Friday, April 9, 2010

Keep on Survivin'

Go online and search out Destiny's Child "I'm a Survivor". Hook up your speakers, turn the volume on high, with a whole lot of base, and with apologies to your next door neighbors, rock the house. Then close your eyes and listen to the chorus. And imagine what we saw today...

We were discouraged. We'd lost our physical therapist to a family emergency, and our patients appeared amotivated without his constant encouraging presence. Moods were low. Apathy was setting in. Oppressive heat overwheled our tarp covered courtyard hospital. Little six year old Dina, now in a walking cast from her open tib-fib fracture, refused to put down her crutches and bear weight on it. Afraid. Lillian, 10 year old with an externally fixated femur fracture...crying with each episode of physical therapy, more and more fearful of the pain. 59 year old Leeann, lying stoically in bed 23 hours a day, not exercising her healing leg -- going backwards in progress. Our 76 year old below-the-knee amputee Genine, needing to learn how to walk again, having a difficult time even standing up. 20 year old Amanda, with her paralyzed left arm and shattered left leg, lying sadly and disinterested in her cot, staring blankly off into the distance.

We'd hit a wall.

"We just need to get them MOVING..." one nurse said.

"Maybe we could get them to do physical therapy together..." someone else said.

"It needs to be fun," someone else said.

And so the idea spiraled. It was born from the knowledge of a perhaps little-known fact, outside of our hospital, that our Haitian patients have innate and amazing rhythm. And soul. Every night, they sing and clap and stomp together in song in impromptu mass that goes on sometimes for hours. Rocking the house. Rocking the neighborhood, over the cinderblock walls, beyond the plastic tarp that is our roof.

It was evidenced when we watched the film "Madagascar," projected one night on a white cotton sheet tied up to the cinderblock wall. In this Disney film, dubbed in French, shipwrecked zoo animals land in the wilds of Madagascar with a bunch of lemmings who break out into fabulous song, singing a hip deep base beat, "You got to move it, move it. You got to move it, move it. You got to move it, move it...MOVE IT!!" There was nothing cooler than to watch heads start to bob and hands start to sway to the rhythm as all of the patients started to sing along to the beat.

It became obvious that our patients have rhythm.

"Let's make them exercise to "Move it!"" recommended someone else. We all laughed.

Then someone said, "No, really!"



So, somehow it happened that we pulled out the electric sound system used to project movies on the wall at night. And plugged it into Dr. Jen's computer. A quick search of her ITunes files revealed a great assortment of deep beat, hip, rhythmic dance tunes. Including the song, "You all ready for this???!!" -- normally danced to at NFL halftime shows by cheerleaders in skimpy tops and pompoms.

We walked around to each patient and said, "In a minute, we're going to turn on the music, and you will do your PT."

Some patients were assigned a helper. Amputees were given the task -- stand and balance on your strong leg, and try to squat up and down. Bilateral casted patients -- stand up with your walker and balance, then sit back down. Young Dina, who refuses to walk without her crutches...when the music starts, you will walk on your cast...with one crutch, not two. Young Lilian, who starts to cry at the idea of physical therapy -- you will stand with your crutches and just walk around. Each patient assigned a task. They all looked at us curiously, a little dubiously. A little apathetically. A generalized look that shouted...ok, perhaps whispered, disinterestedly, "Ok, whatever..."

But then, the magic happened.

This was no circus music. No accordion music. No elevator music. No polka or grandma's parlor music. This was raging urban hip hop rhythm with wicked base and deep musical soul. Yes, this music required apologies to the neighbors over the cinderblock walls for its volume. Yes, it perhaps shook a bit of dust off the walls. Yes, it was played like your car stereo when you drive solo, speeding down the highway with the volume and bass cranked, wind screaming through your hair. Because on the count of three, when Renauld our interpretor-turned-DJ hit "PLAY", at two in the boring afternoon at our Haitian Field Hospital, he literally rocked the house.

"YOU ALL READY FOR THIS????" the song called, followed by the deep rhythmic beat of sound. Sound which suddenly dragged patients' eyes open, pulled giant smiles from their lips. Heads began to bob. Feet began to tap. Eyes came afire with life as the sound system blared its rhythm across the courtyard. I helped our 76 year old amputee onto her one leg. Her shoulders started to sway in rhythm. A smile crinkled her aged, wrinkled cheeks. Ten-year-old Lillian, afraid to stand, threw down her crutches and danced with her hips swaying and arms undulating rhythmically, balancing crutchless for the first time. Dina marched to the beat on her casted foot, then began to spin and dance. Amanda lay in her cot, brilliant smile, rhythmically rolling her shoulder to the beat. Song after song, shining smile after smile. Little Emmanuel, three year old boy with the crushed face, stood in the center of the courtyard and danced the freespirited dance of a child. Smiles and rhythm of joy. Old and young. Nurses and patients and translators and visitors. Rocked the house.

Then the last song, "I'm a Survivor," by Destiny's Child, began to play. I paused as I stood in the middle of the courtyard, slowly turning around to see the patients dancing and swaying and squatting and bending and smiling and laughing -- incidental physical therapy amidst the endorphin releasing joy of blaring song. Dancing like they were 16 again... perfect... whole... young.. .strong... in their bedroom secretly in front of their mirror. In a club. At a rock concert. A better day. A freer, more innocent day. Rebelliously blaring the music.... When life was simple and beautiful.

The deep, strong African American female voice pounded forcefully from the speaker in front of me. With each lyric, my eyes glanced off of each patient...their stories of survival...of pain...of endurance...of recovery...of spiritual resilience... flashed repeatedly in my mind. Fabulous. Amazing. Unbelievable.

I'm a survivor...
I'm not gonna give up...
I'm not gonna stop...
I'm gonna work harder...
I'm a survivor...
I'm gonna make it..
I will survive...
Keep on survivin'....
I'm a survivor...
I'm not gonna give up...
I'm not gona stop...
I'm gonna work harder...
I'm a survivor...
I'm gonna make it...
I will survive....
Keep on survivin'...
Keep on survivin'.


  1. Wow I freakin love this!!!!!!! You guys are awesome! I can just picture it! I love you all and that "one big brain" of yours!

  2. What a FANTASTIC idea. You guys are awesome!!

  3. this. is. amazing.
    you guys are all doing amazing things out there. you (doctors, patients, everyone!) are all such an inspiration. you should try to get this published somewhere. you could change even more lives.

  4. WONDERFUL! Makes me want to Move It Move It on down to Haiti and join the dance.

    Glad to hear Dr. Jen is back. That is HUGE for you all, surely. Whatever happened to the teen boy named Alex? Is he still in Haiti helping out? He sounded fascinating.

    In the future, one suggestion. Don't suffer through hard times without asking for prayer support from your blog followers. We will pray, our friends will pray, our families will pray, and our wonderful God will surely intervene. Don't hesitate to ask!

    Love this entry.
    Terri Urban


  5. You all are doing amazing work each and everyday. You are all so inspiring.

    Keep the hope alive.


  6. Amen and Wow...

  7. Absolutely L*O*V*E this...(and that fact that "I'm a survivor" was on Dr Jen's ipod!) Thanks for allowing us a glimpse into the worlds most awesome dance party! Miss you guys and the spirit of that place! Please keep writing!

  8. Oh How much fun that must have been. I can see it clearly!! Great Job.

  9. Great Job everyone I can see it all so clearly. What fun

  10. Barbie, May I post this on my blog? (linking back here, of course) I have 5 Haitian kids, am a big supporter of Heartline, and generally get about 2000 hits a day.. I'm always looking for ways to drum up more support for Heartline and this is great. You can email me at Thanks! Corey Waters

  11. I have been reading your blog for awhile now. And, right after I read this newest entry, a dear friend of mine (who lived in Haiti until her apartment collapsed on her and her daughters and they were evacuated) posted this to another of her friend's walls on facebook.

    I think it must be where you are. It seems like too much of a coincidence. And I can't help but wonder at how interconnected everything is.

    You are doing amazing work. Keep it up, and don't lose heart. Haiti is hurting, she is broken, but she is strong. And you are there to help her through the process.

  12. Amazing brainwave! Thanks for sharing! I too am always profoundly touched by the resilience of the human spirit to survive such hardship wherever in the world, whatever the situation. Keep up the good work - your innovation, kindness and sheer determination This is a newsworthy article - of overcoming the odds You brightened my day :)

  13. What a beautiful story!

  14. I was sent to your blog by a friend (who said you are a PA, as am I). I was crying by the end of your entry. I doubt I am strong enough to do the work you are doing, and I applaud you for it; and I applaud even louder for those amazing survivors.