| May 06, 2010
Everyone sheds a few tears now and then taking care of the people of Haiti (how can you not if you’re a caring human being?). Thursday was my day. Fortunately it was also a day of laughter with some patients, so it all balanced out.
Prayer before start of clinic
Max, one of our interpreters, had asked Fred for Medical Teams International to hold a clinic at his church near the orphanage where he grew up in Nan Koli-n. For everyone but me, it turned out to be the coolest, most comfortable clinic we’ve held.
The main building, which Max says was built in about 1986, is an elderly-looking structure built out of massive rocks and huge cavern-like walls with a man-made cave effect on the ground floor. It was very cool in there and the doctors and nurses/pharmacists had a comfortable place to hold clinic. Unfortunately the orphanage part was damaged by the earthquake and is closed now.
My intake/triage area was out in front under some tarps and it was brutally HOT under there. By mid-morning everything I was wearing was dripping wet with sweat and the poor patients were equally as moist. Getting a blood pressure reading was difficult because I had trouble sliding the cuff around on the wet arms and the machine seemed to malfunction a lot.
One of our volunteer doctors was sick Thursday, so Fred took a day off from his duties as mobile clinic and health coordinator and filled in as a practitioner. Good thing he did! There were huge numbers of patients. Max had proudly promoted our clinic because it was HIS church and HIS Medical Teams International clinic and lots of his friends and relatives came. Max’s community has had no free medical care since the earthquake and most people aren’t going to the private doctors because they can’t afford them.
For the first time, I saw lots of patients with post traumatic stress disorder. One pastor from a nearby church came with his wife and four teenage children. They had just come back from the United States before the earthquake and he was dealing with the fears and horrible memories of not just himself, but his large family and his church members. All of the family spoke beautiful English so I was able to speak to them one-by-one without an interpreter.
The kids all had insomnia and other syndromes that were more mental than physical. The pastor himself was an emotional wreck. He wasn’t sleeping, he felt his heart beating fast in his chest and he was experiencing stomach pain. We talked at length about taking care of himself. He said the only time he felt at peace was when he prayed privately or had time for quiet reflection. With a family to support he found it difficult to do either one.
I gave him a quiet talk about taking care of himself and ministering to himself too and suggested he find a quiet 20-30 minutes a day to pray and meditate and rejuvenate. Then I sent him back for treatment for high blood pressure, which must be stress related.
Fortunately, Medical Teams International is in the process of gearing up the post-earthquake recovery plans which include a psycho-social program to teach community health workers in Haiti about dealing with PTSD. People here NEED it. Everyone measures their life from pre and post “event” which means the Jan. 12 earthquake.
All during the clinic I had been eyeing one little girl – a curly headed vixen who reminded me of our “Shirley Temple” granddaughter Sari. They both have cascading waves of curly hair, except Sari’s are multiple shades of sun-bleached blonde, while this little one’s was a light brown.
Unfortunately when she approached closer as a patient, I realized her hair color was the result of malnutrition. The lack of proper nutrition causes the natural black-colored hair of Haitian children to turn an orange-blond. She was quite sick and I tried to get a thermometer on her forehead to register her temperature and she almost whooped me! She fought like a trapped animal. It took two adults to hold her long enough to get her vital signs.
A family of a mom and three small, skinny and malnourished children (with orange hair) approached next. Max said they aren’t getting enough to eat. Somehow their reality crept into mine and I had to take a break and go out in the neighboring banana grove for a short emotional moment myself before I came back and finished the morning triage.
At lunch break I went into the cave and had an envious moment when I realized how cool everyone was but me. It seemed unfair somehow!
That afternoon, I found a cooler location under the porch of the old orphanage (away from the earthquake damage) and had a much more comfortable experience.
The rest of the team took pity on my day on the way home and let me sit in the air conditioned front of the Land Rover. Thanks!