Friday, August 6, 2010

Haitian Patients Happy to be Aboard the Iwo Jima

“Man overboard, man overboard. All hands to your stations. Man overboard off the starboard side.”

And so, at exactly 5:59 this morning, the announcement over the ship’s PA system sent all of us in the men’s sleeping area scrambling to put on shoes and clothing. As we had drilled, we raced upstairs to our muster point, the Flag Mess, as others all over the ship hurried to theirs. Officers and civilian team leaders would call roll to find out who was missing.

Despite this initial disruption, the surgeries for the Haitian patients who had been admitted yesterday began on schedule. Because the Iwo Jima will be leaving Haiti soon, and thus can’t provide follow-up care, most of the operations are simple, such as removing hernias and cataracts.

And no Project HOPE volunteers were closer to the action than our three Creole translators, Jenny Jean-Baptiste, Vanessa Bernard, and Dinah Salnave.

I watched as Jenny gave directions to a man with a huge bandage over one eye as Navy doctors ran post-op tests. In the next bed, a woman who’d had a breast mast removed dozed.

Next door in the ward, parents or children of patients sat quietly as those who’d already undergone surgery slept in bunk beds. A half-dozen sat in front of a television, raptly watching a bedraggled Kate Winslet paddle through the flooded halls of the Titanic. Nurses served hamburgers with fries, green beans, and lemonade.

Later in the day, more patients boarded the ship to await surgery tomorrow. Lubens Alexis, 20, was overjoyed to be on the ship to have a growth on his temple removed.

“It’s a good pleasure to be here, it’s like a party,” he said, with Jenny translating. “It’s just like living in New York or Miami. I’m glad to stay here.”

Steve Jean, 17, said he wasn’t nervous about the operation for his thigh hernia tomorrow. He remarked that he was glad that even after his surgery is done, the Iwo Jima and Project HOPE will continue to provide top-quality care to others like him.

HOPE team member Vanessa Benard, who is of Haitian origin, agreed.

“It is so amazing. I’m really happy the Iwo Jima put this all together to help my Haitian people. The normal surgeries for broken bones or dental work cost major money. Many patients cry, because they just can’t believe it.”

At tonight’s evening meeting Commodore Negus paid a visit to thank us for our work. He also detailed how a strategy of “Go Big Early” will strengthen the bond between NGOs such as Project HOPE and military humanitarian missions in the future.

“This mission depends on our partnership across the board. I’ve told everyone across the Navy chain of command how powerful this (alliance) is, and I will continue to do so,” he said.

Story and photos by HOPE volunteer and PAO, Eric Campbell

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