call to serve, Feed My Starving Children, Haiti, health care, higher education, hunger, mission work, Uncategorized

Why Haiti? Part II

I decided I would keep a journal before heading to Haiti.  I wanted to look back on my experiences, Haitian cuisine, the orphans, and my team. Haiti would be the 19th country in my passport, except mine had expired and was in need of renewal.  The postmaster in the Mount Horeb, WI post office discouraged me from expediting the renewal, certain that the new one would return within 5 weeks.  She was right.  I paid my $116.50 in total passport costs and merely waited.  A scrub top for the photo–perfect.  I looked the part of a medical missionary.

Eriks passport photo001

my passport pic, wearing a scrub top

Our flight was leaving O’Hare about 0730 with a connection in Fort Lauterdale, FL, so nearly all of the team wanted to meet at a Quality Inn there, dine, and organize the materials we were taking along. Day 1 of this excursion happened to be July 2nd, my 8th wedding anniversary with Sara.  I came home after a 12-hour night shift in the emergency department, napped 3 hours, and headed to the farm.  My wife is an excellent planner and had most of my clothes and accessories gathered already. I made a point of not taking anything that I could live without, worried about the risk of it getting stolen or ruined in some fashion.  By 3 pm we were leaving my brother’s farm and we arrived at the Quality Inn O’Hare by 1730.

Soon we were having dinner at Bella Sera in the Hotel.  I ordered the seafood ravioli and remember that I wanted to lick the plate–it was so incredibly good!  Those who know me well know that I am a foodie, married to a foodie: Sara, 1/3rd of thesisterslice.com Topping off my dinner was tiramisu and a Castle Rock pinot noir.

tiramisu

tiramisu!

I knew it was not likely I would eat this well in a third world nation for the next 10 days. I don’t believe we had any teetotalers among the group, which made organizing and re-packing all the medical supplies that much more fun. By 2230 we were in bed, brother Adam and I in our room, and I awoke at 0200–mind a flurry of activity, so I decided to go use the hotel’s business computer to log some work on my doctorate.

airport security

airport security

I was asleep maybe another hour when the alarm went off and we were up. We were on the shuttle headed for the airport by 0430–strong work on the part of the QI staff and drivers.  It was no easy task to get all of the team and our 12 bags into the shuttle. It was an easy traverse through security and then to an Americanized breakfast of McDonald’s hot cakes and a venti Mocha latte.  I couldn’t imagine there would be a McDonald’s on every street like in the U.S.; but then again, I was surprised to find one in Zermatt, Switzerland and Foix, France too. A couple of hours later we were dining in the Ft. Lauterdale airport before catching our 90 minute flight to Port au Prince.  A nice, hot plate of spaghetti and meatballs in my belly helped get me psyched up for culinary conditions unknown once we landed in Haiti.  How do you get psyched up for intractable diarrhea in a 3rd world nation?

mcdonalds zermatt

McDonalds, in the shadow of the Matterhorn!

We knew when we were flying over the Bahamas, a series of islands surrounded by some of the brightest aqua-blue colored water I have ever seen.  Minutes later we were touching down in PAP and I thought “We’re not in Wisconsin any more, Toto.”  We were greeted by throngs, oceans of Haitians everywhere.

crowds of haitians

Haitian crowds like the one at the PAP airport

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call to serve, Haiti, mission work, Uncategorized

Why Haiti?

Mercy Capitol

Mercy Capitol, Des Moines IA

Standing in the ER at Mercy Capitol in Des Moines, IA in late August, 2005, I watched the coverage on TV as Katrina moved down upon New Orleans.  Mostly, I stood there amazed at the tales of how many people remained, certain they would be rescued.  Suppinated palms, waiting for a handout.  They had DAYS, days in advance warning of the category 5 hurricane what would devastate their city, that city which rested below sea level.  Um, how could anyone there expect to remain dry?  This is not a rhetorical question.  How far could I walk in days, knowing that hell was soon to be unleashed upon my sub-sea-level home?  With just my thumb and a strong will, I am pretty sure I could be standing upon Pikes Peak with a warning that fair.

Katrina

Hurrican Katrina, August 2005

A national call to help those devastated by the storm rang out, and our intensive care unit wanted to send a representative, along with a team of other nurses and doctors to lend a hand.  I wanted to go.  I talked with my wife about going, but our supervisor for the ICU chose Bob to go instead.  Crud.  I would have to travel vicariously and eagerly soak up details from my friend Bob when he returned.  This call sparked something inside me–a call to serve.

disaster response team

Disaster Response Team

Fast forward eight years and my family is living in Wisconsin, attending a new church.  An announcement is made in church that a program called Schools4Haiti will be organizing a medical mission to rural Haiti to visit and treat orphans.  There was no question–I knew I was going.  Sara must have known this, seen it in my eyes, known my heart.  Why Haiti?  I felt called to serve there.  She simply said “you should go.”  I texted my brother the ER doc, right there in church.  Medical mission to Haiti in July–want to go?  “Yes.  What dates?” came his very quick reply.  It was settled then.  I got the itinerary from the others to coordinate flight information and bought my ticket.  I was pretty sure I wanted to arrive in Port au Prince with the group and leave with the group.

Most of the group met up at a hotel near O’Hare and took stock in the medical supplies we were taking with.  Our arrival in the late afternoon was strategic–customs would be tired and weary and more likely to wave the group through, rather than rifle through our bags and confiscate supplies that were intended to do good for the orphans.  That plan worked.

mission organizing

organizing our mission supplies

Before I ever visited the Big Apple, someone offered a piece of sage advice: “just get used to streams and streams of people, everywhere you go, no matter what time of day it is.”  A similar suggestion was made of landing in Port au Prince.  Flying over Haiti I surmised that there was short, scrubby jungle everywhere and the entire nation appeared to be void of rural life.  I would later come to understand that I was just not able to see the huts below the canopy of the trees.  Ten million walked within Haiti’s boundaries–about 35 people per square acre, and that seemed like a conservative estimate.

Haitian crowd

Haitian crowd

I would soon discover that everyone is a salesman in Haiti, a service to offer or goods to barter with. Trash everywhere.  Graffiti. Earthquake damage.  The city reeked with a diffuse, acrid smell of smoke no matter where we went.  How many people can you fit in the back of a Haitian truck? One more.  On the way to our accommodations outside of Mirebalais, we were soaked in a monsoon rain while jam-packed in the bed of a pickup, dusk upon us.  I remember thinking “I am from small-town Wisconsin and I am riding in the back of a pickup in rural Haiti, caught in a monsoon and soaked to the bone as night is falling.  How did I get here?!” I chuckled at my circumstance while doing my part to hold down the corner of the blue tarp that wanted to dance in the wind.

Haiti pickup

mission pickup in Haiti

We arrived after dark, crossing a raging stream to pull into the New Life International compound.  Prior to leaving I imagined staying in some tiny hut, co-mingling with nature, squatting to answer nature’s call, no regular meals or running water, and returning half-dead with malaria and intractable diarrhea.  Instead, there was a male dorm and a female dorm, running water, air-conditioning at night so the mosquitoes could not reach us, armed guards to watch over us, a hot breakfast and supper, with packed lunches sent along with us while seeing the orphans during the day.  Okay.  Not bad.  This might not involve the suffering I thought we would have to endure.  We would be living like Americans and not so much like most of Haiti. Except for the tarantulas–those were the size of small plates.  We weren’t sure how they sneaked into our rooms on occasion. I became the designated tarantula-ridder.

tarantula

Haitian tarantula

(more on Haiti and mission work to come)…

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health care, higher education, medical school

“C” Equals MD, but “D” = Door

KU med

Certain jokes are thrown around in med school to help ease those things that you cannot control–like failing an exam that you studied so hard for.  “C” = MD is one such saying, and “what do they call the person who graduates lowest in his MD class?  Answer:  Doctor!”  In 2003, 15 physicians met in a little room and decided my fate in medical school. I was suspicious that they were heavily influenced by the Dean of Student Affairs–a tiny-handed, effeminate man who governed through the Marquis du Sade playbook.  Sometimes tiny gloves just mean tiny hands, but he seemed to have something to prove and worse, seemed to delight in student attrition from the program. It is not accurate to say that I failed med school. I failed one class–medical biochemistry! I missed a passing grade by 5 questions on the final.  My younger MD brother with a photographic memory would later say “had I failed one more question on my biochem final, I would have failed also.” His words meant to soothe, to ease the heartache, but I still felt hollow in the center of my chest. Heck, I still feel hollow in the center of my chest when I think of that terrible day now. Ten years later, I have a new wife, 3 sons by her, am back to being a nurse, have finished a 4.0 masters in health administration and have a perfect start in my doctorate of health care leadership and organizational behavior.  I will lead a health care organization soon. I haven’t had a grade other than an “A” in ten years–but then, nor have I had to endure a standardized multiple choice test either. I write my way to academic perfection lately.

newton house

In 2006, we bought a lovely home–a 1916 one and a half story arts & crafts style bungalow–in the original Maytag town of Newton, Iowa. How could we have known that Whirlpool would buy the plant and then shut it down when union bosses failed to concede $5 per employee, per paycheck, for their own health insurance coverage. 1,800 jobs soon left a town of 16,000 people. Then the house of cards that was Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac collapsed, mere weeks after my wife and I bought our first ‘flip’ house. Our flip house was lovely when we were done and the Altoona, IA city council said that we single-handedly took the town’s most unsightly home and made it one of the most enviable. We spent $25,000 in 17 weeks and sold it for a loss of $7,400. At least we had our pride to hang our hats on–the house was gorgeous, sandstone vinyl siding with black and white trim.

altoona house

before pic of Altoona house

In 2010, Sara and I began to think our Newton IA home had been built upon an ancient burial ground–my job was changing and not for the better and Sara was silently enduring yet another miscarriage. The Wisconsin grass seemed greener, so we packed up and moved that May. I wanted to rent in a nearby small town, but Sara insisted our kids should play with my brother’s kids on the farm. “Hey–didn’t Adam once have a mobile home parked on the farm? Wouldn’t the septic and utilities still be in place?”

a cabin

the “cabin”

 Although the impetus for the move was to escape the heartache of Newton, the prospect of a job put the move in motion. I quickly got a lesson in how poisonous some healthcare organizations could be. I was given an opportunity to bail and I did. Debt deepened. The ‘cabin’ as we not-so-affectionately referred to it was overrun by mice and even a floor-breaching “ugly cat” or o’possum. The fiberboard floor would become wet, sag, and then put life and limb in jeopardy until I fixed it. What a hateful chore that was! The pipes froze in the winter, often, and I actually set a mouse trap once and before I was out of the tiny bedroom–it snapped with a freshly-dead mouse in it! Meanwhile, it seemed that our professional indoor paint job in the Newton home did little to bait any prospective buyers. We let an associate pastor and his new wife stay there for $1 a month–just to have the utilities paid, the grass mowed, or the sidewalks shoveled. Then a land-contract buyer sought us out, a hard-luck story ensued, and we were hooked. Hey–at least I would not be hemorrhaging around $1500 per month any longer.

academic failure

In 2004, still reeling from the sting of a failed run at med school, I started down the nurse practitioner tract through the University of South Alabama.  Although my first course, pathophysiology, was an “A,” my next term included a course in nursing theory.  While I love being a nurse and the life it has given me, I loathe nursing theory.  It is an entire ‘language’ thought up by nursing academia to justify their own existence.  The argument is that nursing theory promotes the professionalism of nursing. What hogwash! I am of the opinion that this nonsense denigrates the profession. I submitted my first work for the nursing theory course and was graded 3 out of the 15 possible points.  Wow.  Here I am in a sham course, then draw an instructor who thinks she is God’s gift to technical writing…she would not budge.  I lodged a formal complaint with the university and withdrew from the program. Note to self: be something more than lukewarm about a career path before starting in that direction again.

academic success

In the summer of 2010, Sara and I and two boys were living on Adam’s farm when it was as though a switch was flipped on.  I wanted to return to school, earn my masters, and ascend the health care hierarchy.  A career nurse, I feared my knees or my back would fail me and I had better have something else to fall back on.  I looked into A.T. Still University, home of the original doctor of osteopathy program–the same program my maternal great-grandfather Franklin VanNess De Vinney graduated from in 1917.  Great grandpa De Vinney was the first physician in our family, either on mom or dad’s side.  Although A.T. Still had been weakened by a stroke in 1914, I often wonder if my great-grandfather knew the founder of the American School of Osteopathy, as it was known then.

early doctor]

I started my masters in July of 2010 with one class called U.S. Healthcare Systems.  I realized the pace was fine and thought I would be able to handle more, so I doubled up the next term.  I spanked those two courses as handily as I had the first one.  At last, I was on the right track.  Two years and one month after starting, I stood on stage in Kirksville, MO with Upsilon Phi Delta honors after earning a 4.0 Master’s in Health Administration! My wife and sons where there to witness my achievement. I remember thinking that this is how a bride must feel on her wedding day, except I was prancing around campus sporting a mortar board with my gown.  Oh, the irony, this juxtaposed with the crash-and-burn at KU.  What a tragedy that I chose that wretched, unfriendly place to attempt an MD.

Masters ceremony ATSU

ATSU Master’s Ceremony
Me, bottom right

I have roughly completed my first year of three in the doctorate in health sciences program with an emphasis in leadership and organizational behavior.  When I am done, I will be primed to head a healthcare organization.  As an ATSU alum I drew a 20% tuition discount for my doctorate whereas the U. of Phoenix wanted to charge nearly $60,000 for the doctorate in health administration.  I will pay $26,000 for this degree and with my work subsidizing the degree, the net cost to me will be a paltry $14,000! I remember drawing all kinds of criticism when I was starting medical school about how costly the tuition would be.  Usually this was mentioned by folks who hadn’t bothered to go to college at all–a point that really had me scratching my head.  Had I stayed in Argyle, WI and recycled automobile parts for the remainder of my life at $8 per hour–how expensive would that ignorance have been? Imagine the income lost, had I stayed, and compare that to the career I have provided myself and my family. Ignorance may be bliss, but it is far more expensive than a good education!

cost of ignorance

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