| Apr 23, 2010
Finally we saw a really beautiful, mostly unsettled, rural area of Haiti! In Port-au-Prince it seems like there’s earthquake debris, a mass of humanity, tents or vehicles on every square inch of land. Not to mention the requisite air pollution.
So it was a sensual delight Friday when Fred and I took the two and a half hour ride from Leogane to La Colline. There is a private hospital Medical Teams International is thinking about staffing and helping with equipment and medicines as part of our mission to restore Haiti’s battered and bruised health care system. The further west we drove from Leogane, the less earthquake damage was evident. By the time we got to La Colline, it was impossible to see any sign of the Jan. 12 disaster that rocked this island nation to it’s core.
There were roadsides lined with living fences from some flowered, thorny plant that remind me of England and Wales’ hedgerows. The air was sweet, the streams were clean, the pastures were bright green and the well-fed animals were fat and sleek. What a contrast to other areas where everything is overgrazed and the animals are thin and stunted. We even saw some good-sized horses in La Colline!
Fred had sent a doctor and a midwife/nurse practitioner to La Colline a few days ago to work and assess the small hospital Centre de Sante Colline d’Aquin run by Sunlight Missions, Inc., a N.Y.-based philanthropic organization that founded the hospital and also runs a school. Both women had been doing morning clinics there and spending the afternoons exploring the hospital and learning more about it. We went there to talk to Dr. Mary Owens and Mary Carpenter about the potential.
Fred went off with Dr. Mary to look at the facilities. I found Mary C. in a fact-finding meeting with four midwives. Their major concerns were that the government provided them with no medicines, supplies or uniforms. Once a month the midwives meet for some training by the hospital nurses. They said the nurses taught them to wash their hands by teaching them a little song, which they sang to us together.
Most deliveries are at home with a midwife in attendance. “We make deliveries as soon as we can,” one very elderly mid-wife explained to Mary C. “If it goes beyond our capacity, we call a doctor.” The woman had been a midwife since the hospital was established in 1976.
What do they do if there is too much bleeding after a delivery? Mary C. asked. “I have a secret,” the woman slyly told Mary with a smile. “I have a secret too,” Mary grinned back. “I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours.”
“I pray,” the woman responded. “I pray too,” Mary said, but then proceeded to tell the fascinated midwives all her techniques for getting the bleeding to stop. It was a great learning session for the women.
The women had all been midwives for a long time. They each are from remote areas and only deliver 1-2 babies a month.
Their histories were varied. The second elderly woman has been a midwife for over 40 years and almost all the kids in her village call her grandma because she delivered them. The third woman became a midwife over 30 years ago after someone came to her in a dream and taught her how to cut the umbilical cord. When her own daughter had a baby, she cut the umbilical cord just like in the dream. And then when she heard the hospital was looking for midwives, she volunteered.
The fourth lady followed in the footsteps of her father, who was also a midwife. After years of volunteering in mostly Muslim nations, where it’s rare that a male practitioner can touch a strange woman, I found it fascinating that a man could be a midwife. Apparently it’s not uncommon here, where traditional medicine men would help women in labor deliver their babies.
I left at that point to find Fred and Dr. Mary touring the clean, but inadequately equipped surgical suite. Conditions were similar in the emergency room and the sterilization room. But the whole place has great potential. With new equipment and training for staff, it could be a great little hospital!
There’s a radio station on the premises that broadcasts 9 hours a day to a potential audience of 30,000 people. As part of our public health and education mission, we could give health talks in Creole!
It was with great reluctance (especially on the part of my lungs) that we left La Colline late that afternoon to return to Leogane. I loved the little hospital set in a valley with dramatic tree covered mountains ringing it. I hope Medical Teams International decides to help it!