Thursday, April 16, 2009

Health Education, Easter Sunday and Secretary of State Clinton

April 16, 2009

Wow! Time flies when you’re having fun, and my job as public affairs officer for Project HOPE let’s me have the most fun of anyone on the ship. I get to go everywhere, see everything, talk to everyone, and put down the camera and jump into the action any time.

I’ve got a couple of “free” hours this morning before getting on the boat to the site where Secretary of State Clinton will be, so I’m hoping to get you caught up on what’s going on. And there’s been some amazing stuff going on. But first let me back way up for a minute and introduce myself. It just occurred to me that people other than my own family and friends might read this….

The intro blog before we sailed mentioned I’m a lawyer with Marriott International, Inc. That’s old news. After almost 23 years with Marriott, I took early retirement in December and decided to do something totally different with my life. Such as, spend 6 weeks with a ship full of doctors and nurses. I tell them I spent a good part of my career defending the actions of health care providers – Marriott used to be in the assisted living business—and then they (mostly) get over the fact I’m a lawyer by trade. Well, after 10 days in my current job, I can’t say I’ve mastered the trade of a PAO but I’m trying! Another great part of my job is it’s giving me an inside look at how great organizations like Project HOPE and the U.S. Navy—as well as many other partners who are on board—can make great things happen. I’m convinced that my intuition for volunteering this way is right on the mark; this is the arena I want to work in for the next 23 years. Okay, it’s all about me, but let’s move on to the good stuff.

Like I said, Secretary Clinton is visiting today. A lot of excitement went around the ship when it was rumored she would come aboard. As it turns out, she’s only going to have time to visit one of the sites on the “beach” (Navy-speak for dry land). I’ll report on how that goes! We’re all hoping she catches the vision (she may already, I don’t know)…and gets the White House and Congress to keep this mission going for years to come. It’s a “continuing promise” after all.

(Contact your own Congress person and ask them to support the continuation of these humanitarian missions that express the good will of the American people though the U.S. Navy and other military services.)

The top Navy brass definitely has the vision. Admiral Kernan was here for 2+ days last week. This is a busy man. He’s responsible for the entire Fourth Fleet. And yet he took time out to do construction work at the Port-au-Prince General Hospital with the Seabees and visit the doctors and nurses on shore and on the ship. When he spoke to the whole crew one night, he said he’ll be testifying before Congress soon, letting them know what we’re doing and why we need to keep doing it. The leadership on the ship has the vision, too. Commodore Lineberry, who runs the overall operation on board and is on a deployment like this for the first time, told us he’s been called a lot of things in his career, but was really proud to be called a humanitarian the other day. Captain Ware, who is the commander of the MTF (medical treatment facility, i.e., hospital), has a mantra—we are providing health care and providing hope. Another major theme that’s coming through is that this is a partnership. It’s not the Navy telling the NGOs like Project HOPE what to do. It’s highly collaborative. Okay, enough about the brass and big picture. Let’s get back to the trenches.

Where it all happens is in the operating rooms—which are fully booked for the remainder of our stay in Haiti—and in the wards and at the sites on the beach. I’m excited to go to one of the treatment sites today for the first time. (I’ve been off the ship twice—to work at the General Hospital with our health educators on Monday and to go to a ceremony yesterday. More about both of those in a minute.) The site I’m going to today is in Citi Soleil. This is a section of Port-au-Prince that is probably the most dangerous place in the city, maybe the hemisphere. It’s also a place where people have almost zero opportunities to see a doctor or nurse. I don’t have the numbers, but hundreds have been seen there each day since we arrived. For most of these patients, it’s probably the first, but hopefully not last, time they’ll get quality medical care.

There are several other sites around the city. The largest is at the Haitian Coast Guard station. That one’s pretty safe! I’m going there tomorrow. On Easter Sunday, great work was underway but the receiving area was chaotic. Enter Sarah Cryer, a first-time Hopie who is a triage nurse. She whipped the area into shape, and that night at the confirmation brief (all-hands meeting) Captain Ware recognized her and afterwards presented her with a Commander’s Coin. This is a great honor. Way to go Sarah!

Easter Sunday had some other highlights on board – an inspirational sunrise service on the flight deck and a meeting with another NGO. A big part of the mission is to encourage NGOs to communicate and cooperate with one another. It happens in meetings like this one, and it happens by rolling up your sleeves together. I’m working up a whole story on the latter that will blow you away. Teaser, sorry. But back to the meeting on Sunday. The other NGO is called Partners in Health. I can’t do justice to their story and mission here. Please check them out at and read the book “Mountains Beyond Mountains” to get a Pulitzer-quality look at what has been done by this group for more than 25 years in Haiti. The point here is that you are looking at a picture of what is, I believe, the first-ever meeting between representatives of HOPE and PIH. They were very excited to learn about HOPE and vice versa. Next time the Comfort is in Haiti I’m sure PIH will be able to get some of their patients from the central plateau to the ship for surgery. Opportunities like this abound.

On Monday, I went to the General Hospital. The Seabees had been there for a couple of days already to do renovation on the pharmacy building. I tagged along with three of our nurses—Susan Mortensen, Michele Okamoto and Suzanne Piperno—who were doing health education for three days in a building near the pharmacy. IMAGES 196, 205, 207. There were about 35 doctors and nurses at the morning session on CPR. I wasn’t aware of the changes in how CPR is done, and none of the attendees had been trained in it. I got certified and had fun. Suzie said I broke the dummy’s ribs, but that’s okay, I saved him/her/it. I also learned that the rhythm of the compressions is to the tune of “Staying Alive” from Saturday Night Fever. Kinda catchy! In the afternoon, I went over to the health fair we did at the National School of Nursing, which is on the hospital campus. The school was actually closed this week, so the students who came were missing their vacation to hear from our educators. I was amazed to learn that not one of the 494 students (from 6 schools, including the National School) had never seen a condom.

Well, on that note, I’m going to sign off so I don’t miss the boat. I’ll catch you up on Tuesday and Wednesday when I get back from the Big Photo Op!

Thanks for reading!!

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