The Road Back to Haiti | Part 1

On May 4th, Rob Vande Lune, missionary serving at Children of the Promise, had an accident that shook his family’s future in Haiti. Having to leave the country immediately because of medical reasons, Rob and his family of 6 began a journey of recovery for an undetermined about of time. Time his family would not be in the country serving in a place they all love so much.  Rob has blogged about the first half of his experience and his reflections of the past 5 1/2 weeks.

“Part I is a lot of details of what happened in semi day-to-day fashion.  Part II is soon to follow and will be more reflection on the past 5 weeks of this journey as we have seen God’s hand continuously, but also as we have had to wrestle with the difficult things of this storm in this season.

The late afternoon of Sunday, May 4 will be a date that will forever be etched in the memories of our household as one pan of cooking oil catching fire and then “exploding” with a little water added, thus causing second degree burns on my right hand and both feet would send us scrambling to get back to the United States for treatment.


The kitchen ceiling after “explosion” 

Right after getting burned, Erin had me jump in the shower under cold water to provide the most relief as possible on the burned areas.  After about 15 minutes in the shower I got out so Erin and Sylvia, a volunteer nurse at COTP at the time, could assess the damage and see what needed to happen.  As they looked at my right foot and the darkness of the burn along with the lack of feeling in my foot, the realization was made that I was going to need to get out of Haiti quickly to seek medical attention elsewhere.

Erin began contacting our insurance, which determined that I needed to be assessed by legit doctors in the Dominican Republic so they wanted to fly me by helicopter at 8am the next morning to Santo Domingo.  This obviously didn’t make a ton of sense to us since with just another 30 to 45 minutes I could have been in the States.  We didn’t care to go the DR route because it meant another language, culture and things that in this situation that we weren’t ready for.  Nick talked to the director at Milot/Crudem to see what doctors were around for the week and we were in luck because there were 2 physicians- an OBGYN and pediatric surgeon- not exactly burn experts but they were what the insurance wanted to get verification from that I needed to the States.  So, at 9:30pm Nick, Sylvia and myself got into the Jeep and took off for Milot.  It took stopping at Crudem and then having a doctor to agree to come over to Milot to see me “officially” so that he could then report to the insurance of his opinion that I needed to get to the States and not the DR.  By the time this all finally happened it was right at midnight and the only person left on the call for the insurance medical team was a nurse tech and needless to say she didn’t have the authority or power to overturn the helicopter plan.

We got out of Milot around 1am and were back at COTP by 1:30am.  On the ride back a new plan was made between us which involved us finding our own tickets for first thing out or available in the morning to Florida.  As soon as we got back to COTP Nick and I were on-line looking to see what was available.  Lots of seats on an 8:55am JetBlue flight to Ft. Lauderdale but I wasn’t having any luck with Tortug or Sunrise from CAP to PAP.  I was only getting 1 seat available.  Nick got onto the Sunrise site and on his first try was able to book 7 seats for 6:50am.  Pretty crazy that we were going to be getting on an airplane within 5 hours and be in the States in the next 9 hours.  Erin worked feverishly with the few hours she had left to get six suitcases packed with as much stuff as she could because we had no idea how long we were going to be gone for.  Karys had a hard time sleeping and so she helped Erin for 3 hours getting things packed.  I remember just dozing off and on on the couch.

The next 15-plus days all ran together from one thing to the next.  At the University of Miami/Jackson Hospital there was the following:

  • Initial ER visit on May 5
  • Burn clinic appointment on May 6 with a follow-up for May 9
  • May 7 was admission to burn unit for infection thru general ER (longest day ever as it took 12-plus hours to get me admitted and into a room!)
  • May 7-12 was spent in the burn unit at Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson Hospital part of the University of Miami health system.
  • Friday, May 9 was Gracie’s golden birthday.  We were supposed to be at the beach for the day celebrating and laughing together.  Instead, I was in a hospital bed unable to get up and be mobile.  Erin brought all the kids by later that day for the second day in a row.  We had made plans for them to get back to family via friends visiting Orlando that were flying out on Saturday.  I got to see Gracie for her birthday but also had to say goodbye to our kiddos for an undetermined amount of time as we didn’t know plans yet at this point.
  • Sunday, May 11 the doctor said he could give us a window to get up North, closer to family and a support network.  This is when we chose to travel to Des Moines on Monday May 12 and then set-up an appointment at the University of Iowa burn unit for Tuesday, May 13.
  • We took flights on May 12 from Miami to Charlotte to Des Moines.  That was a long day of travel for me and much more difficult than the initial travel day from Haiti to Florida.

I must sidetrack here a bit because we had a great support network right away for our time in Florida.  First, Nick Stolberg who helped our family get stateside and made sure we were set-up before returning.  Second, Erin’s sister Megan who landed in Ft. Lauderdale Monday night only 7 hours after we did.  She was our go-to until Saturday to help watch the kiddos so Erin could be with me as much as possible.  Little did we know at the time how valuable this was going to be once I was admitted on Wednesday.  Third, the Mitchell family of Paul, Kelsey and Lola who opened their home up to us stay as long as we needed it.  We stayed their Monday night with our crew of 8 and Kelsey was in regular contact with Erin checking to see if we needed anything.  Fourth, my mom who decided to come down from Thursday to Saturday, which was a blessing so Erin could have fun celebrating Gracie’s birthday and safely get the kids to Orlando on Saturday for their flights.  Which brings me to the Brenneman family, good friends of ours from Orange City, who were vacationing with Pat’s extended family for the week.  They agreed to help get the kids back to Omaha and then up to Sioux City where they would meet up with Grandpa and Grandma Goeman and Uncle Taylor.  What a huge blessing and God-orchestrated timing to be able to get them up to family in the Midwest! At the University of Iowa there was the following: – Monday, May 12 we spent the night in Ankeny, IA at my mom and step-dad’s house.

  • Tuesday, May 13 we had my appointment in Iowa City at U of Iowa.  Luckily, Erin remembered to throw in a suitcase at the last minute just in case they decided to admit us.  Within 15 minutes of the nurse taking off the dressings and looking at the burns she said that I would probably be admitted and within getting into a room the decision was made that I would be on the surgery schedule for Friday, May 16 for graft on my right foot.
  • I was started on two antibiotics to make sure that I had no hint of infection, especially going into surgery.  The bummer was that they weren’t compatible with each other so it meant two IV’s.  One had Zosyn going through it which was painless.  The second had Vancomyocin going through it which burned and actually wrecked my vein and the IV after about every 2-3 doses.  This of course meant more IV’s.  I think between Tuesday, May 13 and Friday, May 16, the day I had surgery, I had between 8-10 IV’s . . . not fun!
  • I was blessed by having some visitors stop by.  Bruce Schutt, a great friend from Orange City stopped by on Wednesday, May 14 as he said he just happened to be in the area.  He also brought some great scotcheroo bars that his daughter Jadeyn made the night before.  We also received a package via a NWC student from the Nessa’s, also friends from Orange City, which contained an ample supply of games and goodies.  There was even a gift card to the coffee shop downstairs for Erin to get her “real” coffee each morning.  What great blessings!
  • Friday, May 16 was my surgery day which meant that I didn’t eat or drink anything the night before starting at about 9pm.  The bummer was that I wasn’t scheduled until 1:45pm Friday afternoon if everything held schedule.  I was third in line for the day.  At about 1:15pm the crew came and got me to take me from the 8th floor down to the 5th floor where surgeries happen.  I remember loosing count of operating rooms at about 12 but do remember seeing that my room was in the 20’s.  The place was absolutely huge!
  • Erin would tell me to skip this part of the story, but I can’t help myself!  As I was slid over to the operating table, Heather, the nurse anesthetist that talked to me in prep started informing me of the 2 meds that she would be injecting to help me sleep.  She looked at the 2 IV’s in my left arm and chose the one that had had Vancomyocin going through it.  I asked her not to use that IV as I could tell it was almost done and close to infiltrating.  She said it looked like the better of the 2 sites and as she pushed the first med I could feel the burn not going into my vein but filling my arm around the IV site.  I told her that I didn’t think it was going in but she proceeded stating that everything looked good.  She then took the second med and explained that this is the one that would made me sleepy and that I should take keep breaths into the oxygen mask and begin to count backwards from 20.  I again could feel me arm begin to fill up with the med and I informed that I definitely was not getting sleepy.  At that moment the anesthesiologist walked in and immediately saw that the IV/vein had infiltrated and began to push the med through my good IV.  The next thing I knew I was in the recovery room shaking from the pain of the operation but also noticing that both IV’s were gone from my left arm and that I had a new IV in the top of my right hand.  My left arm from my elbow to my wrist looked like a blown up bratwurst and even had some blisters on the top and bottom from where fluid needed to release!
  • The surgery only took about 75 minutes and it took me about 45 minutes to wake up.  From 4pm to about 5:30pm the nurses were working hard to get on top of my pain as they could tell I was quite uncomfortable.  Finally, at about 5:45pm I was back up in my room with a 4in x 10in slice of skin missing from my upper right thigh that had now been placed on my right foot over my deep 2nd degree burn.  I also had a small spot on my left foot about the size of silver dollar that the doctor decided to graft as well.
  • The pain for the first 6-12 hours was intense and it took a while to get on top of but the doctors finally agreed to give me a pain pump that I could click every 10 minutes if I needed it to give me some pain killers.  Erin knew I was so uncomfortable and wanted me to get some sleep that she actually stayed awake until about 2:30am “pushing” the button for me so I wouldn’t wake up being “behind” on the pain and miserable.
  • Each day after surgery got significantly better and by Sunday I was no longer even using the pain pump and was just taking some oral pain meds.
  • My dad and step-mom stopped by on Saturday night for a visit and then on Sunday my brother and sister-in-law along with my grandma and aunt stopped by.  I had asked my brother to bring his hair clippers for an in-room buzz and he gratefully obliged.  I sat in the wheelchair next to my bed, he cut my hair and then even wheeled me to the sink to wash it up as I hung my head over the back of the wheelchair and into the sink.  We then went on a ride in the wheelchair and even got outside on the 8th floor sitting garden/veranda, my first time out of room since Thursday (besides surgery) and my first time outside since entering the hospital.  It was just what the doctor ordered for a Sunday afternoon of recovery!  Erin even had the opportunity to get out and go for a little jog with my sister-in-law, who had brought her running clothes along.
  • Monday quickly passed and we were both highly anticipating Tuesday as we knew that this was day 4 after surgery and the day that the grafts would be seen for the first time by all.  I knew something was up for the morning when my new nurse was pushing some extra pain meds and even gave me a little bit of versed (helps blur memory or forget things).  Before I knew it I was on a stainless steel gurney with a pool mat to lay on and plastic covering everything . . . I was headed to the burn washroom to get cleaned up and to take the dressings off.  Up to this point I had avoided the burn washroom because I didn’t need to have my burns debreeded each day as that had already been done in Florida.  Simply put the washroom is a rough place as there are several curtained stations where you can hear other people in pain as they are getting there burns or wounds cleaned.  I had the luxury of using a small private shower room since I had a less percentage of burns and could wash myself.  All that being said, there I was sitting in the first stall getting rinsed off with Erin’s help before they took the bandages off.  Pretty soon though my nurse returned and grabbed a small tool that resembled pliers and began pulling out staples on my right foot around my graft.  I quit counting after about 8-10 staples and we did take a couple of breaks before getting all 24 pulled out, but then it was done and I could finally look at my foot.  It looked weird but it looked good.  The whole doctor team (freshman, JV and varsity) all came in to have a look and agreed in unison that it couldn’t have looked better.
  • I was wheeled back to the room and quickly had a PA and another nurse there ready to cover my graft on my right foot with what they called a modified una boot.  Basically a soft cast that protected my graft yet still gave me flexion to walk.
  • As soon as this was completed, Andy, the physical therapist, was in to see what I could do.  Up to this point I had only tried to stand up on Saturday, the day after surgery, and it absolutely was intolerable, so I was excited to see what was going to happen pain-wise when I tried to walk again.  At first I had a walker and walked awkwardly about 20 yards out my room and down the hall to the PT therapy room.  I think it was more awkward because I didn’t know how to use a walker.  Andy had me do a set of stairs up and down because he knew the homes I would be at for recovery would have stairs.  As soon as I completed the steps test I he showed me how to use a cain that had been adjusted for my height instead of the walker.  Erin laughed as I tried to use it out the PT door and I finally looked at Andy and handed him the cain and asked if it was alright if we just went for a walk around the unit without any help but the wall rail if I needed.  It felt good to walk, something I hadn’t done since my time in Florida, especially with significantly less pain.  I walked all the halls of the floor and Andy said from a PT perspective I could go home and that’s just what the doctors wanted to hear as well.  So after 13 days in hospitals I was finally getting out!
  • The next week was spent continuing to recover at my brother and sister-in-law’s house in Pella.  I was ordered to still be a couch potato and not get too adventurous with new protective boot.  As I discovered, the 13 days in hospitals didn’t make me too adventurous as my energy level had been sapped and simply trying to go up town for an hour to get frozen yogurt was about enough of an outing for me.  Between trying to get across the street in time as I moved at a snail’s pace and running into people that knew of what was happening and talking, going out would quickly over stimulate me and tire me out.  That week in Pella we still had no kids with us and the week began to get long as life definitely wasn’t normal without them.
  • On Tuesday, May 27 we returned to Iowa City for my one week check-up and the first question we had wasn’t how did it look but when did we have to come back again.  They gave us 2 weeks until our next appointment on June 10.  We asked for June 12 since June 10 was going to be Toby’s 3rd birthday.  This solidified that after the appointment we knew for sure that we were headed to South Dakota yet that afternoon and evening and would be there for Addy’s 5th birthday the next day!

The past 2 weeks have been spent resting/gaining energy, caring for the skin grafts and donor site along with re-orienting to being together as a family after 17 days of being a part.  We’ve also had the privilege to connect with family and friends that we definitely hadn’t planned on seeing over a month ago.  As I write this we are preparing to transition back down to Central Iowa for my second follow-up appointment on Thursday, June 12, which will be one day shy of 4 weeks since I had surgery.  We remain hopeful and optimistic of another good report from the doctors.  Personally I’m also hoping that they say we don’t need to return for anymore follow-up’s and only need to consult via phone if something changes with my graft!

Part II coming soon…”


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