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.


  1. Wow. Carol. I can't imagine how life-changing this mission must have been. I'm so glad you could share your experience with us. I'm glad they had you and your team there to help. So sad, but think of all the people that would have not gotten the help they needed if your team didn't go...

    Have a safe trip home. Love ya <3

  2. Oh man, Carol. This post destroyed me...but also allowed peace and hope to shine through. People like you, the other volunteers, doctors, etc. -- such good, amazing people. Thank you for sharing your experience with us. <3

  3. Oh Carol, I'm in tears.

    You were the right person to be there. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  4. Such beautiful words of wisdom Carol. BIG hugs to you and your team!

  5. This left me with tears streaming down my face. The thought of those babies... and the fear of the old woman... each person you have described. My heart is so full of sorrow for their pain, but as you said, also hope, love, & light. What an amazing journey you have had in such a short time. You have been blessed.

  6. Oops - hit enter too soon. And you have blessed us by sharing.

  7. Oh Carolina. Hugs to you and all these wonderful people trying to and succeeding in making a difference in very very very difficult situations. Take care

  8. Oh you've had some really hard experiences to get through. But I know how glad you must be that you did it. Sadly, you can't fix everything. But you're doing such good. Hope your trip home is safe and enjoy being back with your family.

  9. Thank you, Carol. You are brave! That may sound somewhat hollow with the backdrop of what you've experienced and all the hurting people you've met. But it's true. It takes courage to make a trip like this and more courage still to be willing to share some of it with the rest of us. *thinking of Haiti*

  10. Thank you for sharing this journey...the depth of your works communicate the depth of your feelings.

  11. You have made such a positive difference for so many--both the people in Haiti, as well as your friends here, who you shared these experiences with. I am so proud of you. This post was particularly heartbreaking. I looked at my perfectly healthy daughter and burst into tears thinking of the two babies you described. It's heart-wrenching. Thank you you for reminding me of how blessed I am. Thoughts and prayers to the people of Haiti, and to you for a safe trip home. Love you, sweetie!

  12. Wow... just wow.

    Thank you for sharing your journey with us. It often feels like we can never do enough but what little we can do is better than nothing.

  13. I didn't need any more words beyond Hope Love Light.

    But then to read this.
    Oh my.

    It's so big. So very big and hard and hopeless but also there has to be hope.

    Because of people like you. And the ones you helped. And all their love.

    You keep it going. You do. So yes. You are strong enough for this.

    You already were.

  14. What an incredible journey for you personally and those less fortunate, that you have clearly touched with such humility and kindness.

    All I can add, is that the world would be a much better place with more people in it like you, Carol. What an outstanding act of compassion xx

  15. Hello, my name is Jessica and I was on the trip with Carolina as well and I was a part of the medical team. I wanted to add a bit of follow up to the story of the man with the stroke. We could not heal his stroke; but we were able to make life a little easier for he and his family. This particular clinic was only 20 minutes away from the hospital at St. Ard (the one that Mission Haiti Medical started and supports) and is now run by Haitians when we are not there. There is an almost fully functional prosthetics lab AND a FULL storage closet of wheel chairs, crutches and other moblilty devices.

    So we were able to tell his family to come to the clinic to pick up a wheel chair which they did a few hours later. Now, it will be much easier for him to get around, for him to get help when needed and for him to be cared for by those who love him. No, we couldn't cure him, but we did make him and his family feel loved and feel like there was help out there. And now, they know where the clinic is should the need for help arise.

    Likewise, those babies may or may not live. If we weren't there, yea, they would probably die. But we were. So we did what we could. Baby number one was provided with fluids by us. and Mom was taught how to feed it the rehydratation water, she demonstrated how. She also was instructed via the interpreter the appropiate times to feed. There was to be a Haitian Pediatrician at the clinic the next day and the baby was to be seen and provided with formula. maybe it will be enough, it is my hope and faith that God will use it and it will be infinitely more than we could imagine it to be.

    But these few stories here are just the standouts, the big deals. We also gave advil for muscle pain (theres a lot of that when you carry large baskets and 12foot long wooden beams on your head and you dont have CVS) or tylenol for fever or bandages for scrapes and cream for bug bites. Vitamins for growing children and nursing mothers. and they said merci. with words, with their eyes, with their hospitality by cooking what little food they had and gave us much to be greatful for, think about and learn from.

    What we did in Haiti could be seen as a bandaid, but as Dave Powell mentioned in our devotions, sometimes when that person in your past, your mother or grandmother or loved one, put a bandaid on your scrape and kissed it to make it better that was when you felt cared about, loved and it did make you feel better. SO bandaids can be more than bandaids. And a large part of our mission was to show that we cared. We did what we could. Then we left with the faith it was right and enough and God would take it from there.

  16. Thank you for taking the painstaking time to post "real-time". Each post brought a fresh set of tears. You said it well, " broken, but filled to the brim"-poignant and exactly how I've tried to say it in the past. Mesi Anpil Carol! It was wonderful to have you on the trip!

  17. That's so tough. I'm afraid I'd just cry the whole time.

  18. I'm so glad you are home safe, sweetheart. I said you'd come back a different person, and I believe you have. I know it was hard, but it seems it was rewarding beyond measure. Blessed to know you and can't wait to see you!

  19. hi miss carolina! im just happy you followed your heart and went and did so much good for those hatien people and got back safe. my brother stayed helping them for a real long time. he tells about lots of experiences like the ones you had. he said going changed his life. you gotta be just real brave and caring to go and help. vous etes tres special! dieu vous benissent! (my brother told me how to write that). …hugs from lenny

  20. Wow. You have had some heartwrenching experiences there and I'm sure your heart is full. Haiti is so lucky to have had your team and you there. I'm sure you will hold these times in your heart forever. Welcome home! Rest up. You must be so full of emotions right now.

  21. This was the hardest day by far, and I am so glad you captured the emotions of each day. Will never likely forget those two babies.

  22. So my husband is Haitian, did you know that? He still has a lot of family there. I can't tell you how moved I am by you doing this. You are so very incredible. I am honored to know you in this bloggy world.

  23. How incredibly heartbreaking and life changing. Have I told you that you're one of my heroes? Because you are my dear. :)

  24. Stunned by this. The strength you, the team you were with, and what the people themselves exhibit is astounding. It makes me never want to complain about anything again. Bless you all.

  25. Wow. I know that's inadequate, but I can't really think of what else to say. This post was sad and beautiful -- thanks for sharing it. It's amazinf that you all went and did all of that. You guys are amazing!


Make your comment stand out. Use bold words. Or italics. Whatever.