Your thunder roared like chariot wheels. The world was made bright by lightning, and all the earth trembled. — Psalm 77:18
Laying upon my bunk last night, our world trembled, electricity flowed through the air with the power and majesty only lightning strikes can bring. Winds howled and water poured through every crack, separation and orifice surrounding us. Feeling very small, humble and almost insignificant I am left pondering the meaning of this very moment. We are entombed in a culture that knows very little in regards to social change. We bring medicine and helping hands with a genuine hope of lifting spirits, providing assistance, and shining a light for a better future. But do these people really need our light to shine so brightly or is that just imposing a change they are neither willing to adopt nor ready to comprehend? As this storm looms overhead, cracking loudly and forcing my attention am I really listening to what it’s telling me or am I reduced to ignorance forced upon me from sheer exhaustion?
On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled.
Exodus 19:16 NIV
Is this our message? Are we like Moses translating a message from God? Is our purpose to spread Gods love through charity, education or both? No we do not stand atop Mount Sinai but we sit atop one of the highest points of this village. Does that mean something or am I delirious? Just for the record I am in no way actually comparing us to Moses or God but are we not a voice in his absence? We are his children carrying forward, and spreading his word? Aren’t we? If so why are there forces working against us? Why are we met with buffers at every turn and why would God allow what his happening to his people here on this small dot of landscape? I am challenged as I listen to the roll of thunder and crack of lightning. After a bit, quietly and slowly I tell God I am sorry, for peace needs to overtake my brain and in doing so I slowly place my ear buds in one side at a time, left ear, then right ear, asking forgiveness for not wanting to listen anymore then tapping the “Zen” music trapped inside my personal radio station. Sleep comes quickly.
Once again our morning starts out fairly well. Gathering inside our little breakfast nook for prayer and a quick bite to eat, we pray for all inhabitants on this island, and the food we are about to consume. We also take a moment to pray for Madame Jackson as we know her recovery both mentally and physically will be a long road. I say a little prayer for Kristina, she isn’t eating any of the food out of fear, choosing instead to live on granola bars and water. She is also terrified of the shower, to which many jokes roll handily around the table at her expense! She has a fantastic sense of humor. We begin reminiscing about the night’s torrential downpour and ensuing flooding. The women apparently had rats running across the rafters of their bedrooms, and water pouring in through holes in the walls and ceiling. Rats are the sign of a sinking ship! There is some humor in the thought of rats dropping poo bombs on people during the night, of course poo bombs are definitely better than waking up to a giant tarantula walking across your leg! Now before you start thinking this living arrangement is complete crap, and the least UMVIM could do is provide decent housing for the mission teams, let me get a few things out in the open.
- It hardly rains here and they have cisterns placed all over the island to catch any rain water that falls from the sky. The torrential downpour we witnessed only lasted a few hours and was an amazing event that we were privileged to witness!
- The buildings we are staying in where built by missionaries in the 1940-50’s. They are seriously the “luxury” resort buildings of the island, so when a little water comes through you make due and know that 80,000 other island inhabitants are nowhere near as dry and comfortable as you are!
In the end, we are all lucky enough to have a roof over our head, a bed to rest upon and a floor to place our feet. It’s more than some, less than others and if we need to move a few beds to keep a drip of water or two from falling on our faces well that’s just fine.
We open the clinic a little after eight as many are mopey and dragging from the aforementioned leaking roof and rats! We are all surprised after yesterday’s rush there doesn’t appear to be as many patients waiting outside the clinic. Oh but wrong that assumption would prove to be! By nine we are in full swing and at ten the line is around the building with children playing in the courtyard. On Monday afternoon we finished late, not by choice as is the case when treating patients, but because as with every day the sun through rotation of the earth is setting low over the horizon! Light was growing scarce. It was an awful feeling having to explain to those left in the waiting room they could not be seen until the following day. As we started this morning I worried many of them may have suffered through the long stormy night with no cover or dry place to rest. I worried they may have given up and gone home, deciding that a little pain for another six months was better than laying in wet sand under a tree. I worry too much..
When the doors open every one of those tagged from the night before is there ready to go! A little rough around the edges were a few, but they survived and were thankful for the care.
Our day continues and I have to say the flow between us all is incredible. I feel as though we are just getting better and better as a functioning team. I continue trying my hardest to look, listen, and learn anything and everything I can from Kristina and Gail. I love learning new things! The opportunity to not only learn something new but to actually put it in practice is one I cannot pass up! There is no other time I will ever get the chance to do otherwise and my personal goal quickly becomes progressing to where no one will need to ask me for anything, rather whatever is needed will instinctively already be in my hand. I don’t quite get there, but I do give it the old college try! Orson remains on his game with post operation, information and medication dispensing. One by one he works with the patients and an interpreter ensuring everyone knows how important taking the antibiotics are to their recovery. Orson also has a vast knowledge of all the dental equipment which comes in handy on many occasions. François is still lurking around every turn and whenever he is in the clinic, Ronald is his person of interest. They talk, point fingers and talk some more. I wish I knew Creole so I could eavesdrop on their conversation. I know that not right, but neither is the hinky feeling I get whenever François is around! Pastor Jackie has arrived on the island and everywhere he goes, children are bound to follow. You can tell he is very much respected inside this community and pulls a lot of weight where ever he goes. Heather and Preston are awesome with the children but soon enough the little ones or “ti moun” have run dry. Before long Preston is working by his mother’s side and Heather is working with Jacy. Watching Preston, with Heather I am missing my oldest son Cody something awful and Preston unknowingly is filling a void with in my heart. Heather and I were on the same team last year and she worked alongside Cody quite a bit so the correlation is a little overpowering. Taking a break, my dear friend Caz see’s my obvious mental duress and mentions if I go down to the dock and walk to the very end, possibly there might be a signal. Rushing down towards the beach I am feeling an overwhelming need to reconnect with Cody and can’t wait to hear his voice. I reach the end of the dock, hold out my phone and stare as if doing so will make it work that much faster! 2 minutes, 3 minutes, no bars! 4 minutes, 5 minutes no gosh darn bars! I am frustrated and missing my son, and now that I have sat here for a while the emotional door has opened and I am missing ALL my children. Just one bar that’s all I need, just one! But no bars show on my phone and after 15 minutes of standing at the end of the dock like a lovelorn fool, I wander back to the clinic, shoulders slumped feeling low. It’s hard making eye contact with anyone as I work my way back to the clinic, but upon arrival I pull myself together and walk back through the door with a smile on my face.
Jacy, has been busy dealing with village leaders, Pastor Jackie and the “oddities” surrounding anything financial in regards to this mission! She has also gowned up and is working the medical side of the clinic with the ferocity of a lion. She has done more care and treatment of medical issues than any of us thought we would ever see. These people have ear, nose and throat infections, untreated wounds and a variety of insect bites, infestations and burns. There is even a gunshot wound! It is fantastic to see my wife flourish in this role. At one point a team member leans over to compliment the fact as both co-leader and husband to this extraordinary woman I never once intervened or pushed her aside to handle any EMS problems. This person is also impressed I have not intervened during some of the more serious political issues in this mostly male dominated society. Replying with a thank you, I remind them my wife is more than capable of taking care of herself, I consider her my best friend, and an equal walking alongside me in life. If she needs me, she will come get me, and come get me she has when the time has arisen. (Plus once you get to know my wife you realize their really is nothing she can’t handle.) At the end of the day Jacy, Heather and Alisa have treated malnourished, infected, emaciated and just down right sick, infants, toddlers and small children. They sing to the little ones hoping to calm their fears, the little ones cry, some scream and all the while these three women keep singing, choking back tears, and their hearts breaking over the little lives before them. The sound of “Summer Breeze” can be heard floating through the walls. That song will forever be etched in my mind with images of small hungry Haitian children. Hungry because no one can feed them, thirsty because their parents are not associated with the “right” group or cannot pay the fee for a bucket of water. Sick and covered with infections, screaming because cleaning out deep infested or infected, lacerations, burns, and scrapes hurts, it hurts real bad!
At the end of the day I have lost track on the number of patients seen, but we extracted 145 teeth! As I have mentioned on numerous occasions the medical side was inundated once again and one point Jacy came and got me because it looked as though a pregnant lady was in labor! With no O.B. supplies I grabbed a couple gowns, a water bottle for flushing teeth with a small end on it to use as suction, surgical stitches, forceps and a scalpel. It was the best I could do and I am positive it would have worked, but when I walked into the room I had some doubt this woman was in labor. There were no real contractions, and after a thorough patient assessment it was obvious this delivery was not going to happen! No baby Haitian for me! But in the end it was truly a fruitful day! After closing up shop (and yes numbers were handed out once again for returning patients) our group looked like the walking dead! It was a rough day on us all both mentally and physically, we were bloody hot and we begged our new friend Captain Jackson to take us out to the sand bar some 300 yards of the coast where the water looked like a swimming pool! He said yes he would and we all smiled. Walking towards the dock, I inquired as to Madame Jackson’s progress. He stated she was doing well, taking her medication and that she had slept most of the day. He promised us to keep her on the medications then shook our hands thanking us for taking care of her! I felt the real thanks belonged to Kaiti and her team for making the journey to the hospital, but I guess looking at the whole picture it really was a group effort. Once on the dock, Jackson called for one of his crew who brought us a dingy, we all climbed aboard and slowly rolled out into the most beautiful ocean God has ever created. The Haitians all looked at us as if we were crazy, not because we were swimming with our clothes still on, or that we had placed more people than humanly possible into a 14 foot dingy but because we climbed aboard still dressed in our scrubs! That’s right we went straight from pulling teeth and treating people to an ocean swim in our scrubs! It was fantastic and the perfect way to end a very hot and taxing day.
Arriving back to camp all of us went our separate ways eventually meeting back at the guest house for dinner. The cooks are becoming increasingly irritated with us because our group is never ready to eat right at 5! I feel bad for them because their night isn’t over until we finish and cleanup is complete. Tomorrow being a new day and we have all agreed to close shop at 5, not just for the cooks but because Docs hand is already giving her some trouble. She has formed some very serious blisters across her fingers from holding tools while pulling teeth. If we can’t find a way to support her digits they will only get worse! I know it would take cutting her fingers off for her to stop, but there is no reason she should suffer. On an additional note- Kristina is still not showering! She is terrified of the shower in the women’s guest house! Just because it’s made of concrete with decorative cinder block windows and it strangely resembles something from cell block C or the gas chamber at your local prison is no reason to be scared? Once you are inside its easy getting used to the dark corners filled with living creatures of various shapes and sizes! But putting all that aside this woman really does need to take a shower! Of course Kristina claims swimming in the ocean has cleansed her body and there is no need entering this Haitian Dachau, but we all know that’s not the case! Jacy offers up showering with Kristina for a sense of security and hopes she will take the bait but this does not materialize. On the upside the offer does bring a slew of jokes which leaves us all laughing for a while.
After dinner all of us are lounging on the steps of the guest house reminiscing about the day? Talking about our experiences is helping keep spirits high as many lows have developed thus far. Alisa smells smoke coming through the window of her room and before long we are all aware of its presence. It’s coming from a charcoal kiln just to the northeast of the guest house. Kristina becomes agitated as smoke starts bothering her lungs and before we can react to this predicament she begins having an asthma attack! Gail jumps into high gear, retrieving medications Kristina may need while the group moves her down towards the beach in hopes that clear ocean air will open up her lungs. Pastor Jackie who is still on the island is reacting to this situation very quickly with a handful of young men who are moving all of Kristina’s belongings into the men’s guest house! The men’s guesthouse is far away from where smoke is blowing so this move becomes very important in the grand scheme of things. Down at the beach Kristina remains surrounded by our team along with many Haitian children. They’re all worried about the doctor who is here to help them. Kristina’s breathing has slowly gotten better after a few breathing treatments, she is still a little scared and so are we! Surrounded by villagers all worried about her fate, she smiles and eases everyone’s mind. Thankfully after a half an hour she feels well enough to return up the hill to her new housing arrangement. Thank the lord!
During the commotion, Caz, Richard and Ronald head over and speak with the owner of the charcoal pit, hoping they can convince this man to smother or extinguish his fire for the evening thus allowing Kristina a night of breathing easier. Many Haitians earn money by making charcoal and this fire was no different than any other on the island, it just happens to be right outside Doc’s window. The owner proceeds to argue with all three men for a while eventually appearing to give in, allowing us to cover the vent holes subsequently “smothering” the fire. But when Caz, Richard, Ronald, Orson and I show up an hour later to cover these vent holes, the owner becomes enraged arguing with all three interpreters! While disagreements rage on a light rain falls on and off complete with thunder and lightning! I have to tell you there is something very exciting about shoveling Haitian soil in the middle of a lightning storm at 10 o’clock at night!
Ronald disappears then heads up the hill with an extra shovel for digging. With two shovels and a hoe in our possession we proceed tearing into the earth, scooping its fine black soil and throwing it onto the kilns holes. After placing my last shovel of dirt into the kiln/charcoal stove, I walk over and ask Caz to introduce me to the owner. The arguing hasn’t ceased and I feel it’s time for me to step in. After introductions are finished I explain to the owner that as co-leader of our team, I appreciate the generosity shown by allowing us to cover his stove. He rolls his eyes, begins making hand gestures while rapidly speaking and relays to me (through the interpreter) his concerns over losing this batch of charcoal due to our covering it up. Now being one that fully understands the burning process in conjunction with Richard explaining to me (as a former charcoal maker) the entire charcoal making process! I know he is not out any money as our procedure merely slows the process down. I also know in this man’s defense his finish date will be delayed a day or two, which is worth something for the inconvenience. I allow him the opportunity to vent all his frustrations towards me through Caz and when he finishes, I have Caz explain to him that as a business man myself I fully understand the importance of finishing a product on time for shipment and payment. I also explain that although our mission team did not come with a lot of extra money if he was so compelled to arrive at a specific number that might offset his losses I would return to our mission team and ask for help in a form of reimbursement. But before I would do any of that I needed for him to ask himself one question: what would God want him to do? Would God want him to allow us to slow this process down, saving our doctor from further asthma attacks and possibly saving the doctors life? The only doctor this island has seen in six months! Or would God want him taking money for a product not yet finished, nor really lost for that matter as what we’d done merely slowed the process and wasn’t ruining his product. As I looked dead into the man’s eyes while still holding his hand I asked once again; what would God want you to do? He threw his head back, stared up at the night sky and quieted down. After thinking about it for a moment or two he leaned over to Caz and said he needed to speak with his partner and his partner wouldn’t be here until the next day. I shook his hand, said bless you and as he walked away I crossed my Fingers hoping tomorrow a little good old fashioned American guilt would rue the day.
Heading in for the night, I looked at my watch to see it was almost midnight! UHG! Damp from a combination of sweat and rain, feet black from soot, and a smile on my face I lay down and stare at the ceiling. For some reason I don’t feel like a 46 year old man, for some reason I lay here with the smile of a kid etched upon my face! I am mystified by the power of God! I have faith in all things happening for a reason, always have. Maybe the grumpy old charcoal tender was supposed to meet us tonight. Maybe he has lost his way and needed a reminder of what God needs from him. Compassion? Maybe I am really exhausted and reading way too much into this whole episode. Or maybe just maybe I need to sit up, quit thinking so much and stare out the window and continue watching the most beautiful fireworks show known to man!
As I stare off into the distance watching the lightning I pray for the people we’ve treated, I pray for no more tragedies to surface, no more suffering and I pray for a peaceful reserve to fall amongst both teams.
In the morning I find my prayers have gone unanswered……