Friday, January 22, 2010

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Good evening,

Let me begin by saying that today was a grueling, challenging day for the team. We started early this AM with breakfast prepared by our gracious hosts. The time keeper woke us up some 1.5 hrs before we were supposed to move out!! Killing me but we laughed about it. Our journey here was brutal, leaving us drained and in need of rest.

Good News!!!! The remainder of our team arrived today along with all of our equipment and meds!!!! They survived the night in Cabo Rojo by being treated nicely by the bus service employees that drove us from Santo Domingo.

Several hundred pounds of instruments, food, water and medications were loaded onto trucks and brought to our so-called "command post" in town. The three native individuals who are part of our mission skillfully negotiated each day in their French and Creole languages. Creole has a remarkably melodic sound and makes me want to learn more about its origins from the French occupation of many African nations (during the slave trade). Even more, many of the patients encourage me to learn the language as I respond to them in English and very poor French.

I find the Haitian people to be extraordinarily resilient and spiritual. Catholicism and voodoo are practiced here and this is what is getting them through their times of dire straits. They sing daily with determination and an ardent desire TO LIVE.

Let me see. First, we went to the only public hospital in Jacmel. Dr. Brebbia, Dr. Agard, and myself met with the medical director today. In all honesty, I felt like he was shaking his head without understanding us. More accurately he was filled with a tremendous amount of bureaucracy and he cares a lot about how he is perceived. But who are we to criticize? We are visitors to his country. With much negotiating, however, we were able to be granted permission to practice at the hospital.

Next hurdle was trying to join forces with the Cuban and Haitian physicians already practicing. Despite initial resentment and stare downs from "El Jefe"- a rather heavy set man who refused initially to talk to us in Spanish or English, quickly warmed up to us. I thought quickly of talking about baseball and his pitching ability. Our rapport and bond despite living worlds apart has grown incredibly strong. Medicine is the universal language right now. In fact, I feel like we are trusted even more because I kept a promise to Rolando, a proud Cuban anesthesiologist who is running out of anesthetic agents. And I quote, "your people" show up and DO NOTHING".

Later on I found out that 2 American teams showed up a few days before and did not provide any support. In stark contrast our team showed up with so many supplies and medications, along with food and water that Roland, Daniel and all of the 23 Cubans are now handing out hugs every time we see them (well not all of them). Instead, I offer up hand shakes. Especially in light of the fact that Roland sweats a lot. LOL!!

Putting all political differences aside and recognizing the strength of joint collaboration is paramount to our success and sustainment in this region. We are on a mission to save lives.

Next, was the biggest struggle of the day. The picture that Antar Johnson posted on the blog page has a caption that talks about a home being destroyed. That pic is actually a major section of the hospital right next to the OR(operating room). The OR has been abandoned because the actual OR room sways during the aftershocks that have occurred. The natives REFUSE to go in there and the Cuban surgeons strongly feel it is an unsafe place to be while operating. You don't have to tell me once. I can see that the building has structural damage and the potential for collapse. I would NEVER sacrifice anyone's safety or my own safety in this situation (I contemplated it for 30 seconds). We would clearly be trapped if collapse occurred...for good in most cases. I admit that I was stupid today as I walked in with a Canadian engineer to assess the operating room table and lights. The anesthesia machine unfortunately does not work.

Setting up a portable OR outside (where there are unsteady structures) was a challenge. Today we found a site and we had to problem solve. How can you make the operating room functional? My answer along with the other team members was to find a tent and move all of the equipment (OR table, anesthesia machine, lights, medicines). Not your ordinary tent by the way. Instead, a mod unit that looks very similar to those used in Korea and Vietnam to establish "field hospitals".

We were resourceful today. We spoke with UN forces from Sri Lanka and they gave us transportation to the docks. There stood Major Bouchard, the commanding officer of the Canadian military medical corps. She was not only a strong female role model, but she was sharper than a Ginsu knife with a sprinkle of compassion like Mother Teresa. She understood our resentment of all the "red tape" and helped us to get a much needed win for the day. She granted us the field tent, had her engineers survey the land and the surrounding buildings (inclusive of a damaged water tower) to ensure our safety, and is providing diesel fuel for a generator tomorrow. Furthermore, Canadian forces went into the dilapidated building and pulled out ALL the OR equipment putting it under the tent.

Starting tomorrow AM I hope to be doing some operating room cases to clean up wounds and address soft tissue injuries.

A little girl some 9 years of age was screaming at the top of her lungs because two of her fingers had been amputated during the initial quake. Doctors from Fairfax, VA were doing dressing changes. Needless to say, it was a blood kurdling experience for everyone. Her cries are representive of all of Haiti right now.

We have made calls home for an anesthesiologist and an orthopedic surgeon as many fractured bones need fixation.

What a whirlwind!!!

In closing, there are dead bodies piling up, red tape in a third world country is paralyzing, there is no one taking the lead with coordination, crooked officials appear to care very little about their people and we are fighting against all odds. We plan on a full day tomorrow. God help us.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race- at least that's what I keep telling myself.


Steven A. Johnson


Anonymous said...

This is a test to see if the comment section is finally working on Steve's Blog. I hopefully have fixed this problem as he would really like to hear from you. Please leave comments.

-Antar C. Johnson

Anonymous said...

Steve, this is Doug Grannan, keep up the good work! I practice Immigration law here and the US Government has taken real steps to help Haitian people here, I hope your generous efforts help to change the attitudes hers and around the world.

Anonymous said...


You are truly a role model to all of us for being such a devoted and compassionate physician. I am proud to know you. In addition to taking care of all those people in need, please take care of yourself and return home safely. God bless you for all that you are doing.

Take care,
Shaheen Timmapuri

Mark said...

Steve, that was vivid. I'm glad you are handling things like I knew you would. Keep up the work Good Brother. Although its under the worst circumstances, I'm glad your getting some exposure to Haitian culture, the people are great and food and music are wonderful. Be safe, will check back in soon.
Mark R.

Anonymous said...


Thanks to Antar's modifications, I'm in! Hey, with all of the responses to your blog, it actually looks like you have friends. ; ) It sounds like you are making great progress. Initially, I thought you might have been on a secret fishing trip with talks of young, attractive women, boat rides and native dinner entrees. (had to add some levity to an otherwise tense situation). The girls and I are so very proud of you. It goes without saying, you are the most selfless and compassionate person I know. The support back home has been tremendous. I'm fielding phone calls, emails and text messages daily from those praying for you, your crew and the Haitian people. God has truly blessed you with a level head, a golden heart and miracle hands to do his work. I see no better place for you to be at this moment. The girls and I are supporting you from afar. We love you dearly. Be safe, do great things for those in need,and return home to us soon! MJ, Clarke and Dru

Anonymous said...

Dear Steve,

I am in awe of you. As someone who knew you when you were in medical school, it is amazing to know your talents are not going to waste. As someone of HAitian descent, I thank you.

It makes me happy to know that that Haitians can see us helping them in the wake of all this tragedy.

Shirley (otis' wife)

Joe said...

Again Steve,
Much Love to you.
Proud of you.

Joe C.

Evelyn Archie said...

Oohwee! Troyt and I are relieved to here form YOU!!
We are happy that the rest of your team along with the equipment and supplies arrived safely.
I too am in awe of the resiience the Haitian people have demonstrated. Just last night CNN along with America's talented Musicians and Actors had a very moving Fund Raisers (Wyclef torn it up man!). They spoke of that same resilience. They also reminded us that no matter how tough the road ahead is, we have to keep giving, helping and praying.
I have no doubt that today you and your team have made today as productive as possible and that you have pushed aside those blocking God's work.
We look forward to you next posting. Until then...Blessing & Mil Abrazos!! (A thousand hugs :)

Evelyn Archie said...

Ah man! Where's that spell checker icon at???? lol

Phil said...

Man, I've never be more proud of the frat then to hear you've dedicated your career to help save the people in haiti. Please be safe good brother and continue achieve in every field of human endeavor...

Phi nu pi... Phil 2000

Lisa G. said...

Hi Steve,

I am a friends of Shirley's (Otis' wife). As a Haitian American, I am so thankful for people like yourself-people who risk their lives in order to use their talents to help others in dire need. I will pray for you that you remain safe and that little stands in the way of your noble efforts.


Anonymous said...

Dear Steve, Thank you for making a difference, this will never go unrewarded. Your heart is in the right place, you have a servant's heart. That is golden. I pray for your safety and the safety of others who have answered God's call to serve His children in Haiti.
Le nom du Seigneur .Beni swa L'eternel ( Blessed be the Lord). Merci Beau coup!!
Veronica Francis ( Mark Richards -mom)

Doc L said...

Just got back from a medical conference Steve sorry I couldn't reply sooner. Just wanted you to know that I am so proud to have you as a collegue,a frat brother, and a friend. God bless you and all of his work that you are currently performing.
Marvin Lawrence

Anonymous said...

Dr. Johnson,

Sup Fam!!! I left a comment a few days ago, but it looks like it didn't capture my comments. Again Doc, as always you are a tremendous inspiration and a true treasure for our fraternity, our friends, and our families. Our hearts and prayers are with you. Continue to do the good work you always do.

Doc B.

Anonymous said...

This is Mike Blunt. The magnitude of your team's contributions is immeasurable. May you all find continued perseverance in your purpose, unyielding hope with each sunrise and sunset, and peace in your commitment to making a difference in the lives of others. Thank you for sharing this experience with us. God bless.

Anonymous said...

Your doing the Lord's work...I wish I could do more than donate money but I am sure they have no need for Lawyers. The OR tent seems like something out of M.A.S.H.
Not surprising the Cubans and Canadians have been most helpful...given the history of Haiti

Sandi Shelnutt said...

Dr. J, I have been following along withy our posts. I feel honored and blessed to know you and your team and recount to all who will listen your trials and successes. You may not feel as though you made much progress, but you have touched many lives and made such a dufference iny our time there. Travel home safely ont hw ings of angels. Maybe there will be room for a social worker on one of the next trips...

Thanks, as always, for your commitment and dedication.

Sandi Shelnutt, Social Work Supervisor Christiana Hospital