Wonderful night of sleep thanks to a little white pharmaceutical friend stowed away in my back pack. Drifted into slumber with James Taylor crooning ever so softly. It felt good allowing my brain to wander away from the troubles we’d already seen. So many questions running through my mind, I can only imagine what my wife is thinking as team leader? Although, I probably shouldn’t put too much stock into what she’s thinking right before bed as my wife has an uncanny ability to pass out within seconds of placing her head upon a pillow. Sadly I envy this trait.
Our morning starts very well, with a strong cup of Haitian coffee and a room full of anxious people waiting to see what this day will bring. Our team was warned before leaving the guest house that we would become inundated with patients. (a truth) This warning is imposed because the last dental team was more than six months ago! SIX LONG MONTHS AGO! Imagine just for a moment that you live where no medical or dental care is available unless you walk 5 hours or wait 6 months for a Mission team to arrive. Are you pondering that probability? Yeah it’s just like that for us too.
Our group mulls over a breakfast of eggs bananas and peanut butter. Some are doing fine with the food provided while others can’t bring themselves to eat. Kristina has allergies to so many food products, I am worried she will accidentally become ill through cross contamination. This of course would be detrimental to her health as no rescue is available off the island, so all of us remain on high alert when it comes to our food! In conjunction with this fear we seem to have a slowly growing health concern in regards to intestinal issues! Either one member hasn’t pooped yet (3 days in) or the pooping just won’t stop! Very dangerous with self-hydration being so very important! Either way poop jokes are rampant and just like school children we are laughing to no end! Water is at a premium here and ours comes from within the town’s cistern, which if you were to peer inside would never leave you willingly drinking any of its contents. (Mosquito larvae, bugs and all) But after gathering the water by 5 gallon bucket, hauling it up to the guest house, the water is then run through a UV filter, afterwards it’s run through a standard filter and finally we pour it into filtered water bottles, so chances are very good our water is clean. Still, many of us are wondering who will get “the cholera” first!
After breakfast while making the short journey towards the clinic a line has already formed and it’s blatantly obvious we will be busy again today. Walking through the people, greeting them with a hearty Bon jour and a smile, many greet us in return. They all look a little scared. I assume it’s just like being a kid heading to the dentist in America. Irrational fears are clogging their thoughts. All of us are working very hard at calming those fears. Once the doors are open for business the very same process takes place as did yesterday. Wesline (the nurse) and her sister Catia, with Richard and occasionally Jacy are triaging patients, tagging them on the shoulder with the obligatory name, age, blood pressure and complaint. Again Francois has arrived to oversee our little venture, leering around every corner, walking into any room he sees fit at any time. Whenever he shows up, an uneasy feeling takes over the room and anyone who is assisting us clams up. Francois is once again collecting money, he is also instructing Wesline to collect money as well, but Jacy goes into team leader mode and once again does her best to circumvent this system. At our stations chairs rapidly fill, one by one we ask patients which teeth bother them, can they identify those teeth by pointing directly at them, Melissa then numb the patient, and eventually Kristina and Gail pull the affected teeth. So many teeth are bloody, some are hard, a few break and almost all of have some form of tumor, cyst or infection filled with puss. There are teeth so covered in plaque you would believe an additional tooth was filling the voids. Other teeth are knarly and rotten, misshapen, with black gum disease and the smell is slightly overwhelming. We quickly learn of those who can and who cannot handle the sight of blood, this is a benefit as it allows for an easier transition during job vacancies. One by one, patients come in, sit down, lean back have their teeth pulled then one by one patients are given post operation instructions and slowly walk out the back door. By lunch time we are hot, sweaty and amazed at the resilience of the Haitian people.
Richard has grown on me, he is a quick study and incredibly enthusiastic about helping people. Before long we have him donning scrubs as he follows us around writing down every new word he hears. He has also become an invaluable asset in Jacy’s quest for answers. I am not 100% sure, but my guess is Richard is the one who helped break the ice with our nurses. It’s because of his direct and caring form of questioning that much light has been shed on this Source a Philipe medical clinic, its lack of contents along with inability to operate.
At lunch many of us are still wondering the outcome of our pregnant woman smuggled out of town quietly this morning. It weighs heavy on our minds as a little life lay in the balance. During lunch we learn she is in fact Captain Jackson’s wife! This information I wish I didn’t know. There is an old saying in my profession; “be personable but don’t make it personal”. It’s a simple statement that reminds us to always have a smile, for this moment is possibly the worst moment of someone else’s life. It is also a reminder; don’t get to know them personally, for that is when this job can no longer become bearable. It’s a hard creed to live by as caring human beings, but live by it you must or your personal life can become filled with mental anguish. So now here I am, or here we are worrying about Captain Jackson’s wife! We all really like Captain Jackson, his smile is infectious and you can tell he is really happy to have us here in Source a Philipe. Making matters even more personal, Captain Jackson’s daughter who is 4 at most 5 years old has taken a liking to Kristina! The feeling of course is mutual and the two spend a fair amount of time together outside our clinic! As she continues to come around the clinic we all fall in love with her for she is seriously the cutest darn thing you would ever lay your eyes upon! She is sweet, pretty, and tougher than nails this little Haitian girl! Later on in the week we will find out just how tough this little girl has been forced to become!
Inside the clinic our wheels become a little more fluid, smoother as the group is working well and patients are flowing inside. One problem-ok two problems have emerged. We can’t seem to keep an interpreter in front of a patient (they wander away mid operation) and the medical clinic (which we never really intended to run) is quickly being over-run. A few of the more serious patients have made their way into the dental clinic where I am able to break away and look at whatever medical issue needs addressing. After a quick assessment I simply walk into the pharmacy, grab the medications I need then come back to the dental chair and treat my patient. I get the stink eye a few times from those working the system, but really, who is going to stop me? I’d just look at them and smile, give a shrug of the shoulders and act stupid.
Later in the afternoon I begin to realize those with medical issues are no longer making it into the dental side. That is because Jacy has now become a general practitioner! (Yep we have all heard the stories about doctors who obtain their MD abroad because it’s easier-well its true!) Patients just keep coming with all kinds of issues and when Jacy tells Richard she feels unqualified to keep treating them, Richard quickly responds with a terse; Jacy with your background and knowledge, in Haiti YOU ARE A DOCTOR! So Doctor Jacy is ordained and the clinic re-opens. Wesline, joins the two of them and single handedly they treat and release many people who are very thankful. The team has expanded and through God we are helping even more than we bargained for!
Our interpreter issue becomes more of a problem as there appears to be a conflict between Ricardo (The Wesley Groups interpreter) and Richard. Keeping a watchful eye on the situation there soon appears to be an identical issue between Ricardo and Ronald! What the hell! Not being able to speak a word of creole, body language alone is all that’s left for interpretation, I quickly determine that Ricardo doesn’t wish to be working in the clinic and he is venting frustration upon the other two interpreters. Others have noticed his frustration as well, due to the Haitian male’s way of verbally communicating. To put into perspective what people are witnessing one must first understand that Haitian men can be some of the most expressive human beings at arguing I have ever witnessed! Two Haitian men embroiled in a full blown argument make angry Italian women look as if they are playing patty cake! So the first assumption is always one of an impending fist fight! But then just as up feel like you have obtained ring side seats they are laughing and slapping hands! It is a very interesting social interaction to witness if you are into people watching. Which I am…
Taking a moment to come up with a game plan it becomes obvious Ricardo may need to also vent with me. In between patients I move over to his location, square up my shoulders and as the co-leader of the group inquire as to his semi hostile demeanor. He proceeds to explain that it is not his job to work in the clinic and he is upset one of the other interpreters has gone to town, (assisting Captain Jackson wife) leaving this void he is now filling. A 2-3 minute explanation of what, where and why proceeds and I continue letting him vent as long as he feels the need. Finally there is a small break for which I calmly place my hand on Ricardo’s shoulder and explain to him the truth; he is neither prepared nor left with any argument when I tell him;
“Thank you so much for working with us today, all of us here in the clinic appreciate the extra time and effort it has taken for you to be with us, and even though you feel as if you don’t belong here, you do! Ricardo, we have all been watching you work, and all of us here need someone as compassionate, kind, and caring as you are for the patients. You never leave in the middle of an operation, you help with lighting and you actually make human contact by holding hands, listening and talking softly with a smile to each and every patient we have seen you with today. Please reconsider your feelings and stay. Remember you may not have chosen to be here today, but God has placed you here and for that we are thankful”
Ricardo smiles, lowers his head and says thank you. He is more than willing to stay, and does so for the rest of the afternoon. By the end of the day we all want him to return and help us tomorrow. None of what I explained earlier to Ricardo was a lie, or exaggeration to keep him working alongside us because we were shorthanded. Ricardo is truly a compassionate human being who appeared as though he personally cared about each and every person he came in contact with, a quality you cannot teach someone. Ricardo is a big man with an even bigger heart.
Brent is kicking ass on sterilization! This man is a machine! Smiling joking and talking with anyone who stops by as he works. We fall behind a few times and it becomes apparent hiring someone dedicated full time to keeping the fire lit and the charcoal full is imperative. But let me tell you, overall that man can hustle! Everyone is also feeling the heat! Kristina is soaked and keeping her hydrated is becoming a bit of a challenge. Alisa who has become our “den mom” has devised a short saying to remind us to drink. At any point and time ‘WATER BOMB”! Can be heard echoing through the compound. It’s at that moment we all stop and take a drink. Hydration truly becomes the key to this operations success. We can handle many other problems, but if one of us goes down due to heat stroke, exhaustion or dehydration there is no 500ml bags with I.V.’s to rehydrate us. So water management is the key.
Heather is looking a little red, but then I remember she looks that way all the time! (The whole red haired Irish thing) But at least she doesn’t have 6 inch round cankles like last year. She loves working with the children and it shows. Orson is holding up well, he is handling post-operation and cleaning trays. I still don’t have a read on how he feels about this trip yet, but I pray he finds what he came here for and the answer is fulfilling. Gail and I are both soaked in sweat! Gail is a hustler! Nothing slows her down! She is incredible with our patients! She hugs them, holds them, squeezes hands and is always smiling behind her mask! She has very caring eyes and the patients quickly pick up on her demeanor. Preston, the baby of the group, is working hard and I feel a change in this young man. I have only known him for a short time, but his demeanor is changing and you can see the personal growth happening. Working with these people of little means who care so much for each other is showing him another side of humanity. When this trip is over I feel he will reflect on this moment for a long time to come. Melissa is running at Mach 10, bouncing from patient to patient setting everything in motion for Kristina. Melissa cracks me up! When things begin to feel a little heavy, there are two people (other than my wife) I look towards, Melissa and Heather! Both with the same quick wit dry humor that leaves me belly laughing! This morning as we started I looked out the window and there to my surprise was a small pack of horses and burros! Melissa and I share a love of horses and we both raced down to see them like school children running for the bus stop! When we started petting them, the owners thought we were crazy! After being away from our horses it was cool just to touch them.
Hardly laid eyes on Jacy the rest of the day. Apparently Dr. Jacy saw almost as many patients in her medical clinic as we did on the dental side! She is a very caring person and emotionally I am worried about her as I know she will take any outcome (good or bad) personally. Richard stood by her side all day as they held their emotions in check and worked their way through one patient after another. Many superficial wounds, insect bites and burns. At one point she held a little boy who was deaf due to chronic ear infections from birth. Children with colds, scabies and staph, it was all there and the two of them did their very best. We could hear children with some of the more severe issues crying as they were being treated. We looked into each other’s eyes over our face masks as it happened with sympathy. But when a child has the ability to recognize at such a young age this pain is temporary, the fix relieves the pain forever. It really makes you think, no child should be forced to recognize these things. It affects you personally after lancing an infected, puss filled boil, then having the same crying child thank you with the biggest best hug ever! Given time these highs and lows can make even the emotionally strongest weak.
It is breaking Jacy’s heart.
Closing up shop, we once again needed to turn some people away, we had already worked until almost dark. Those turned away were once again given a number allowing them to be first in the morning line. Many of them were crying as once again this group of people had traveled from a far to be here. It’s tough watching adults cry. It’s hard to think about your own personal meaningless problems when a 50 year old woman is in tears after walking five hours in the heat to see the “white doctors”, only to be turned away until the next morning. Jacy came in and advised us one gentlemen in particular was a school teacher who walked many hours to be here. He had a few bad teeth and needed to be home in the morning to teach his class. The two of them sat in the waiting room chatting, sharing stories about their classrooms and she even showed him pictures of her students back home. Two human beings sharing a common bond formed from a love of teaching. We couldn’t turn him away for the night so while Jacy did her best pacifying those left behind, I walked the teacher from the building and smuggled him through a side door. He was our last patient of the day, Kristina made sure he would be in good shape for his children in the morning. The school teacher was very grateful and thanked us all the way out the door. Gathering up our belongings and locking up the clinic, we receive word Captain Jackson’s wife has returned. She has delivered a stillborn baby, her uterus holds a very severe infection and she would have perished in days if not for our two teams. We are all sad for Captain Jackson and his family, many tears are shed between the two groups, but we must remind ourselves she is alive. Alive to raise her other children and still be here as Captain Jacksons wife. For that we thank God she will live.
By the end of the day, over 60 patients walk through our doors, 110 teeth are pulled and countless others are seen over on the medical side of the building. It is exhausting, it is thrilling, it is unnerving, and it is a gift from God. Some don’t see the pain, frustration, exhaustion, hunger, and sadness along with a myriad of other emotions and struggles we all experienced on our first day as a “gift from God”. But I do, for you see without struggle, we can never grow into the human beings God wants us to be. He puts it out there for us to experience, we just need to have faith that it’s right, in the end.
As I write this a monsoon (an exaggeration) complete with thunder and lighting is blowing overhead, it sounds like the world is about to fall in on our heads. In my life I have seen some severe storms, but I have to say this rain is one of a kind! Imagine the loudest thunder ever, the, most comfortable wind rushing over your body while standing under Niagara Falls! It is awesome.
Richard just rushed into our guest house to check on us and make sure we weren’t flooding. He is laughing heartily, when I enquired to his giggling he says the girls are flooding and it’s funny! I ask if they need any help, he says no, it’s just funny watching them react to the rain!
I love the sound of rain.
Sleep will come easy tonight.