Friday, January 27, 2012

Hope, Love, and Light

Today we leave for home, so we had our final clinic in Haiti yesterday in nearby Thomas in what seemed to be a more prosperous location than other areas we’d held clinics in. And yet, so much suffering still. Everything was going fairly smoothly, and then the medical team had a patient who’d had a stroke and fallen into a fire some time ago. His injuries were treated by a voodoo witch doctor with charcoal. You can imagine the severity of infection at this point. We were all twisted up inside to see him get his wounds treated by Medical…the pain he was in, knowing as well there was nothing we could do to help him recover from the stroke. But we got past that, as we knew we had to.

In dental, we had an interesting mix of patients. This is an area that sees clinics like ours more often than most, so some of the patients seemed to be aware that you can numb the mouth before pulling teeth. One woman was terrified we were going to pull her teeth without a shot. Our translator was busy elsewhere, so it was difficult to reassure her. This is one of the toughest things about working with people that speak a language we don’t know—it’s much harder to earn their trust, especially if they’ve had any difficulty with teeth pulling or doctors, etc. before. All we can do is speak as soothingly as possible, rubbing their arms, holding their hands—or in my case, massaging their temples and shoulders and brushing fingers over their cheeks. We had a patient that was eighty years old who broke my heart. She was so upset after we numbed her mouth, so scared of the way it felt. She thought we were going to pull her teeth right off the bat as surely most of her teeth had been pulled before. She had no idea we could anesthetize, and was frightened by the way it felt—until her teeth were pulled painlessly.

And so the day went along as usual, patients and more patients. Sickness, infected mouths and rotted teeth, medicine getting dispensed, et cetera. We had some singing and joking as usual. John tattooed everyone’s arms with a sharpie and Dr. Jeff played his iPod until it ran out of battery. It felt like an easier clinic at first. Relatively. But everything altered a bit when a woman came in with her malnourished baby as a result of an insufficient milk supply. A baby that looked like a preemie, even though it was two months old.

This baby was dying.

Nurse Linda fed him glucose water with a syringe, and then put the baby to his mother’s breast to try and stimulate her milk production. But it was clear this baby would likely die anyway. You can imagine how hard this was to face. We were right there, Medical doing all they could in the little bit of time we had, but it wouldn’t be enough.

There was a second baby, too. His mother was dying—I’m not really sure why as the family didn’t bring her. You can imagine what happens when there’s no one to feed a baby, too. So we had another baby in crisis. The baby’s family was desperate to find a new home for him and tried to give him away to Dr. Mark. As if he could take him.

This is when many of us finally broke down.

And then it was time to go, and we had to walk away. Two babies, a stroke and burn victim, and countless others left behind, their fate uncertain. We’ll likely never know what will happen to them.

That’s the thing about this sort of mission. Every patient must be treated as if you will never see them again, because you almost certainly won’t.

I used to wonder if I was strong enough for this. I suppose I must be. We all must be, because we’re still here, smiling through that sadness that comes from knowing too much. I know we’ve all changed a little bit. Broken apart and put ourselves back together again—not entirely whole, and yet somehow full to the brim...with hope and love and light. These things are remarkably filling.

To borrow words from Dana, our team pharmacist…

"It’s a privilege to be here. A privilege and a blessing."

What little we gave to the Haitians, they have returned to us tenfold.

Hope. Love. Light.

If we’re lucky, we’ll get to come back to Haiti to find that piece of ourselves we left behind. Until then, may we carry a piece of Haiti with us. And may we pass it on to you and you and you.

Toujours nous serons frères.

If any family or friends of the team leave comments, I'll be sure to pass them on. So far those comments that have been left have been well received by your loved ones. It's strengthening to hear a loved voice from afar, especially here. If you have no way to contact your friend or family and would like to, feel free to email the address noted on my profile as well, and I'll get them the message.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Emotional in Haiti

I apologize for the delay in updates. Monday was our first mobile clinic, and from then on, it was non-stop work. It's been an exhausting time for all of us full of emotional ups and downs. But it's late, and we have another clinic tomorrow at nearby Tomas (sp?), our final clinic here in Haiti. Every one of the clinics, each in a different location, has been distinctly different. To give you an idea, without having to spend the next two hours trying to sum it all up, I thought I might borrow from the emails I've been sending to my writers'group every night I hope they don't mind. Keep in mind this has just been my personal experience. I can hardly speak for the others on the team, but it might give you an idea of what the clinics have been like. Intense, to say the least. It will also let you see the sort of journey we're on. Talk about a range of emotions...

Monday in Haiti
Today has been a difficult day. Physically and emotionally exhaustive. Another day like today will take the wind out of me. It's right about now I'm wondering what I'm doing here. We can't fix this place. I feel so helpless. Everything we do, it's just a bandaid. This climb, oh god it was treacherous and dangerous, a ceaseless uphill climb over powdery dirt and loose rock that slides like walking on marbles. Not an inch of level ground to rest for 3 hours, and the pressing need to get there. No rest at the top, and then on my feet for hours holding the head of people flinching and quietly crying, but never screaming while their rotting teeth are pulled out, their mouths so infected the anesthetic doesn't work. Not even a real dental chair, just a rickety wooden thing. Every one of them I held and comforted and rubbed their shoulders, but it's just a bandaid. I'm really sad today. There just aren't words for what I've seen. We've done all we could. And it's not enough.

Now, take a look at today's:

Wednesday in Haiti:
Took the bus on a 3 hour journey to Gonaive (?), a very poor village way in the sticks. We were greeted by the most gracious people. They built a brand new outhouse just for us. The cement was still wet when we got there. As always, all the village people were dressed in their Sunday best, staring at us as the spectacle we Americans are. But they always greet us with smiles, if at first with a little hesitation. But if you say bonjou, they will always say it back. If you hold out your hand, they will always take it. But unlike the other clinics, we had no issues with crowding or people trying to cut in line (if you saw the massive lines that form, you'd understand why they might try to get ahead)--today alone, we treated 500 people. And nearly every patient we had in the dental chairs thanked us before they left.

But it had been ten years since a clinic like ours had seen their village. They were so grateful to have us there. You could just see the pastor beaming to see us. But they were also some of the most desperate people we've seen.

Just in dental, we had two faint, one vomit, and one seizure. Poor Kate got splattered with blood twice. You should know all of this happened when the head was in my hands (that's my job--holding heads and comforting patients). Oddly enough, they had all been in Dr. Lee's chair, although I think this was merely coincidence as he's brilliant (as is Dr. Jeff). We were beginning to get used to the fainting and severe reactions, which we think stems not only from fear (think of the kind of pain they must have endured having their teeth pulled by the local pastor over the last ten years), but also from the lack of food in their bellies. One woman started to lean--and I wrapped my arms around her to hold her in place and said, "We lost another one." But then she buckled and started seizing in my arms, and the whole chair tipped forward. It was all I could do not to crash on my face. Lee and Kate and Kris all dived and kept us from face planting, but the poor woman was out. We moved her to the ground and propped her feet up. Dr. Mark checked her out, and she was conscious responding to his commands in Kreyol. Eventually her family came and got her, and she walked out with a mouth full of numbness and no teeth pulled, poor woman. The faintings and vomiting were men. But oddly enough, it was our best clinic yet, full of joy and hope and singing from us changing the lyrics to well known songs ("This is the tooth Dr. Lee will take. Let us rejoice and be glad in it." Dr. Jeff insisted Lee's head would blow up being surrounded by us women, who cheer and dance when the tooth comes out. One elderly patient, smiling like the sun had risen just for him, asked Kris to stay in Haiti. It was great fun.

In medical, they saw a case of malaria and a woman severely dehydrated. They did the best they could to hydrate her intravenously without tubing. Not an easy feat. Nor was the abused child left behind with an infection--a sad enough case Nurse Carolyn had to walk out of the room. They also saw a boy in a wheelchair--only 17 years old, paralyzed from falling out of a tree. I know it was hard on them. Haiti is full of stories like this. It is at times overwhelming. And then you see a  woman who has spent the better part of 30 years using a rope latched around her useless foot as a crutch to walk. Now this is inspiring (as is the medical team itself which works hard. I hear constant laughter from them in the face of difficult times). The same with the pharmacy team, which works so efficiently, they somehow keep lines from forming. They also keep the other two teams functioning, providing us with all the meds we need, not to mention snacks, lunch, and toilet paper. It's more complicated than that though, as they have to keep all the meds sorted and organized, mixed, bagged, dispensed etc.--out of suitcases. We're also really grateful for our Haitian interpreters, who are not only great at translation, but also kind--to us and to the patients. They're as much a part of our team as the Americans here.

Honestly, it's been quite an experience with a remarkable group of people. I will be sad to see them go on Friday. But we still have one more clinic. One last chance to bring a little sunshine to a few people. We can't fix all the problems in Haiti. But we can fix the pain and suffering of a few. And that's enough.

(I can't really upload pictures right now, but I promise I'll get some up after I get back and give a more thorough account all that's happened. I'm hoping to get to talk to some of the others in medical and pharmacy to get a better perspective on what they've faced. But I know they must have dealt with the same sorts of hardships we have. This sort of mission is not for the feint of heart.)

P.S. If you're a family member or friend of someone on the team, I'll be sure to pass on any comments you leave to your family/friend. Nancy, Dr. Lee was quite touched when I stopped him right before a clinic to tell him his sister  said hello and that he was in your thoughts. His first question, "Do you know Nancy???" Ha.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Our First Day in Haiti

Written Friday, January 20, 2011 (first night in Haiti)

(I apologize there are so few pictures. It's taking so long to upload them, and now that I was able to finally get on, I want to work fast before I lose the signal. I promise I'll post Morepictures as soon as I can.)

We arrived in Port Au Prince, Haiti around 9:30 this morning (Friday), and somehow we managed to get through immigration and customs by 10:30 (AM, not PM). Everything went really smoothly, which started us all off on the right foot.

But we were exhausted. Our flight from Indianapolis actually left at 5:00 Thursday night, taking us to Dallas, where we had a fairly short layover, and then sat on the plane for over an hour waiting to take off for Miami. By the time we actually got there, we had all of two to two and a half hours to actually get any rest. Some of us chose to get showers instead of sleep.

So…people like me got all of a half hour of sleep before boarding the plane to Haiti.

When we got here we were greeted by Haitian music initially, and then as we stepped out, a bit of culture shock. Haiti is like no place else, a country so devastated by poverty and leveled by the earthquake two years ago.Tent cities are still commonplace. No clean water. No major stores. No fast food or restaurants. So many of the little shops seem to be run out of shacks. Schools, churches—everything is run down and crumbling.

And then we stopped by a site of mass graves, one of the most tragic reminders of the earthquake.

We were, as one, deeply moved and saddened, letting our breaths slow and our minds absorb the significance of what we were seeing.

After an hour long, bumpy bus ride in the heat with intermittent honking of a blaring bus horn that caused us all to jump out of our skins, we arrived in our compound in St. Ard.

Despite our dragging feet, right away we got to work, unloading and unpacking luggage to remove medicine. We also unloaded medicine and food from the shipping container sent ahead a couple months ago. As if we’d been working together for twenty-four days instead of less than twenty-four hours, we worked as a team to organize and set up the pharmacy and the kitchen. We also took tours of the clinic facilities within the compound, oohing and ahhing over the new dental equipment provided by Paul, one of our team members. Seriously, chairs that lean back. So at least during the clinic in this compound, we won’t have to hold patients’ heads during their dental procedures. We also got a look at the brand new prosthetics center that was just built and is in the process of getting going.

Amazing stuff, guys.

The heat is tolerable, not the sticky rice kind, but the overwhelming dry roast kind as you as you stand in the sun. But we quickly acclimated. Mostly, because of these guys.

Already, Haiti has stolen our hearts.

Can you tell?  

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Deep Thoughts on the Eve of Departure

Okay, so I'm leaving for Haiti today (Thursday). I had originally planned on vlogging my thoughts tonight. But somehow time has gotten away from me. It's already almost one AM, and I have to be up in six hours.

So. No vlog. But I will tell you this:

I'm kind of scared.

Like if you told me I didn't have to go, I'd probably consider it.

Leaving my family?


That's got me so down. I had a moment at my Little Bean's school today, volunteering in the library, when I just broke down, you know? It just hit me. I'm leaving for Haiti. There's nothing easy about that.

But I'm excited, too. For all the obvious reasons, not the least of which is the children we'll be surrounded by because of the orphanage. But this just hit me today too--I'm about to get to know twenty-four people I didn't really know before. Good people. With big huge hearts. Some of them medical with healing abilities (Amen to that, baby), and many of them like me--no medical knowledge, but a need to heal anyway. A part of me is just a tad insecure, wondering if they'll like me. Think I'm an idiot. Or weak. But mostly, I'm just excited to get to know them. I wonder, too, if they're feeling the same way, or if it's just a newbie feeling? Or just me? It's sort of like a writers' conference, in that respect...if I were going on my very first one. In the poorest country in the Western hemisphere...

I have no idea if I'll have Internet access in Haiti. I hope so. Hubs is still working on my phone, trying to get it all sorted. But I'll attempt to blog tomorrow (today, technically) from the airport. If nothing else, I'd like you to see the people I'm traveling with. I'm convinced they're special people. I think you'll see that, too.

But, for now, let me catch you up:

This is the medicine I collected and purchased. It's hard to tell here, but you're looking at thousands upon thousands of tablets and bottles, ointments, and drops.

But it wasn't all me. In fact, I did very little of this. Honestly, it was all you guys. Every one of you who donated, helped break down meds, prayed, sent happy juju, encouraged, and all around lifted me and the team up--dude, it was YOU. You are the foundation of this Medical Team. Without you, there is no team. FYI.

I wish I'd gotten a picture of all the medicine when it was spread out as we were preparing to pack it. But I didn't get my camera out until most of it had been scooped up. Even then, it was only a portion, as a lot had been shipped in advance. But oh man. Seriously. I was blown away by the amount of medicine. A veritable Garden of Healing. Freaking awesome. What you see above was just a small percentage.

Here's Dana, our Team pharmacist and Carolyn on the right, Nurse and Team Coordinator. Without these two, the Team would sink. Clearly, they are AWEsome. And I adore them already. Those meds you see are all that was left after the initial shark feeding frenzy, aka packing up grab and go (I make this sound way simpler than it was).

Here we have Dr. Mark (aka Duck), Paul, Dr. Lee, and...I want to say Tom, but only because that's what his name tag appears to say. I'm not entirely sure who this is yet, or if he's going. There were a number of people helping at the packing party who weren't actually going. I'll let you know later if Tom went. He does seem very nice. Duck, by the way, is the guy who is responsible for Mission Haiti Medical. Like, THE GUY. We owe him a lot ("Duck" is a sign of respect. I promise. Story to come later.)

Here's some more packing up. I'm not sure about the two ladies' names. They seem lovely, but I didn't catch their names. I'll let you know about them later. I know the guy, though. That's Pastor Dave, who, by the way, is also resident photographer. His pictures will be much better than mine. 
He gives excellent advice. Because of him, this trip is a little easier for me. I also have a secret name for him...
P.Diddy. But don't tell him.

Here you have a piece of luggage getting weighed. It happens to be my luggage, actually. A little medicine. But mostly make-up (cue snort). It's important we get the luggage all the way to the max 50 pounds. No leaving medicine behind! The guy with the beard belongs to me. I'm not sure about the guy without the beard. But if he's on the trip, I'll find out. And let you know. He does seem quite nice.

And here's me, packing my carry-on, which my husband got up to 60 pounds. HELLO. Apparently, he thinks I'm Hercules. It's now a solid forty pounds, thanks to Carolyn's daughter (whose name escapes me at the moment. It's possible it wasn't Carolyn's daughter either. So. Hm.)

I'm really hoping people will fill me in on these names. Just a newbie here, people.

Anyway, if there's one thing I hope you take away from this is not really how much work is involved in doing a medical mission like this (that's a given--but also really difficult to convey). But rather, I hope you see how it takes a lot of people to make something like this happen. This is just a small sampling of the people involved. We have twenty-five people actually traveling to Haiti, but just imagine how many people were needed to support each and every one of the twenty-five. For me, one of the most overwhelming aspects of this whole thing was the notion that I'm just one person. How much difference can I possibly make? And how in the world can I do this alone?

But we're not alone. That's what I'm coming to understand. That's what we hope the Haitians will take away, too. For starters.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Look at My Big Lips Under the Never Sky

UNDER THE NEVER SKY by Veronica Rossi

Goodreads Summary:


Aria has lived her whole life in the protected dome of Reverie. Her entire world confined to its spaces, she's never thought to dream of what lies beyond its doors. So when her mother goes missing, Aria knows her chances of surviving in the outer wasteland long enough to find her are slim. 

Then Aria meets an outsider named Perry. He's searching for someone too. He's also wild - a savage - but might be her best hope at staying alive. 

If they can survive, they are each other's best hope for finding answers.

Not sure I could quite get across just how excited I am about this book! Love the premise, and what bits I've read of it already have me so excited, I suspect this will be one of those I'll struggle to put down while I'm at the dinner table. There's just something about outsider stories that really draws me in. I think, maybe, because so much of my life, I've felt like an outsider, never quite fitting in no matter where I was. Sometimes I wonder if we all feel this way. A little? Ohhhhh, I sense a blog post in the making...

Anyway, I wanted to tell you, first, it's out now! I just got a copy of it. And despite how busy I am (perhaps you've noticed I haven't posted in a million years?), I'm squeezing this sucker in.

And second, I wanted to wish Veronica a hearty congratulations!!!

<3 <3 Congratulations!!! <3 <3 

If you haven't picked up a copy yet, you can check it out HERE.


On another note, I'm still around. Sort of. I'm finishing up a major project, while also trying to prepare for my Haiti trip, which has turned out to be much greater of an undertaking than I anticipated. Thus, something in my life has to get the shaft while I focus on these two very important things. As I'm reluctant to let the victim be my family, it's had to be my online activity. 

I do miss you guys, though. But don't worry. I shall not forget what you look like, or the sound of your voice. I will try to post a couple of times before I leave, and then hopefully, I can blog from Haiti. That's the plan anyway. And after Haiti, well. Maybe we can have a little chat. Some tea, perhaps? A couple glasses of wine?

Miss me, miss me. Now you gotta kiss me.

P.S. Dude. I collected about $1100 for this medical mission!!!! How amazing, no? I owe it all to you guys! Tomorrow, I'll be making my final medicine purchase, several thousand prenatal vitamins. It's unbelievable how much medicine there is, you guys. All of it has to be broken down into small bags, too (of 7, 14, and 30, depending on the medicine)--this is a HUGE amount of work, so I've had to enlist some help (I used CAPS and italics in case you weren't sure how huge). But as you can imagine, getting help requires work, too, as I have to prepare the medicines, bags, and labels, and then instruct people what to do. But it will all be worth it. I can't wait to post the pictures just of all the medicine. It's freaking astounding. I <3 you guys, and all the support you've shown. 

Seriously. Whenever I have a rough day, I think about this. About you guys. You renew my faith.