Haiti Journey: Carry the world in a pocket

Packing for Haiti copyright docgurley 2010

Packing for Haiti

If you look at the photo of what finally went into my personal bag to Haiti, it’s hard to imagine how much thought and fretting and, frankly, geometric calculation was involved. Keep in mond, we’re talking only about all my personal stuff, which had to fit into a carry on. No medical supplies – those were all going in the checked bags (including enough narcotics to merit a DEA raid). Should I take shampoo? Or just a bar of soap for everything? I put it all together, and then started stripping things away. Here’s what made the cut, and why:

1) You may notice that the entire bottom left 1/3 of the photo is freeze-dried, REI food. Most of it is gloriously filling stodge, but I couldn’t resist one incredible find – Jelly Belly makes jelly beans that include electrolytes, vitamins AND caffeine. Red letters on the back say to drink plenty of water. Not for everyday use, but I’m much happier knowing I’ve got something as a morning-tea fill-in, as well as a make-iodine-treated-water-better treat.

Sport Beans copyright docgurley 2010

Sport Beans

2) Two pairs of scrubs. Our team had scrubs donated (2 pairs per person), but here’s the problem – in the last hectic days when plans were literally changing by the hour, I couldn’t make it to the meeting to grab scrubs. Would I have any? Would I end up hauling too many around when the space was desparately needed? I finally settled on 2 sets for a week, and I’m hoping if that’s all I’ve got, there’s a sink somewhere for my multi-purpose mini bar of soap.

3) The bed/tent/sleeping bag thing. Here’s how much things changed. We had definitely decided to stay at the border, and travel into Haiti each day. There would be water, lots of people who’d fled (and not gotten care before), and floor to sleep on. Literally in the hours before leaving, believe it or not, someone from the 82nd Airborne found us a place near vast numbers of people in Port au Prince who still haven’t been seen. Beds, NO water (um, that freeze-dried food is looking pretty crunchy!). I was loaned uber-high-tech water purification systems from a great Eagle Scout. The Gurley-hubbie came through big time on the Valentine’s front by giving me a teensy, decadent silk sleep-sack. Oh, and the 3 packs of Handi-wipes? That’s my shower.

Medical Books copyright docgurley 2010

Reference books taken to Haiiti

4) The biggest issue of all. Many people may not know this, but we generalist docs ALWAYS use cheat sheets (well, at least the better ones do). See, we’re expected to know everyhing, and you may as well accept the fact, early on, before you kill someone, that it’s not actually possible. So you find the best crib sheets, and keep them close. A lot of that is available as apps, and we learned that the fabulous folks at AT&T have forgiven ALL roaming charges from Haiti through the end of the month. Our group is even participating in a Harvard study looking at whether e-records can help patients in a disaster. Medscape has videos on their app for procedures (tendon repair, anyone?). And the journalism aspects are equally amazing. In my one tiny phone I have text, posting tweets, Facebook, photos, podcasts, even video I can plunk into Dropbox. I am a mobile news crew. Unfortunately, when it comes to production skill, you get what you pay for (could someone do something about the camera-makeup crew? They’re kind of divas). But here’s the problem – did I trust Steve Jobs enough? What about reliability (even with a solar charger)? In all the stripping down, I realized I couldn’t leave it all behind. Not yet. I’m still, at heart a paper and pen gal. So here, in this photo of my tiny books, you can see six years of medical education brilliantly condensed into the palm of a hand. And my one teeny notebook. I chose them instead of shampoo.

And most eerie of all, if all goes as planned, I’ll be using e-records in an area where chugging water could potentially incite a riot.

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