just cracked off and sunk. It's hard to imagine that kind of force.
We spent about two hours on the comfort following the pih doc as he checked on patients he sent ahead. I won't go into the particulars as it was really tough to see. These are the worse off patients and a lot of them are kids. It's heartwrenching. They were taking info to get in touch with family and let them know they were ok. In some instances there is no one.
As we move around I am overwhelmed by what is going to happen next. The emergency of the quake is slowly fading. People are getting fixed up and others are even starting to rebuild. But what happens when someone is done with the hospital and is sent home but has no one. Where do they go? As we drive at night there are no lights so it's really dark and our driver needs to slow down at corners because people are sleeping outside And in some places even in the street. They are afraid of going back in buildings and that's not really going to change. Where will these people go? There is talk of real tent cities being built but no one seems to know where. And what will happen when the rainy season starts. The people here have already been hit hard and this will only make that worse. Wish I had answers.
Since i got here I've been thinking about what the future of Haiti will be. Why not offer people here solar - free hot water free electricity. We were interviewing one of the pih docs yesterday and at one pint he said do you know what killed more people after the earthquake than anything else? I expected him to say infection but instead he said lack of electricity. Apparently the days after without electricity they had to stop working on patients after dark with few exceptions. How incredible would it be if there were solar panels charging batteries to light the areas they needed to work. I know it's a pipe dream but is that bad?
I'm babbling. I think that psychologically what we are seeing is beginning to effect me. At first I could close my eyes and disconnect if I needed to but now it's not possible. We've see too much and while most is not as bad as I thought it would be it's extremely tough nonetheless. One of the things I cant seem to shake is the smell of the bodies. It's not everywhere like I expected it would be but you can generally tell which buildings buried a number of people by the sweet sickly smell coming from them. It's something i'd like to think I'll forget but doubt I ever will.
Thursday, January 28, 2010
We started the day early today by filming a meeting of a group of Partners in Health docs who were heading out to set up a mobile field clinic in an area that had seen little help so far. Most of them were Haitian and fairly young and have tremendous pride in knowing that they will be helping their countrymen. It's quite wonderful to see. I rode with them in a bus to the location. They mostly speak French and some Creole and both are lacking for me so we smiled a lot. I did speak a little to one guy who spoke Spanish but I can't quite say what we talked about.
Driving out to the outskirts of the city you can really start to see not only the devastation, but also the poverty. It's like nothing I've seen. There are buildings down everywhere with 4 stories crushed to a couple of feet. The buildings are built so poorly, a symptom of bad poverty and corruption, that they came down in no time. The earthquake lasted 30 seconds according to most people we talked to, and for anyone who has been in one, that's a long time.
The mobile med center was amazing. By the time we got there, they had set up some shelter tents and word was spreading. Slowly people started appearing and began forming huge lines. Each patient is seen by a doc given a care booklet where info is recorded and then sent to the hospital or given mess. The hospital sets back up in a week for follow-up.
At this point most medical stuff is second wave. Wave one was hardcore emergency stuff. This wave is fixing rush jobs from wave one and dealing with the lesser emergencies. Now that they have stopped looking for bodies, things have gone to a more normal pace. We did see a 5-year-old girl who had cut her finger off which was tough, but they took her immediately and sent her to the hospital.
While I have not seen the level of trauma I expected (thankfully), the thing that has amazed me the most is the Haitians. Haiti has this bad voodoo crime aids rap that seems undeserved. The people that we have met have been truly amazing and we've been in what were some pretty rough areas. But of course these are odd times and I've been here for two days. However, the expats who live down here say the same thing. Two examples come to mind. The first was a screw up that could have gone bad. Due to sheer exhaustion one of our cameras was left in a public area where people are living for about an hour. The only reason we found it was because I walked by and saw it. That's a ten thousand dollar piece of equipment left unattended for an hour in a group of people who are homeless and hungry and it wasn't even touched.
The second thing is those tent cities. Thousands of people camping together, no police in sight, and no problems to be seen. And we went to many of them and they were all the same.
As far as food, commerce has picked back up and there are roadside stands everywhere. Now, can you imagine this happening in an American city and there not being violence?
We are bedding down with the journalists tonight, which is kind of funny as many of them are really obnoxious. They view this as just a story and treat the people like props. Very sad. The surgeons we first met were not happy to see us until they realized what we were doing and saw that we were not walking into triage and getting into docs’ ways. Mention Sanjay Gupta to them or Anderson Cooper and they lose their minds. One of them said that Gupta walked into an OR he was operating in with cams and started talking to the surgeons on camera. They told him to get out and apparently he was shocked they didn't want him there. This whole event, like many I'm sure, has been overly dramatized for the sake of who knows what. I don't mean to minimize what happened because it's horrible, but the aftermath has been inspiring. It's an incredible place and the Haitian people are incredible.
One of the things that everyone agrees on is that they hate The UN. They are nowhere to be seen.
The surgeons we met headed home tonight, as the Haitians have taken back control of the general hospital. It's sad because it took an earthquake to destroy the place to get the kind of healthcare that people should have and the equipment to do it.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
A long day has finally ended. We got her at about 7 am and went straight to the central hospital. When I say hospital, I don't mean it like anything you've ever seen in Los Angeles. The guys who have been here since Day One told us that the hospital was overrun with rats. The poverty here is not to be believed. There was a tragedy in Haiti but the earthquake is only the latest chapter. Doctors from all across the world have been thrown together and are making it work at the hospital. In a short amoung of time, we have gotten to know some of them and hear their stories.
I'm exhausted and about to go to sleep in a tent on concrete, so I'm just going to list some things that maybe I can expound on later:
In spite of what you've seen on CNN, things are not crazy down here. In fact, everyone is working together and being extremely patient. I sat and hung out with 3 surgeons tonight who have been here a week and they told me they've performed 200 operations and haven't had to amputate a single limb. I mentioned that the impression on TV is that everyone has lost a limb. Apparently, when things first happened there were aid organizations doing the best they could, but they were in over their heads, so they amputated rather than risking surgery. That spread like wildfire and now people with fractures are afraid to come in, and instead wait until the last minute and end up with gangrene. Insanity.
I was talking with an ENT from Brooklyn who told me that he went out on a search and rescue mission last week and had to make the choice between saving a mother in one part of the house or the father and son in another. He decided to save the father and son, and the mother was gone by the time he got to her. It seems like everyone has a story like this.
The roughtest part of the day was walking through the Swiss pediatrics tent. Babies and infants in the kind of shape no one would ever want to see. Many worn parents there too, but many kids are alone. It's horrible. We checked out an operating room as well, while they were operating. When I say 'room' I mean just that. I can't believe what they pull off with what they have. The toughtest cases get sent to the USS Compassion out in the harbor that has 1000 beds and a crack surgical team. Oddly enough, there are tons of Scientologists here. They are extremely helpful and wear there yellow Scientology shirts.
We are camped near the airport and about every ten minutes, an army transport takes off or lands. It's really loud and almost drowns out the noise of all the generators.
For those of you who asked, I have no yet visited the Israeli camp yet, but the first person I saw on the ground was an IDF soldier with a yarmulka. Odd context. When you mention them here, everyone pretty much agrees that they are the best at what they are doing. The first place rheu (?) try when they need equipment is the IDF hospital and I was told that in general, "an dray" (?) takes 3 to 4 hours and maybe you hear back the next day. At the IDF hospital it takes 15 minutes and within another 15 minutes you get results back from a team in Israel who has checked it over.
No one is sleeping inside but everyone is very cool about it. People are on the sidewalks and even rooftops. I'm sure there is more, but I'm too spent to write. Tomorrow, I'll follow a team into some remote villages that have not been "rexhwd" (sorry, having trouble decifering this... any ideas?) since the event as it is known.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
40 food bars
a water purifier squeeze bottle that takes out viruses and organisms
a back up water prifying system
candles and matches
a solar/crankable radio,flashlight,usb charger
medical and wilderness survival apps fro my iphone
Touching down gotta run. Next up HAiti
So here's what happened. The day after the earthquake, i woke up feeling helpless like most of us, watchingt he news and surfing the web, wishing i could do something, anything to help. I decided I'd start a donation collection going at the school i work at part time and by the end of the day, with the help of one of the students who was already collecting on her own, and some faculty matching funds, we had collected $1000 and purcahsed a shelter box which has already been donated in Haiti. It was really quite amazing how many people stepped up to help.
Now it just so happens that I had a lunch meeting with a friend of mine, Dannielle, and actress I have known for a while and an all aorund good person. Danielle mentioned in passing that she had a friend who was flying a chartered jet down to miami to ferry people and supplies back and forth to Haiti as was needed. She said that another friend was working with a childrens hospital called St Damiens. I asked her for their numbers and she sent them as soon as she got on her computer.
I called Eric, the guy with the jet first, and he told me that he works for a charter company (he may own it, i;m not sure) and that they were going to be flying down. i then called Danielles friend Alex and asked how i could help with St Damiens. He put me in touch with their office on the ground in miami and one of their advocates in washington who was coming back from PA with a her newly adopted haitian son who she had just picked up. All of this happened in the scope of two hours.
I talked to the St. Damiens folks and they explained how dire the situation was and what was needed. St Damines is a 120 bed hospiutal and they were treating 900 people a day with people on the lawn, the roof, the hallways. They said that the surgical teams were working 24/7 and mostly amputating, much of it without proper pain meds and antibiotics because things were so bad. I think it was that that really got to me, thinking of kids who's limbs were being amputated without anasthesia so that they wouldn't die of infection. It's incomprehensible.
So I got back on the phone with Eric and asked if we could send bags. He said yes, but didn't know when they were going. We sent out an email to the parents at the school and within a few hours had a pharmacist and several doctors offer supplies. Pretty cool.
I also was able to get a solar company to donate a bunch of solar chargers and send them to Haiti via Miami. ya never know what a call can do huh?
I went home and continued to email back and forth. At some point, my friend Laurie Webb, and amazing person all around, Facebooked that her producing partner was working with Partners in Health, a health org that runs a hospital in Haiti. I emailed Laurie and mentioned the flight going to Miami if it could be of help.
Laurie and I go back to my ER days where she was the DGA trainee and i was the steadicam operator. She must have emailed her friend Cary about me because in about 5 minutes I had an email from Cary asking me to call her.
So I called thinking that she was going to ask about sending gear, but instead she told me that she was producing a documentary about Partners in Health and it's founder Dr. Paul Farmer, one of the more respected health care proffesionals in the world fighting for health for the poor, and wanted to know if I would come along to shoot it. Crazy how things work huh?
I talked to Cary for a while and asked a ton of questions, talked with my wife (who I owe big time for being cool with all this) and decided to meet with the director, Kief Davidson. Kief is a very cool guy with two docs under his belt including Kassim The Dream, one of the more stylized and interesting documentaries I've seen. We hit it off, and before you know it I was getting ready to head to Haiti, instead of back east with my family for vacation, which I am still bummed about.
As for Eric and the charter, I was able to put two huge duffle bags together filled with medication, surgical supplies and a ton of other health related items and get them to him Sunday night. Emma, one of the students from school, helped coordinate a lot for that and I can't thank her enough.
Sunday night I drove out to van Nuys, a small private airport, and pulled into a dark parking lot with bags full of drugs, to meet a guy I had only spoken to on the phone. Very Miami Vice. Eric turned out to be very cool and had me pull out onto the tarmac. I assumed that he was taking one of the gulf streams I saw parked but he told me that their plane was around the corner.
It was actually a custom 737 that rents for $12000 an hour and only had four people on it. As the woman in front of me reclines and slams the laptop into my gut, i must say I am bummed I didn't go down with eric as the pullout beds and HD tvs did look nice. Crazy. What was more of a bummer was that he was only able to conatct me sunday morning and he could have taken a ton more stuff had i had more time. Such is life I guess and the stuff we did send was very well recieved, so that's good.
Also, sitting here on the flight, the stewardess asked if they could do anything else (as if they haven't done enough - see previous post). I mentioned having access to a lot of medical supplies in LA with no way to get them to Miami where they would go on to St Damiens in Port Au Prince. Within minutes she had gone up to the cockpit, asked the pilot who radioed the ground, and now it looks like Virgin is willing to take supplies for us from LA to fort lauderdale where they can be picked up and brought to miami. Amazing.
So there you have it. We hit the ground in NYC at 11:30 and then shuttle to Newark to grab a 1:30 charter flight which we shoulkd just make. The Virgin folks already know about it, have worked out letting us off the plane first and will be heloing us get baggage out quickly so we should be ok.
ONe final note. As I sit here it occurs to me how adaptable people are. I had a drink anf forgot to tell them I didn't need the little napkin before they gave me one. I generally do that to waste less. But then it occured to me that I have been told that toilet paper is at a premium down there right now so without hesitation, pocketed it and asked the woman next to me if she needed hers. That's two! But the amazing thing is until now, it didn't occur to me how odd that idea would have been otherwise (or that it woudn't have occured at all). Strange.