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.