Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Losing Sight of The Shore

Being a single parent is HARD. Single parents or stay at home moms, I now have deeper respect for you than I already had. I know my situation is easy (and very short term) by comparison, but juggling activities, entertaining the kids and finding time for yourself is not easy. It certainly takes a unique person to keep it all together and raise great kids and be happy. I do not classify myself as one of those unique people. I am doing alright now, but I know I would have a hard time if I had to maintain this.

But enough about me - this post is an update on my wife and her time in Haiti.


"You'll never reach new oceans if you're afraid to lose sight of the shore."

This is the quote my coach has at the bottom of her emails. It seems appropriate for this post about my wife.

Last night, as I was sitting and watching F at Kung Fu, my phone rang and my wife's number popped up. Her phone service has been spotty, so I was happy to see it was her. I stepped out in the lobby to take her call (totally abandoning F.) She was manic. In a wonderful way.

She told me she had just had the most amazing day and needed to share it with someone before she forgot all the details. I felt proud that she called me first. (I don't know who I expected her to call, apparently it wasn't me.) I grabbed a pen to take notes so I wouldn't forget the details (although I probably have or gotten them wrong.)

Let me back up a couple of days to our last phone conversation on Sunday. She was all settled in and had been sweating like a whore in church (thank you Grandma Olson) the entire time. She spent Saturday setting up a bunch of tents and working on reorganizing the pharmacy at the clinic. Sunday was their day off and after going to help check on a preemie born Saturday night, they basically walked the entire tent city. The kids they encountered were all super sweet and happy and everywhere they went they heard, "Hey you," "Hey you," the only English words the kids knew.

They hired a driver to take them into Port-au-Prince. It was such a strange dichotomy of utter devastation - collapsed buildings with bodies still trapped inside - and vibrant activity - the market filled with people selling fruit and other daily needs. It was interesting and the work was fine, but she was feeling a little under utilized.

Last night, she was so excited she couldn't get the words out fast enough. Tuesday morning they were in their clinic figuring out what everyone was going to do for the day and a couple of nurses said they were going to the general/public hospital in town. A (my wife) asked if she could come with and the nurses said "Sure, we leave in 5 minutes." And they meant it.

From what it sounds like capitalism and free enterprise isn't a victim of a disaster. People take the opportunity to provide services that normally would be taken for granted. So they have drivers for hire that take people around the city. There are a couple of guys that the medical folks use - "The Two Pauls." Big Paul and Little Paul. Apparently these two guys came down to help out after the earthquake. Their motto: "No morals, just get it done." They help cut through any red tape to get people around or get supplies or whatever needs to be done. Their mode of transportation is a pickup truck. You hop in back and they drive.

I feel I must tell you a little more about my wife. She is not known for her spontaneity. She's not really a "fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants" kind of person. That's not to say she's uptight or rigid - she's a planner. She likes to have an idea of what to expect - she doesn't like surprises. (I made the mistake - a few times - of trying to surprise her and she was bugged more than anything.) That being said, the fact that she went on this trip at all seemed like a big step to me, but then to hear that she volunteered to go with a couple of people she just recently met to a completely unfamiliar location and situation told me she is certainly thriving down there.

So "Big Paul" takes A and her nurse friends to the hospital. When they get there they check in with a woman - A later finds out she's a doctor - who is organizing things. A tells her, "I'm not sure how I can help - I'm an Occupational Therapist so ..." The woman interrupts her, "AWESOME! A therapist!"

A spent the majority of the day in the ICU. She said it was just surreal. The facilities were third-world and damaged during the disaster. The patient boards - telling what the patients were being treated for - had some codes she wasn't familiar with. Most had "TB" on them. She knew that meant they had tuberculosis and many had "H+" as well. This, she learned, meant HIV positive. There were a couple of convicts from the prison who were shackled to their beds and were admitted for some "stupid thing". There was a patient with advanced tetanus - locked jaw and stiffening joints. There was a man who had a stroke and was refusing to eat. And many other people just wasting away. A says just describing it, it sounds like it should be totally disheartening, but she was just so energized.

As she went from bed to bed it became apparent that these patients had been in bed for WEEKS or MONTHS. They had NOT GOTTEN OUT OF BED for WEEKS or MONTHS. No wonder they were wasting away.

She approached one woman and was told, "she doesn't walk." A asked, "Did she have a stroke, is she paralyzed? What do you mean she doesn't walk?" The reply, "She's too weak." She had been in bed so long. A got her up and had her walking around in no time - this is what she does.

One of the prisoners was being watched by a sympathetic guard who allowed him to be unshackled from the bed for awhile. A approached him and found that he hadn't been out of bed since he arrived - months ago. She asked the guard if she could get him up and walking and the guard let her go to work. When A got the prisoner standing his legs could barely support him and were going into spasms from having not been used for so long. A kept working with him and by the end of their time together he was walking around the ward. Later that day he stole a walker and escaped. (I'm totally kidding. I don't think they have walkers and the guy wasn't walking that well.)

The son of the man with tetanus was sitting with him and imploring him to move. Apparently he had been having horrible back pain and he also hadn't been out of bed. A came over and spent some time teaching the man some simple stretches to relieve his back pain and spent time ranging his joints before they froze permanently. She had him up and walking before she left as well.

She went on to tell me about some people-watching she did and some other medical folks she met. She was sitting outside taking a breather and a truck with a patient came through the security gate and one of the doctors assisting with the transfer was our neighbor across the street. She said they looked at each other and both were so surprised to see the other that they kind of couldn't believe it.

About this time, F came out of Kung Fu all pissed off that I had "abandoned" him. He gave me this "look" with his arms outstretched and mouthed his disapproval. When I explained it was his mother on the phone from Haiti he looked a little sheepish. Damn demanding kid.

I was SO excited to hear how excited she was. She saw what a difference she made in these people's lives. She walked into an unknown and chaotic situation and took charge. She had lost sight of her safe, tidy little shore and was sailing solo in this wild new ocean. She was proud of herself and I am even more proud of her. She is learning so much about herself and I love her more for it.


Tasha the Triathlon Goddess ( said...

Amazing. Your wife is remarkable!

Ultragrrl said...

The escaped convict line made me laugh out loud.

Incredible experience for your wife. These are life changers. Your whole family will feel the positive impact this has had on her.

I can only imagine the edge of chaos your household is on right now.

Kathleen @ ForgingAhead said...

What a great experience! Thanks for sharing with us - her excitement really comes through in you retelling.

SSB said...

You scored big when you married her.

Beth said...

What an amazing woman your wife...and what an amazing experience! I'm sure it will positively impact your whole family. Assuming they are all still alive by the time she gets back. ;)

Mary said...

Way to go Anne! What a great thing that you are doing. And nice job documenting her experiences for all of us, Todd!

Joanne Leonard said...

This is so interesting to read. What a difference Anne is making in the people's lives, all by simply getting them out of bed and walking. Way to go Anne. Anxious to see your pictures. Joanne

ADC said...

Thank you for the update. AMAZING stuff!

ADC said...

Thank you for the update. AMAZING stuff!

Dwayne said...

Wow, what an amazing story (and an amazing wife you have). As inspiring as it is to read about triathlons and what you have invested in that, your wife just totally trumped you--in a good way. : )

Mary V said...

Beautifully documented, Todd! Ann is a keeper, that's for sure! Can't wait to hear more when she gets back!
I love you both!
Mary V!

Meg said...

It must be hard to leave a place like that, thinking that there is still so much to do. Amazing story about her efforts!

Anonymous said...

Ann deserves our admiration and thanks for representing the US so wonderfully in helping Haiti.

Sounds as if this experience is not only good for Ann's soul but also for yours, Todd! That's great!

Aunt Judi

Anonymous said...

Todd- So fun to read your blog! I am sitting here with tears rolling down my face...I can only imagine how Ann felt during this amazing experience. Life Changing I am certain! Thank you for sharing!

Jill Schmid

Charisa said...

I loved this post. And I"m still laughing about the walker escape :)

Amy Beth Kloner said...

She will never forget this experience, but the people whose lives she touched will never forget her, either.

What a very special wife you have. And she's lucky to have a hubby for recognizes it, appreciates her, and supports her, too!

Loved this post.