29 Jan 2010 Supplies


I write this from JFK airport in New York, having successfully gotten out of the house at 5am carrying four duffel bags containing just under 200lbs of (mostly) donated supplies. Our clothing and personal gear are in our carry on luggage.

I remain overwhelmed by the deep vein of compassion and generosity we have tapped. We decided to make this trip less than a week ago, on Sunday the 24th. In the ensuing five days we’ve amassed enough gear and supplies that we spent last night in a sort of triage party.

The 200lb number is far from arbitrary. Not for love or money can you check more than two bags on an international flight. Further, if you’re flying to the Dominican Republic – not for love or money can those bags exceed 50lbs. At the airline’s discretion they may allow overweight bags, for a substantial fee. Since I did not want to see the fruits of people’s generosity thrown out at the gate to make weight, we decided to pre-weigh all of our bags and make a separate shipment of what would not fit.

In terms of shipping, there is still no really coherent way to ship to Port Au Prince. Fedex and UPS will each take packages to the Dominican Republic – but the cost to overnight a 50lb bag was nearly $500. At that price point, I’m sure that there are more useful things to do with the money than spend it on expedited burning of jet fuel. With an additional week’s notice, we could have dropped the cost substantially. So, the remaining supplies are being shipped out this week (by still further friends, with keys to our house), not only out of weight, we were also out of time.

Based on what we see on the news, as well as reports from colleagues and friends in country, we are focusing on pain management, wound care, antibiotics, and postoperative care for the lucky souls who have already received treatment. I have no idea what to do about what is being described as an emerging mental health catastrophe. The hospitals who employ the physicians on the team have been singularly generous. Just the two of us are carrying nearly 50lbs of drugs. We’re also shipping nearly 7,000 over the counter pain pills. The other physicians on the team are similarly laden.

My wife’s hospital came through with a wide assortment of surgical equipment. Apparently in the United States this is considered single-use. Stainless steel implements are simply thrown away. In the rest of the developed world they are sterilized and re-used. We have one bag that is small but dense with retractors, forceps, scalpels, and other things whose names I do not know.

On Wed, we were also allowed into a basement room filled with pallets of donated supplies. “Take what you need, and God bless you,” them man said. We selected an “ambu” breathing bag, as well as lots and lots of gloves and gauze, among other things.

My colleagues at Bioteam, as well as other friends, delivered a total of three boxes of emergency gear (emergency rations, a folding solar power source, tarps, stoves, water purification supplies, and so on) as well as four boxes of home health care supplies. The latter included critical supplies for wound care, splinting, and pain management.

We decided early on that all our clothing would fit in the carry on bags, as well as my communications gear. So, my clothing for the week (including church duds for Sunday) consists of half a duffel bag’s worth of space – crushed next to a satellite internet terminal and a 12″ G4 Apple laptop that will probably live out its days as a clinic computer in Haiti, and a GPS locator beacon.

Food was the hardest compromise. We’re carrying everything we need for a week. That took up critical space – but we decided that it would be unacceptable to make the trip only to become a burden and take supplies that the Haitians need. Perhaps half of one of our larger bags is heat-and-serve pouches of pre-cooked food, trail mix, and so on.

I brought each bag up to nearly 50lbs with the emergency ration bricks – intending to make something of a show of having to leave behind food for the hungry. Fortunately, it was not necessary. In fact, the JetBlue employee who checked us in surprised us by waiving our baggage fees entirely. “You’re doing a good thing,” she said.

Thanks again to all of you who opened your hearts, closets, and supply room doors to us. This is truly humbling. Between the 15 members of our team, we’re bringing 30 bags – 1,500lbs of supplies.

With that, I board a plane bound for the Dominican Republic. Our drivers meet us at the hotel at 7am tomorrow to begin the trip into Port Au Prince.

We have pictures of the guest house where I’ve stayed in the past. If you click the link, you’ll see why we’re sleeping at the clinic this time.

Update:  All of Chris Dwan’s updates and trip reports can be found at

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  • tingfan
    Posted at 15:57h, 29 January Reply

    Impressive story, please keep reporting

Post A Reply to tingfan Cancel Reply