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.
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