Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Saving lives

I'm currently sick, but still finding ways to help.
We're saving lives everyday here.

At a meeting the other night (we have one every night), a team was named to help provide a critical surgery to save this woman's leg. We were going to need the team, because we had three different disciplines that needed to be involved. The surgeons were going to perform the surgery (duh. That's what they do). The nurses were going to provide the care for the patient. This is critical for cases like this. Aggressive (and they're aggressive down here!) nursing maintains the patient in a state of optimal healing for their injury, and provides the best environment for optimal outcomes. These nurses will also be in charge of instructing the Haitian nurses on what we're doing.

Optimal outcomes. It's interesting hearing about that in Milot, Haiti. We can't drink the water, we lose power everyday, and we just don't have anything near the resources that we have at home. Still, we're shooting for optimal. Not "Best under the circumstances", but optimal. These people down here are really that good.

So, my part with this team is to build the traction device that is going to hold tension on this woman's leg while it heals. She'll be in it for three to six weeks, so it is going to need to be durable enough to last long after I'm gone, but simple enough that it can be used without complicated instruction.

I met briefly with the team after the meeting. We set out with our objectives in mind. Within minutes I found a draftsman (a 19 year old who is here helping out every way he can. He's incredibly busy. Elijah, if you ever read this, you done good). Twenty minutes later he had the drawing to me. The next day (It was around 10:30 at night at this time) I would go see the local metalsmiths, and see what they could come up with.

The next day was one of running around for me. I made at least 15 trips to the hospital and the tent city where many of the patients were kept, all before lunch. The vendors on the side of the road were beginning to make jokes, and we had some laughs during my trips. Finally, lunchtime rolled around. A quick meal, and I was back at the command center waiting for my translator.

I try to make do without a translator as much as possible. So far, it's been pretty easy. Patients speak a universal language, involving their bodies. We have a primer right in front of us. My other "occupation" down here has been as an engineer, or really a maintenance man. Tools are tools, all over the world. None of the engineers at the hospital spoke any English, but thankfully a wrench is a wrench no matter where you go.

Today was different. The surgery was going to be done quickly. It had gotten pushed back from the original date of two days after the meeting. Instead I had four days. Two days for fabrication, one day for revisions, and surgery on the last day. We could do this, but I wanted the translator to make sure we did this right.

We went down to the shop, and met the foreman, Patrick. We sat on a rusted out truck, and showed him the plans. We went back and forth for a bit, and he even made some improvements. Instead of bolting to the bed, he was going to make a clamp, that would allow it to be moved along the bottom of the bed, or even moved to a different bed entirely.

The only problem was he needed a baseboard to build the traction device on. He wanted to make the device as close as possible to the baseboard specs, so that it be built as efficiently as possible.

Back to the hospital I went. I borrowed some tools again, and attacked an old bed lying behind the ICU. I attracted a bit of a crowd as I did this. One of my translator friends said that the people wanted to see what else I was doing, as I was always running around doing something interesting. I was worried that they were getting pissed because I was destroying an old bed. I'd seen people sleeping on this in the past, but I really needed this board.

I didn't need to worry. I grabbed the big piece of wood, and marched out of the hospital, with no one raising a cry. Back to the smith's, and time for a break.

A couple of hours later I was walking to the command center when I saw my baseboard being walked through the bushes. I went to investigate, and lo and behold the traction device was done. These guys had made a beautiful system, in record time, and were already delivering it.

I ran back into the kitchen, grabbed everyone a Prestige beer (This is a hot commodity down here. Prestige is the good local brew. However, the brewery was damaged during the quake. It's currently shut down. The first time one of the workers here saw me with one in my hand, he almost wept, asking where I found it). We all shared a toast, and snapped a picture (which I can't seem to upload).

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