Surviving the Hurriquake

Since my last post I have survived a 5.8 magnitude earthquake that was felt as far north as Boston, and felt the gusting fury of Hurricane Irene, which ripped up a half dozen ancient oaks on my street and left most of the city without power. 

I don’t mean to be dramatic, but as I stood in my study last Tuesday watching the light fixtures swing back and forth, as I felt the floor shaking beneath my feet and the wall trembling behind me, I remembered the prayer I used to say in Washington, DC, in those days just after 9/11: “Lord, if this is my day to die, let me do it with faith and courage.”

It wasn’t so bad during the hurricane, but at one point I looked out the window and watched as a giant tree toppled toward my side of the street, missing my daughter’s car by inches.  It made me gulp, and think about how vulnerable we are, how quickly the flame of our fragile lives can be snuffed out.  I survived the storm, but according to this morning’s newspaper at least 20 people didn’t.  What were they thinking in those last seconds of earthly life?

When the earthquake came it took me a full fifteen seconds to figure out what it was.  At first I thought someone was pushing a heavy cart across the floor above me, but as the rumble grew deeper and the building began to shake I knew that couldn’t be it.  When I saw the light fixture begin to swing back and forth I thought, “This is an earthquake!” and at first all I felt was wonder.  I’d never been in an earthquake before (“So this is what it’s like!”).  But then I realized that the floor above me could fall on top of me, crush me and kill me, and that’s when I began to pray. 

It seems to be my instinct, in such “moments of mortality,” to make my peace with God, to make sure that things are OK between us in case I should find myself suddenly standing before him.  But then, in the next second, my mind reaches out toward the people I love, toward friends and family, making sure that things are OK between us in case I should die before I have a chance to say “I’m sorry.” 

Is this why Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love God and others?  Did he know better than most of us just how fragile life is, how quickly it can end, and how important it is to tend and nurture our most important relationships?  Because an earthquake could come, a tree could fall, and you might not have time in that “moment of mortality” to make your peace with God or say you’re sorry to others. 

Maybe that’s why it felt so right to go to church yesterday morning, after the storm—to spend some time with God and others—to make my peace and say my prayers and hug some people who are dear to me and who need to know it.  If those moments of mortality serve no other purpose they serve that one: they help us remember what matters most.  And for that, among other things, I am grateful.

It’s going to be a beautiful day today.  The forecast calls for partly cloudy skies and a high of 83 degrees. 

If I’m not careful, I’ll forget everything I learned.

Must Death Have the Last Word?

The earthquake and tsunami in Japan have not only shaken the world, they’ve shaken a lot of people’s faith.  “How could a good and loving God allow such a thing to happen?” they ask.  It’s the oldest question in the theology book, and if there were an easy answer it would have been answered a long time ago. 

Some people answer it by saying there isn’t a good and loving God, and the devastation in Japan is evidence.  Some say God is good but not very powerful, and therefore not able to prevent such things.  Others say God is powerful but not very good, and therefore not interested in preventing them.  Christian theology, for the most part, has simply acknowledged the tension: God is all-loving; God is all-powerful; terrible things happen.

Maybe it would help to look at that word terrible.  We think it’s terrible that so many people died in this recent tragedy, but the truth is that everything in this world is finite.  Nothing lasts forever, and especially not something as frail and vulnerable as human beings.  So, it’s not a question of whether we are going to die, but only when and how

You could make a long list of all the possible whens and hows, but with the possible exception of dying in your sleep in extreme old age, none of the options is all that attractive.  And yet this is precisely the point at which we start shaking our fists at the sky.  “Why, God!  Why did  this person have to die at [choose one from Column A] from [choose one from Column B] ?”  The when and how often seem irreconcilable with the notion of a good and loving God.

But suppose a good and loving God is spending his time on that other question, not the when  or how but the whether.  And suppose it’s not the question of whether we will die that he is working on, but the question of whether or not death will have the last word.  The answer to that question is the gospel itself, and the answer is a resounding “NO!”

Maybe you could keep that in mind next time you read the obituaries, when you see all those people smiling up at you from the newspaper and read all those stories about when and how they died.  Maybe you could cling to the truth that  this is not the end of their story, nor will death have the last word.

Heidi’s Diary: Final Entry

The last time I published an entry from Heidi’s diary I told you that I didn’t know who she was,  I only knew that she was a pastor’s daughter serving as a volunteer on a medical mission to Haiti.  Since then I have learned that her name is Heidi Ennenbach, and that she is a registered nurse from Columbia, Missouri.  I will post the final entry from her diary here, and include some additional information below, for those who want to know more.  Heidi has been an inspiration to me, and a regular reminder of those who are still suffering in Haiti. 

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February 1

I have learned that there are many reading these emails. I had no idea the impact they would make. I wanted to share these things with my family because I am not good at giving details.  I feel compelled to finish this “diary” even though now I am home safe.  Today I got to worship with my congregation and I couldn’t stop crying.  The images and stories from my experience in Haiti will forever be with me.  I was thinking of my patients and their families as I looked around the rows of chairs at church today. Each person with family and friends surrounding them.  Then my minister spoke to me.  I felt like he picked me out of the crowd.  I will tell you why before this email is finished.
 
I left off Late Friday night. Friday was so so busy.  I didn’t understand busy until Saturday came.  We were down to 7 nurses.  7 of us to care for 300 people (not including their exhausted and starving family members/friends). We were busting at the seams with patients. The mayor granted us another school in the area as well as the community nutrition center.  We moved all the pediatric patients to one location and set up rooms in the schools with the most acutely ill patients in the nearest room and the other patients that were doing better (I use that term so loosely) were in the rooms further away from the supply center.  Saturday was like the worst episode of M.A.S.H. you could imagine.  Black Hawk helicopters at a steady pace, the sirens of the amublances, and the chaos of hundreds of people scattering to get out of the way.  As we got more victims from Port-Au-Prince I wondered when this will slow down and when they will have all the patients placed. 
 
I was busy in the recovery area and ICU.  There were so many patients needing help I enlisted the help of the anesthesiologists.  I asked them to recover their surgery patients in the operating rooms because there were no beds left.  I had 3-4 patients lying on beds and there were no monitors to make sure they were breathing/oxegenating ok after their surgeries.  In the meantime I was medicating patients for pain and trying to get them the antibiotics they needed.  We were again out of supplies and I was calling for help on the hand held radio for someone to bring gloves, alcohol, and syringes.  Everyone was so busy that I had to leave the patients unattended to run to the hospital and go through 100 boxes to find the supplies I needed.  Fortunately when I returned everyone was ok.  I was giving blood to two patients who had the lowest blood counts I have ever seen.  Some with a hemoglobin of 2.  In the midst of all that I went to the ICU to get some medication. At that time I saw a 6 year old boy and he was going down hill quickly.  I helped the other nurse as she intubated the patient.  He was in bad shape with a blood sugar over 400.  He was not breathing well enough on his own and we needed to get him on a chopper quickly in order to get him to the ship.  (The ship is called the COMFORT; it is a floating ICU).  We heard a chopper coming in and radioed down to the doctor on the landing strip to see if the helicopter would take him to the ship.  They agreed but said we had to be on the chopper in 2 minutes.  We were yelling commands at anyone who could help us. We ran with him on the stretcher to the ambulance.  We had no oxygen because the only oxygen tanks we had were huge and probably weighed 200-300 pounds.  We rushed to the helicopter to find that they had no oxygen.  I knew that this child was going to die without oxygen for 45 minutes (the time it takes to fly to the ship).  There was heated discussion, all of us so angry.  We knew how to save him but we didn’t have a ventilator.  We knew he needed oxygen but didn’t have it available. We knew that if he lived to get on the ship he would have a chance.  It didn’t matter what we knew.  It didn’t matter that we had the skills.  We didn’t have the materials.  When we put him back on the ambulance he arrested.  We were driving on a road with 3 foot pot holes doing chest compressions in the back of an ambulance.  Trying to keep our balance.  I was holding all his IV fluids, I stumbled and fell on the nurse doing chest compressions.  It was total chaos and I couldn’t hold back my tears.  I quickly had to regain composure: he needed us.  We rushed him back to the ICU and someone found his father.  He had a sketchy cardiac rhythm, he barely had a pulse, the Haitian anesthesiologist I told you about was there and he was telling the boy’s father that he was not going to make it.  The father said “this is up to God.”  He prayed fervently, loudly, he put his hands on this baby’s chest and prayed that God would put breath back in him.  He prayed loudly in the boy’s ear to breathe and be alive.    Two of the man’s friends were laying hands on this little body and praying.  I held the boys hand as they continued with chest compressions.  I knew the boy was not going to make it.  After his prayer we stopped compressions.  I was sobbing, the other nurse was sobbing, the doctor was sobbing, and the 3 Haitian men began to sing a song….and I recognized it.  I began to sing with them but in English.  They were singing “Burdens are lifted at Calvary.”  I sang and sobbed all at the same time.  I imagined the face of my son Will.  I put myself in the shoes of this father.  Helpless, traumatized, and experiencing such loss.  He lifted this up to God, he was smiling, he said “God’s will has been done.”  I hugged him….I hugged him for me.  I needed to feel that comfort.
 
I shouldn’t have left the hospital but I did.  I walked the street by myself for about 40 minutes.  The flood gates of emotions were opened.  I couldn’t stop crying and asking God why this had happened.  I didn’t know why it was me that he chose to send.  I felt so helpless.  I wanted to save this baby that had his whole life ahead of him.  He had a mom and dad that were alive.  I just couldn’t understand it.  I in no way felt better but I was able to compose myself and returned to taking care of the patients.  I finished working around midnight that night.  I was so exhausted emotionally and physically.  My body hurt, I was dehydrated and had a horrible migraine.  I needed to sleep for just a few hours.
 
Friday at some point (I can’t remember what time).  I got word that a very wealthy business man had agreed to get in his jet and fly to Haiti to pick us up. I was so relieved to know that we had a guaranteed ride home.  I was so thrilled and so looking forward to a break and to be home with my family but in minutes that joy turned to extreme sorrow and guilt.  How could I leave these people here?  I know that other groups will be coming and that someone will pick up where I left off but I knew these people now and I knew their story.  I went to bed that night and for the first time did not fall asleep when my head hit the pillow.  I replayed all the horrible graphic pictures in my head and I saw their faces.  I wanted to load them all up and take them home with me.  I could get them medical care at home.  I could get them specialists.  I could feed them.  And then I remembered what another nurse said to me earlier in the week.  If we were not here they would be dead.  Even though I did so little and the job was not done, they were alive.
 
I told you that today my minister Mark Butrum spoke to me.  It’s amazing how God gives you situations in your life that drive home His word. It cements scripture in your own heart.  The sermon today was on service in a series of sermons called “Thrive” being as close to God as you want to be.  Two passages today spoke to me and I will share them with you.  Even though I felt like I did so little, I did what I could.  Colossians 3:23 “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord not men.”  You may feel pulled to do something to help these people but have no medical training. Maybe you have a jet that you could fly a team to Haiti?  Maybe you are connected with a company that makes supplies?  Maybe you have money to send to the hospital?  Maybe you can pray?  “Whatever it is that you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord not men.”  If you feel compelled to help I will be sending a website to you. This organization gives 98.9% of all donations straight to the hospital, I have seen it with my own eyes.  They are providing free medical care and they are emptying their shelves of medicines every day.  When I secure this site I will send it to you in hopes that you will make a donation.  This effort will be in motion for many months to come.  They are making accommodations to provide care to 1,000 people! 
 
“If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit if any tenderness and compassion then make my joy complete by being like-minded having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of Christ Jesus:  Who being in very nature God did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:1-11
 
-Heidi

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The organization Heidi mentioned in her diary (above) is the Crudem Foundation (www.Crudem.org).  She says, “Please feel confident that your donation is being used carefully and it is reaching these people.  Also I am looking for volunteers as we are planning more trips to Haiti.  You must be a registered nurse with a current license. You must have 5 years experience in the acute care setting. ICU experience is preferred.  If interested please email me at heidi_ennenbach@hotmail.com

Heidi’s Diary, Part II

A few days ago I posted a diary entry from a pastor’s daughter named Heidi who is volunteering as a nurse in Haiti.  I don’t know Heidi—I don’t even know her last name—the diary entries are being forwarded by a friend who knows her father.  But these entries give me a feel for the situation there that I haven’t been able to get from watching the news or reading the papers.  The last paragraph, especially, is something you probably won’t find in the public media.

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January 28

Since I worked until after 4 a.m. today another nurse said he would cover icu for me for awhile while i tried to sleep.  It’s hard to sleep. I wake up thinking of everything that has to be done.  The way it is now there are so many medications that have to be given and there are not enough nurses to get that done.  I spent some time with the translator today.  They have transformed a high school into the “Emergency Room”  There are about 15 rooms.  Inside each room there are anywhere from 6 to 12 patients each.  Men and women share the rooms.  Some are even sharing beds so they have a place to sleep.  Since I started a little later this morning I volunteered to work E.R.  I rounded to each room with the translator asking patients what they needed, who had pain, who had questions.  The biggest concern was that they are hungry.  We were able to get rice and beans and some oatmeal for the ones who were hungry.  Here in Haiti it is normal to only eat one meal a day.  I’m sure there is some variety but it always appears to me to be the same.  Some sort of mixture of rice and beans and spices.  We did our best to get everyone fed.  I took the late shift tonight.  I spent time in each room medicating people for pain and also administering IV antibiotics that no one had a chance to give today.  We are seeing more and more infection and sepsis.  There are not enough of us to give 300 patients antibiotics three times per day.  We are doing the very best we can.  I also spent time with the haitian nurses today along with the translator.  I talked with them about their practice and in a positive way tried to teach them about some of the errors they are making with medication administration.  For them it is a challenge because a lot of times they do not have the supplies necessary to administer meds the best way.

We received great news today that the US army will be setting up a mobile 300 bed hospital.  This is huge.  There are still patients coming in on helicopters.  I watched them bring an older woman (I would guess her to be 70) on a stretcher.  She got my attention because she was lying on her stomach on the stretcher.  When we uncovered her we saw that her entire back, bottom, and upper legs were missing skin.  I was able to get ahold of her chart and saw that her mattress caught on fire and she was not able to get up.  She was trying to care for them for almost 2 weeks before getting the help she needs.  I heard from another doctor that a plastic surgeon should be arriving sometime next week (if flights can be arranged.)  There is another girl here who had cinder blocks fall on her face.  Her face is so badly fractured and she has not eaten for days.  Today doctors put a tube in her belly that goes straight to the stomach.  We received a donation of baby formula and we are using that to give her nutrition.  She will also see the plastic surgeon to see if her jaw can be reattached so that she will be able to eat at some point.  

The earthquake may be over but these people will be suffering for a long time to come.  They need therapy, prosthetics, and time to adjust to these major changes. I have heard they are trying to arrange for a group of physical therapists to come soon to teach these people how to ambulate without limbs.

I will leave you with this positive image.  Tonight around ten it got pretty quiet at the ER.  I was still rounding and checking on patients.  The sound became louder and louder as each room joined in.  The people were singing songs of praise to God.  I just stopped and listened.  It lightened my load.  Through all this suffering and pain and confusion and chaos…they are praising our God.   WOW!  It brought me to tears and reminded me that when I feel down about my situation/circumstances I have to remember that I am chosen and am victorious!!!

Love you and miss you.

Heidi

Warning: Not for the Faint of Heart

A friend forwarded this e-mail from a pastor’s daughter who is working in Haiti with a medical mission team from Missouri.  Her description of what she has seen since her arrival is graphic; reader discretion is advised.  But this first-person account brings home the reality of the Haitian earthquake in a way nothing else I have read or seen has.  As I wrote to my friend in reply: “It drove me to my knees.”

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You just would not believe the things i have seen.  people everywhere with missing limbs. 2 babies died today.  one man died with a pulmonary embolism (blood clot) bc they ran out of heparin.  our team brought heparin.  they are sick and lying on stretchers and bleeding. one nurse broke down today and said that last tuesday they were just cutting people limbs off that were crushed and they had nowhere to dispose of the body parts so they stacked them in front of the hospital for days.  when the smell became too much someone took care of them.  these people are young.  younger than me.  i havent seen an old person yet.  avg life expectancy is 51.  i feel so horrible.  they don’t have what they need and we are watching them die.  the nurses in haiti are terrible.  they don’t know how to care for their patients.  i have worked since we arrived at 2 with a short break to eat at 8.  i went back to check on my icu patient’s and the nurse that was caring for them was fast asleep.  i am learning pediatrics quickly.  so many babies that are sick.  some patients don’t have food to eat.  the hospital cannot feed them so if family does not bring food they simply do not eat.  i dont even want to eat.  the smells and sights have been overwhelming.  it is so primitive and i am having to be creative with supplies.  today i made a tourniqet with a rubber glove as i pinned a whaling 9 year old down.  they shaved skin from her thigh to graft skin to the lower section of her leg.  she left the or with no iv access.  i had to get a line in her to medicate her.  her parents were no where to be found.  i wanted to talk to her to calm her but i can’t understand the language.  even those fluent in french say it is no help.  the creole and slang is way too different.  i finally took a shower.  it was a slow drip and cold, but it was water.  i have sweat all day.  the hospital is a humid and hot building.  i think my comfort at this point is so menial.  pray for us and that more supplies will arrive.  we are in desperate need of medicines.  pray that i can be quick on my feet.  pray that my headache will go away and that the nausea will stop.  

i love you all.  i will try to keep in touch.  the internet is patchy here.

heidi

And One More Thing Before I Close…

Because I knew I was going to be out of town all week, I finished the sermon well before last Tuesday’s earthquake in Haiti.  But at 5:00 on Sunday morning I was up having coffee, adding these paragraphs at the end:

This morning I’m thinking about the people of Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.  For so long now it seems that the only abundance they have known is an abundance of trouble.  After Tuesday’s earthquake a journalist said, “I was here during the 2008 hurricanes that left thousands dead and thousands and thousands homeless, and that felt like the Apocalypse.  But that pales in comparison to this.”  In the aftermath of this horrific tragedy the Rev. Pat Robertson has suggested that the Haitians are cursed because of a pact their ancestors supposedly made with the Devil two centuries ago.  “Ever since,” he said, “they have been cursed by one thing after the other.”  Although he didn’t go so far as to say that this earthquake was God’s wrath poured out on the people of Haiti what else could they infer?  Robertson subscribes to a kind of Old Testament theology that makes every act an act of God, good or bad.  If San Francisco fell into the ocean this afternoon, he would be on television tomorrow, telling us why.  But I hope the people of Haiti will won’t look at things the way he does.  I hope they can understand as we do that bad things happen to good people, sometimes to the best people we know, and for no apparent reason.  When Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  Jesus said, “It wasn’t this man or his parents.  It was so the works of God could be seen” (John 9:3).

I hope that’s what happens in Haiti.  I hope those people can understand that earthquakes happen not because God is angry, but because the living earth is still shifting and moving.  I hope they will see this one for the natural disaster that it is, but see in our response to this disaster the “works of God.”  As rescue workers come from this country and others, as relief flows into the ruined city of Port-au-Prince, as it comes with an abundance unlike anything the Haitians have ever witnessed may they see it as a sign—not a sign of God’s judgment, but of God’s grace.  May they sense that the door between heaven and earth has been opened just a crack, and may they see light seeping in around the edges.