APRIL 9, 2012
It seems like weeks of experiences have occurred, and yet I’ve only just had lunch! We had an incredible deluge all of yesterday afternoon and night. Sister Maureen even said the crackling thunder and lightning is unlike anything they have seen in quite a while. I was hoping night one’s good night sleep wasn’t a fluke, and it wasn’t. Unfortunately, though, John and a few other doctors were called upon during the night. The outcome was sad, especially knowing that the patient’s father had visited with John at length about his child just after we arrived. Apparently John handled the very stressful and emotional situation in a gentle, pure manner using his broken Spanish. I was proud to hear that.
I went with the Rotary group this morning to Patrick’s village, about 20 minutes from Milot. Patrick used to be a student associated with the hospital, and his village is where the Rotary is building a structure and water filter for an existing well. The children of the village were tentative at first but then came out in droves to pose for photos (they’re so excited to glimpse themselves in our digital finders) and eventually to sing, sing, sing. It never ceases to amaze me to see how happy and creative children can be with really a very simple existence.
Some of us left the well workers for an hour or more and went to Children of the Promise, which is a children’s home (kind of like an orphanage but the goal is to get the kids back living with their biological families) that Laura Monda’s cousin’s daughter randomly runs. The directors, Nicki Stolberg and her husband, Nick, are from Washington, are in their early 20s, and have been here for two years. They are pretty incredible. It was amazing to see the ambition they have to expand the complex—besides caring for children from infancy to age 4, they have a nutrition program, they’ve started enhancing their follow-up care, they basically function as an urgent care clinic, they’ve created their own medical records system, and in trying to enhance the psychological care of the kids, they are working on establishing adoptive foster-care type volunteers to create a pseudo-family environment. For Nicki and Nick, this is their calling and their experiences and abilities are well beyond their years.
We came back to CRUDEM for lunch and had some down time before going to visit with Father Joachim Roboam Anantua, the priest at Milot’s main Catholic church. Father Tijwa, as he’s known, is a local hero doing some great work to enhance the lives of women, students, and all of the people of Milot. It was incredibly inspirational to visit with him and to hear more about the microfinance program that Rotary started last year. I was impressed that Julie, one of the employees in a women’s art workshop, has been able to collect all of the initial loans of $50 that were given out to ten women last year. The group brainstormed about whether to increase their loans as an incentive to those women and how to reward Julie for her work. Julie had devised an organized system to collect and distribute money between the women in the workshop and she brought solid ideas forth for the improvement of the entire system.
It was impressive to see how much Father Tijwa is respected in the community, “more than the mayor,” according to Rotarian, Sue Long. He has the biggest home (which felt like going back in time inside, rather like historic homes on the East Coast feel, with wide planked wooden floors, brightly colored walls, iconographic artwork, substantial wooden carved furniture, and a distinctive Caribbean flair.)
After the official meeting, Rotarian Mike Poirer and I stayed for a bit to visit a little with Father Tijwa and discuss some project ideas. What a wonderful surprise to find that Father Tijwa speaks a little German! I happened to catch him say, “Ich bin sehr muede” and I responded in German to his surprise. I asked him a few more questions auf Deutsch and he looked a little embarrassed. I asked in English whether he spoke much German and he said that he started the lessons but lost the cassette in the middle of the first level. He said it was very unusual for him to meet someone here who speaks German. I have noticed. My Deutsch is not as handy for these Kriol, French, and Spanish speakers. John’s broken Spanish has already proved quite useful, and we are all impressed with the vendors’ abilities to pick up key business English phrases such as “I will make you a bracelet with your name on it,” “Jeff Monda is my friend,” and “I have very nice items for sale in my shop.” The most assertive vendors linger around the hospital and approach us in a very friendly (though aggressive) manner. Many of them seem to have adapted their names to English versions, such as Johnny and Charlie, My favorite interaction recently was with Mike’s daughter, Libbie, who is a sophomore at Wenatchee High School. One vendor approached her with a bracelet with the name “Jeff” on it. The vendor (Johnny, I think) told Libbie it was for her father. “Jeff’s not my father,” Libbie replied. “Well, you should buy it for Jeff anyway and I’ll make another for you,” Johnny cleverly suggested.
APRIL 10, 2012
The heat and rain and bugs were getting to me yesterday and I had a rather nasty headache for quite a while. I slept horribly, too, and am glad today (Tuesday) is so far a lighter day. I will go with the Rotary group to deliver coloring books to a local school in a little while, and I walked through town for a bit with Laura, Alisa, and Kayla earlier.
My head has been swirling with ideas—confusion and awe at the role the Rotarians have here, discomfort with certain vendors lobbying funds from me, not knowing how it’s best to help here, fearing I’m not doing enough here or at home…and the overwhelming experience yesterday of holding a sweet little girl at Children of the Promise who didn’t let me put her down. An employee had to yank her off of me. I didn’t expect to be so emotionally affected in such a short time.
We delivered soccer balls and cleats on behalf of the medical team (part of the Headers for Haiti program) as well as books and crayons that the Rotarians brought, to Madame Appelis’ school yesterday. It was fun to see school finally in session after the Easter holidays. The children everywhere light up with smiles and giggles, songs and clapping when we’re around, and their energy is infectious. But as Libbie, Mike and I wandered back to CRUDEM with empty suitcases (we had packed the soccer equipment in suitcases for transport and to avoid a mob scene—soccer is immensely popular here) it was hard to pass by the poorer children in the neighborhoods who were not attending school (all schools are privately run and families must pay to send kids to school) and realize that they wouldn’t receive such goodies as easily. Libbie impressed us with her sophisticated thoughts on the subject. She feels the students at the school are already receiving a lot and she wants to find a way to address the needs of kids who are not in school. We are working on a plan for that with Sister Ann’s help.
Sister Ann is incredible. This tough Dublin-raised nun shared some of her amazing life adventures with us last night. Since she was 7 or 8 she has always known she wanted to “help the sick people in Africa.” She has been committed to that goal ever since, even when her mother discouraged her at first and wouldn’t let her leave home when Sr. Ann said she was ready at age 15. Her mother made her wait until she was 21. Since becoming a nun, Sister Ann has spent her life helping people in several countries of Africa (including a stint working as a midwife in the forest for seven years); in Eastern Europe; and, since 2009, in Haiti.
Here in Haiti Sister Ann seeks out those who are most in need and helps them. Whether it’s serving as a midwife, teaching dental hygiene habits to stubborn kids or putting shoes on children’s feet, she makes it a point to give hope and skills to people in a most authentic way. When asked how she spends a typical day, Sister Ann told Laura Monda that she wanders the outskirts of town just looking for kids who are the neediest and finding ways to help them.
In the afternoon, Libbie and Mike Poirer and I visited the prosthetics lab, of which I’m thoroughly impressed. The lab was created by one of the other US doctors who routinely visits CRUDEM, Dr. John Lovejoy. He saw a need for prosthetics just after the earthquake and quickly realized that the need would be ongoing. He helped get funding together for the lab, tools, staff, a training program, and they will soon break ground on an adjoining physical therapy center.
The lab is managed by Oscar, a bright young El Salvadoran native who first came to Haiti to work in Port-au-Prince just after the 2010 earthquake. Oscar is charged with many duties in the lab. Besides creating and fitting patients with prosthetics and orthotics, he is training two local students in prosthetics. The students are taking part in the first certification program of its kind here in Haiti. Once they finish their combination distance learning and practical instruction they will have international certification, as well. The idea is for them to eventually take over the lab themselves and to continue teaching the skill to new students thereafter.
I will be spending more time in the hospital next week shadowing our team and observing cases when fewer visitors are around, but already I’m really enjoying the opportunity to have a closer look at the medical system. It’s quite a dance process they have going on, with local Haitian doctors and nurses mingling with the visiting specialist team. The general surgeon here is an engaging young physician, Dr. Sisi, from Guinea Bissau in western Africa. Like most medical personnel practicing in Haiti, Dr. Sisi trained in Cuba. When a visiting medical crew is here, his surgeries are set aside unless an emergency occurs. As a medical professional, I imagine that stop and go routine would become tedious, but Dr. Sisi insisted he likes the change of pace.
Yesterday a new angle on medical tourism and ethics popped up. Curiously, a patient had been obviously treated for his problem in the US. When questioned about it, the patient explained that he is Haitian-American and lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Since he does not currently have medical insurance, it was apparently cheaper for him to fly to Haiti, stay with family members, and pay for services at CRUDEM than to deal with the situation in Florida. I couldn’t help but think of what a sad comment that is on the state of health care in our country. I also couldn’t help but think of what a clever abuse of the system had just taken place.