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Tag Archives: Haitian medical relief

The weight of expectations and how they never leave you.

I have learned that as long as I hold fast to my beliefs and values – and follow my own moral compass – then the only expectations I need to live up to are my own.

– Michelle Obama


I’m not someone who takes things for granted. Yeah, I count my blessings. Everyone should. I know I’m lucky. I’ve grown up with loving, nurturing, caring parents who gave me the tools to get an education, create a career and start my own family. If that’s not lucky I don’t know what is.

Still, something baffles me. My parents. They never made crazy demands on me. Never pushed me or made heated demands that I push myself. They didn’t air any overwhelming disappointment if I failed. So let me ask you this: why is it that I felt their expectations daily? Where does that come from? Is it the same for everyone? Do we create those expectations in our heads? Do I now project unintentional or intentional expectations on my own kids? Is it a good thing?  Regardless of the source, it’s there. My parents. For me, these are giant shoulders to stand on. The largest shoes to fill.

I’ve talked about my dad before. He came from humble beginnings, without the warm embrace or guidance of an involved father. He not only survived, he flourished. From growing up in an orphanage, to skipping grades, graduating, becoming a teacher, then a lawyer, and eventually a Canadian parliamentarian. You can probably feel the pride I have radiating from these words. Yes, he’s my dad but living up to this legacy is a stage set for Shakespeare.

Why is this coming up now? Well, my parents are coming to visit Haiti for the first time. And I’m feeling things I don’t usually feel. Nervousness. Anxiety. I mean, they’ve heard my stories, read my blogs, and seen the pictures, but will the real thing live up to their expectations of me? All of sudden I’m ten years old bringing home a report card. Will I make them proud?

Flashback to 2010. Post earthquake. When I first suggested I was going to go to help the medical relief effort, my father tried to talk me out of it. He said I should really think about my young family, maybe the time was not right for me, I should probably wait and do this kind of work when my career was established and my family was grown. To not take the risk, not just for my safety, but for my future. I’m not sure I would have provided different advice to my daughter Rachael if I was in my father’s shoes. He was always right. I always listened. But something in my heart told me this time was different. I took this step untethered and it was terrifying.

Seven years later. Will he see what I see? Will he see the despair and the faces of need? Most importantly, will he see the hope that I see? I’ve seen countless people come here and not see the progress. It’s bad here. But if you didn’t see it when it was hopeless, what are you gauging it against?

Of course they will see the tangible accomplishments: the new building and the ambulance. But will they see how far we have come? They will not get to witness the rubble on the streets or the tent ORs from 2010. They will not get to see the face of the little girl thanking us for helping her grandfather. They will not get to see the first total hip replacement patient, or the first time we fired up the new autoclave. They will not experience the little victories or the defeats that have become simple lines on all our faces.

Mom, dad, I hope I have set the scene.  Until now you’ve only had mine and Allison’s stories to reference. But this is real now. What our team has accomplished. How far we still have to go. It’s real and I am nervous that what you’ll see will not reflect what I see, what I have seen. Will this meet your expectations? Will I? Dad, will you think the decision I made to come here in the first place was right?

I guess I am about to find out.

Andrew

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Posted by on May 21, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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When just a little is enough sometimes.

It has been a while since I have written a blog. To be honest, I had lost my appetite for it. It’s tough to admit but my motivation was and has been so challenged as of late.

Haiti. I despair that it’ll never catch a break. The lack of political stability there, although not making headlines anywhere, is so troubling. This is not a political blog. Won’t ever be. I believe Broken Earth is independent of political parties and elections, but we operate in an environment that is up to its neck in it. The patients we serve, as if they don’t have it hard enough, are drowning in it.

The sad truth for us is that we only move in this environment. We visit it a week at a time. I know this is a selfish view. Why? Because Haitians have to live with this every day. Haiti has not had a recognized election result this year.  Because of this, the country has been in a state of flux and without a democratically elected government for eight months now. Where’s the outrage? Can you imagine if Canada, the US, or other democratic governments in the international community were allowed to continue to control taxes, health care, and law and order this way? Somebody would say something for sure. But not here.

Of course this affects us very little at home. Other than the disruption of having to rearrange trips and move equipment, it is merely an inconvenience. But do we have a greater responsibility?  Are we not supposed to be advocates for our patients, for those in need? I had hoped the elections would come and go as they are supposed to and that the results would be sanctioned and that there would be no CNN headline, and no incident to warrant a report.

I was equally gutted with the deliberate, horrific attacks in Bangladesh and Istanbul. Broken Earth had recently stayed for a full week only a kilometer from where the Dhaka terror attack had happened. Dhaka is an immense city, a mega city, and despite its size and the mass of humanity, I had never felt unsafe. Crowded, yes, suffocated, yes, but never unsafe. The people of Dhaka, despite the hand they have been dealt, have gigantic hearts, and are some of the kindest people I have ever met.

The attack in Dhaka struck me hard. The attack on an airport in Turkey also caused me to pause and reflect on the madness that exists, the evil that is lurking. En route to Dhaka, we spend full days in that very international Turkish terminal, waiting for a connecting flight. The images on the TV were geographically familiar. Frightening and troubling but again seen through a selfish lens as I write this in the comfort of my home.

All of these near misses made me reflect and pause for thought.

I thought about stopping. I thought about quitting.

I thought about forgetting about it all and going back to just practicing orthopedic surgery in the comfort of St. John’s. But I can’t. Too many images in my head that together pick me up and carry me forward. The faces of the patient in the corridor in Haiti. The eyes of the young boy smiling in the streets of Dhaka.

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I won’t let this attitude defeat me. I can’t.

I think each of us carries a candle inside. Sometimes it flickers, grows weak. We all have to tend that light. It’s what keeps us going. If we’re lucky, it’ll burn bright enough for others. And they can see a little bit of hope. Just a little is enough sometimes.

Again and again I come back to the team for inspiration. Broken Earth is planning a full slate of missions for the fall in Haiti. We have had to postpone two and reroute one.  The one team I am a part of will be heading to Nicaragua instead of Port au Prince and hopefully light the flame of hope there as well.

We are also expanding our reach to Guatemala. I will be travelling there in September to hopefully set up a clinic, help lay the foundation to build a clinic, and establish the potential for future non-medical education to the impoverished people outside of Guatemala City.

In addition we are concentrating our efforts at home as well. We created what I hope is our first of many clinics to help new Canadians, starting with a free vision and hearing clinic. This will help our organization, our community and our country grow healthier and stronger together.

So although I have felt the squeeze of our troubled times, and though it may have exhausted my will, the exhaustion was short lived. Got a lot good people around me. A chorus of positive energy as a soft as a whisper but it’s all I need sometimes.

Best,

Andrew

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on August 30, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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For every high, a low… living the balancing act of Haiti.

This ritual is second nature. It starts at 2 am Newfoundland time. 32 people get out of bed and tiredly make their way to the airport in the middle of a chilly Fall night. Add to that the fact that they’re giving their vacation time for this. Time away from their families too. Makes me feel a little guilty for resenting the alarm clock.

I can’t sleep on the flight. Feeling a little anxious. Excited. The team’s now made this trip many times but this will be a week full of firsts. We have, for the first time, an eye clinic run in partnership with the Lions Club and incredible Lions Brad and Mike. This will help screen and provide glasses for hundreds of people throughout the week.

Every time we are here, we struggle with head trauma and brain tumors that we cannot treat, but, this time, for the first time, we are equipped with a neurosurgeon. Dr. Englebrecht will help provide the much needed care and education.

Closer to me personally, it will be the first time my wife, Allison, has returned to Haiti since the 2010 earthquake.  The birth of our little guy has kept her away.  I am excited, nervous and anxious for her to see the fruits of her efforts and what the team has built.  She has been a behind the scenes steady hand for Broken Earth from the beginning.  She will offer a unique view on all that we have accomplished, and where we should be heading.

Our arrival in Haiti was made even extra special when we finally were able to do a walk through of the new building at the hospital. You. Us. Our many teams. Our countless donors and our most special supporters like Brendan Paddick and Columbus Communications. We ALL did this. Together, we’ve helped build a two-story building that will DOUBLE the patient capacity and provide new volunteer quarters as well.

This is a landmark moment for our team. This represents the pinnacle of three years of negotiations with Caribbean contractors, stakeholders, hospital architects, and builders (all of which was outside my day-to-day comfort zone as a surgeon!). What we do here every day, treating patients and teaching medical skills, leaves a huge impact.  But this building will make a lasting impact on the delivery of care in Haiti.

For all of us, this is a true legacy.

What a great first day. I was on such a high but had no idea how short-lived it would be.

The next day started as all other do here… sunshine and the team gelling.

Our Biomed superstar, Patrick Clark, was busy fixing all the broken equipment we will need for the rest of the week.  It was a busy clinic with patients and surgeons moving swiftly to get the work done.

At about midday the tone changed.

A police officer that had been shot and had emergency surgery the previous night, died while heavily armed officers kept a somber vigil at his bedside. As this was happening, a brand new baby, literally only hours old, came in and wasn’t breathing. They both lay side by side in the ER.

The team rallied to save the child. Chest compressions. Tubes in and all hands on deck.  An impressive coordination of effort. Sadly, all efforts to save the officer had failed and he passed away just feet from where life was slowly returning to this small child.

No sooner than that episode was over and there was another new born who was not breathing.  Without missing a beat the team rallied again, not recovered from the previous flat-lined baby.  As we were doing chest compressions on this baby, another police officer with a significant head injury arrived.  As if this was not crazy enough, a 16 year-old pediatric patient in the ICU coded.

Two pediatric resuscitations at once.

God dammit, if at the exact same time another gunshot victim, this time to the chest, was rushed into the ER.  All of this happening while our general surgeon was treating a stomach gunshot wound in the OR.

You pause for a moment. Because a moment is all you have. This is the reality of Haiti. Struggle. Violence. Life and death, all so close and so constant.

I would like to be able to tell you that we saved everyone.

The first baby is still alive this morning.

There’s hope there.

Maybe that more defines this place than anything else. The struggle is just to live. But the hope? The hope is that things will get better. The high of seeing the new building when I arrived is now tangled among the tubes keeping a child alive. The hope is always that things will get better.

The balancing act continues.

Andrew

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Posted by on October 20, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Mission End, Part 2: Long road home

It’s been a long week in Port-au-Prince. I am super excited to get home and see Allison, my kids and take a long, long shower. 

We have only a few hours left here and it truly has been another amazing experience. The team just gelled as they always do in these crazy circumstances, and all were working in unison. We really are larger than the sum of our parts.

In a weird way it is tough to leave.  I will miss the sounds, the smells, the patients and our new team family.  Everyone always asks why do you go back?  That’s why. The patients who need our help. The amazing people so eager and willing to give it.  

It’s been non-stop here. Last night I met with senior doctors in Haiti last night to ensure as many participants as possible get the benefit of the teaching we are offering.  That’s so important for the medical infrastructure here. And today, I had a great opportunity to secure some space to store materials and help our good friends at Project Stitch.  Jo and Scott are incredibly dedicated to giving these often forgotten patients their lives back. To treat them with the dignity they deserve. It is an honour to be a part of it.  

Meanwhile on the compound, there have been three multiple-injured patients come in over night and all hands are on deck once again, sprinting to the finish line.

In a bizarre twist, we saw a man who got shot in the head… wait for it… TWO DAYS AGO… and walked into hospital asking to be assessed.  The X-ray showed a bullet in his skull… like I said in a previous blog, this place never ceases to surprise you.

We have all worked so hard and are all exhausted but excited to get home to family and friends. Passing the baton to the Dalhousie team next. I have no doubt they’ll be amazing.

Many of you have sent such amazing notes of support for the team. I can’t tell you how much we appreciate it and how it lifts us up to do more for the people of Haiti. Thank you so much for that. Please keep it up. It truly does help.

From 33 degrees in Port-au-Prince to 1 degree in St. John’s, see you all soon.

– Andrew

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Posted by on April 4, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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It’s the surprises that you never see coming…

One thing you can count on in Haiti is that the place will change you. And just when you think you’ve seen it all, it manages to somehow surprise you again.

Yesterday was one of those days.   

In my job I don’t often see sick children in orthopedics.  It’s just not a routine part of my practice and when I saw an 8 year-old child (my daughter’s age) with a neglected leg wound that had exposed her entire shin, well, it just hit me so bloody hard. Sadly, she needed an amputation and will survive because of it, but cutting an 8 year-old’s leg off for a treatable infection is not a procedure I ever wanted to be part of and believe me, it hurt us both.

I know, I know. Gotta keep my spirits up. As the sun broke through the clouds, I got to watch my sister work in the surgery unit. That’s a very special experience for me.  Family matters so much to me, to us all. She is younger than me but so much stronger than she knows and better than I will ever be. So proud of her and so glad she’s here.

The team has been going all out. The nurses are really the true heroes.  They work without us but we can’t work with out them!  

The CBC coverage has been great and Anthony Germain has gelled well with the team. His coverage will go a long way to shed light on what needs to be done here. Haiti needs help, we need help.   We can’t do it alone so I always hope this will continue to be the momentum for change.

Keep thinking of that little girl’s leg. If this were home, it would not have come to this. I can’t write anymore today.

– Andrew

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Posted by on April 3, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Things are heating up… maybe not in NL, but they are in Haiti!

April Fool’s Day so I was skeptical to hear that St. John’s got hit with what was described as the BIGGEST snowstorm of the season! Didn’t believe it till I saw the pics online. Hope everyone’s safe!

After last night’s thunderstorms, it was good to see the sun this morning. Hot, hot day though. We have managed to accomplish so much in such a small amount of time already.  I knew the team was good, but didn’t appreciate exactly how it would grow and rise to the new heights.

Last night was another flurry of activity in the emergency room with two traumas at the same time, one adult and one child.  Rolling covered patients through the torrential rains to get tests was a new one for all of us.  Fortunately, a soaking wet team still got the work done with Dr, Barter in the lead!

This morning brought another ray of hope of change here in Haiti.  I had the opportunity to teach 15 orthopedic residents at a local university about fracture care.  After the lecture they came to watch Dr. Noftall treat two patients in the OR. This educational aspect is crucial to rebuilding the medical infrastructure in this country.

Andrea Hann and all of the pediatric nurses have been amazing, working through the long nights and hot days with a smile, which goes a long way here for patients and staff alike.

We made further progress last night in the hospital project supported by Brendan Paddick and Columbus Communications.  We met with a fantastic contractor and family who are interested in helping the cause.  It will make such a difference to all.

Wish I could be there to help with the shoveling, but former Team Broken Earth member John Hopkins came by my place to take care of it… thanks John!!

– Andrew

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Posted by on April 2, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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