Sunday, January 24, 2010

Update from Dr. Vanek

Hello to all at home,

I have been blessed to coordinate the Cleveland team with Team Sweden to do a lot more efficient cases and patient care. My Swedish vocabulary for operative equipment and commands as a surgeon is improving. They are awesome and have helped sustain us all and me in particular. Dr. Stefan Redeén [a general surgeon from Stockholm] and I have done a lot of operations from morning through late at night. I have much to share with you in the coming days and weeks.

I wanted to acknowledge that you are all praying for me in Haiti. My team has been wonderful. The presence of medical staff at this critical time has been lifesaving for so many. It is humbling to see the amount of selfless work that has been done by the volunteers of the world and America. I am only one team of many who have made the decision that we must respond.

We are hearing a lot of terrible things about the conditions as the society breaks down. The Haitian people are sweet, kind and gracious. They are all so appreciative of the resources of material that Cleveland has mustered to help them. They are so nice to the Doctors and the staff. People from around the world have mobilized to come to the aid of Haiti.

I look forward to seeing you all soon.

Love to you all,
Paul Vanek, M.D.

Sunday Afternoon Update

Spoke with Jack on the phone for the first time since he has been in Haiti. Reports have come in since this morning that violence is escalating at an alarming rate, as people grow more desperate. He says that the black market is widespread, and some people have resulted to stealing medicine, equipment, food, and water. As a result, the hospital brought in a security guard this morning and they are expecting 10 armed soldiers from the UN military this evening who will remain there. From here on in, wrist bands will be distributed identifying everyone as either a a patient or a translator (whom he says are in short supply and desperately needed). Medical volunteers will wear ID tags around their necks. No one else will be allowed inside the hospital. He worries that as soon as supplies arrive, they seem to leave right out the backdoor. As a result, the Cleveland team has been very protective of their supplies and belongings

The orphanage here was heavily damaged by the quake with over 200 deaths I'm told. But on the other hand the prisoners mostly escaped unharmed. We heard 10,000 prisoners escaped. Since the earthquake struck at the heart of Port-au-Prince the impact is much worse and long lasting. Their banks were destroyed along with their equivalent of the IRS and of course the Presidential Palace. One Congressman was killed.

They had to airlift a patient to the USNS Comfort. People kept showing up claiming to be the team responsible for his delivery, only to leave not with the patient but only with their photo-ops. While many reporters have brought much-needed attention to the crisis, some have been disruptive. This is a distressing consequence. As we continue to watch the crisis from abroad, we must always be aware that everything we see and hear is in some way being filtered (and worse, sometimes staged) and that the true heroes are the doctors and nurses who are only there to help save lives.

They need to get patients off of USNS Comfort in order for hospitals like our to send critical patients to them for better care. We try to send our sickest patients that we believe can survive with expert medical care that otherwise will likely do poorly here.

New teams of volunteers continue to arrive at the hospital, including teams from New York, Nebraska, and Kansas. As we reported before, his Cleveland team has integrated with the Sweden team. Jack says that the Swedes there have a lot of experience with rescue and relief efforts including Hurricane Katrina, Afghanistan, and the Indonesian Tsunami. Volunteers from France are coordinating efforts outside the hospital and working on minor wounds. Inside, the volunteers are working in 12 hour shifts (from 7 to 7) with a 2 hour overlap in order to bring the next shift up to speed. Many cases involve infections, broken bones and sadly, amputations.

I have a 20 year old young man that has two long cuts on his right leg 20 centimeters each with gangrene and dead muscle exposed. He needs his leg amputated or he will die from the infection. His mother refuses amputation because the bone is not broken. We told them to think about it overnight and we will ask for permission tomorrow. It's a terrible choice for him.

I asked the hospital administrator what percent of the nurses working here are back to work. he said maybe 50% max. Some of the hospital leaders were killed and thus some staff won't return. Everyone is afraid to go inside building -- including hospitals.

It is a very fast-paced environment, and Jacks says that he is fascinated by the logistics of it all. As we wrapped up our conversation, he was about to sit down to a hot meal, for which he was very grateful. I, in turn, was grateful to hear from him and to know that he is OK.