Monday and Tuesday, Michelle, Daisy and I went with the Parish of the Epiphany to their mobile medical clinics. Yesterday was in Mattheu, which is the usual spot for Monday. We were driven over to l’hopital St. Croix, and dropped off at the front door where the translators were waiting. Of course I scanned the men and quickly found my dear translator from two years ago, Peterson Germaine. The trip two years ago was physically and emotionally draining for me — seeing so much poverty and suffering, and working so hard in such heat and awful conditions. Peterson was not just good at his job, but he took me under his wing and was a protector and supporter. I am not sure I would have survived that week as well as I did without Peterson by my side. He taught me that kindness and compassion are not bound by culture or country. I will always be grateful for what he did for me and seeing him was wonderful.
We piled into the trucks and headed off to Mattheu. As usual, when we arrived at the site, there were already people waiting for us. We started the usual chaos of setting up, and people started coming in to be seen. As soon as things started to get going, I felt this rush of excitement — remembering the experience of doing this two years ago, feeling like you were helping people who would otherwise be without medical care, and working together with this great group of Haitian and Americans. Although it’s totally exhausting and draining, doing these clinics is one of the most satisfying experiences I have had as a nurse practitioner.
There was a school right next to the clinic, so Daisy and I went to see the adorable preschool kids in their uniforms. Interestingly, they were having rice and beans for an early lunch, which was amazing because we didn’t think that any of the schools around provided food. The kids were very cute, but totally distracted by us, so we went back to the clinic to get to work. We had a very interesting case, a teenage girl who had a fever and these continuous, involuntary and abnormal movements. All of the American doctors and NPs had NO idea what was wrong, but Dr. Alex, our Haitian doctor, diagnosed her with tetanus. Certainly not something ANY of us had ever seen. Luckily we did have antibiotics to treat her and hopefully she will make a full recovery. Also had a little fun with Daisy, not telling her until after she had played with the cute little boy for 10 minutes that I had just diagnosed him with scabies. I did offer some hand gel afterwards . . .
Today we headed off toward a place we had never been before and no one knew where it was. We left in the trucks and headed off on the main road out of Leogane. We came to an area densely packed with roadside markets, and took a sudden left onto a small dirt road with markets and stalls lining the sides of the road and a massive crowd of people who magically dispersed to let us through. The markets were amazing, with everything you would ever need to buy — grains, corn, fruits, vegetables, hair accessories, rum, diapers, sunglasses, motor oil, etc. The drive became more and more rural, with crops growing by the sides of the road and many farm animals grazing. The road then slowly turned into a riverbed, and we drove along the bumpy, mostly dry riverbed. After a long drive, we stopped and had to get out and hike about 30 minutes up a huge mountain. It was about 90 degrees out, blazing sun with no shade. Although I had been wishing I would have an opportunity to hike in Haiti, I am pretty much over that now.
Once we stopped sweating (which took a while) we had another great day at the clinics. I saw some adorable kids and some wonderful older adults. My favorite was an 87-year-old man who was a farmer and had lived in the mountains for his whole life. He had a great spirit, and only complaint was that he had some back pain. He felt he’d had a great life, but feared he was getting old, because he just couldn’t keep up like he used to when he was younger. All I could think was that living to the age of 87 in Haiti and only having a little back pain was the biggest miracle I had seen in a while.
I had a few hard moments today — people that needed more help than we could provide, or had problems that couldn’t be fixed. There was a blind baby — which is sad, but in the US, that child would have so much support and offered so many services. A child in Haiti who is blind has a very dim future. Several times while I was seeing patients, I was overwhelmed with the feeling that life is unfair. With my white skin, American citizenship, graduate degree, and upper-middle-class status, I have every advantage in the world over this poor, black person from rural Haiti. Yet, I truly believe that we are all God’s children, and the lives of these people are in no way less valuable than mine. I can’t change the awful reality of inequities in the world, but I do my best to look these people in the eye, touch them on the arm or hold their hand, show them respect, and let them know that in the ways that matter, we really aren’t all that different.