Saturday, March 6, 2010

Enjoying a Cool, Quiet Day Off

Enjoying a cool, quiet day off

Saturday late afternoon, March 6, 2010
What a wonderful cool day this has been, the coolest I have ever experienced in Haiti. The sun has been behind the clouds all day and it is pleasant both inside and out. Beth and I pleaded for a day off today which was graciously given after 11 days without a break. This is nothing to brag about, as some of those here have had no real time off since the earthquake.

We slept in until 7:30, had a leisurely breakfast of sweet Haitian oatmeal, bread with cheese spread (Bongu!), some very watery watermelon and coffee. After that we packed up like good Girl Scouts and headed out for Verette. We actually were not that sure how to get to Verette, but we decided to chance it, knowing that we would probably find volunteer guides along the way and it is only 3 miles. So off we went. At a turn in the road, we asked directions in our best Kreyol and continued on the path we had taken, although a little worried that the directions had seemed more complicated than just ‘follow this road.’ After a while we stumbled upon the Deschapelles community clinic and were invited inside for a tour by 2 hospital employees who were there and saw us looking through the fence. As we left, I asked again in my best Kreyol if we were going the right direction and found that we were not. I paid a small guide fee to be led to the correct road. We ended up walking back to where we started, then down the ‘corridor’ through town to the main road. We were actually looking for the dirt path, but this did not seem to be working out, so we set off down the road. Along the way, we had picked up another ‘guide’ who wanted to sell us baskets. He tagged along on the promise that we would look later. We were eventually able to cut across a field and pick up the dirt path where there were only honking motorcycles to dodge, rather than tap taps and trucks.

The market was wall to wall people with narrow passages between the tables and other wares spread on the ground. We found cookies, tomatoes, and some thin wire to use as string; 3 of the 4 things we were looking for. One woman was very disappointed when we did not buy her tomatoes because she did not have enough change for our 50 gourdes note for a 5 gourdes purchase. Perhaps she hoped we would just give her the whole bill, but she did not try to chase us when we walked away so she probably did have less than 50 gourdes with her (about $1.25). Overpaying may have been the right thing to do, but if others had noticed, we would have been swamped.

One of the best things about coming to Haiti is that your usual roles are often turned upside down, always a good experience for getting out of your rut. I thought that I had given up academics 8 years ago, but here I find myself doing classroom teaching again for the Rehab Tech students. Then at the end of the week, I the former teacher was asked to return to helping on the wards and Beth, always a clinical person, was asked to take over the teaching. We made the switch and Beth spent Friday teaching about the gait cycle while I returned to the wards for patient care, including several pediatric patients who are far out of my regular realm of work.

We learned from Shaun, the PT on site, that one little boy who eagerly works with us in return for a balloon and piece of hard candy each day was trapped in the rubble for SEVEN DAYS. I do not know how his little body survived and certainly wonder if I could keep my sanity that long. One of his eyes is badly infected and looks as if it may not be saved. His right hand has a nerve injury from the multiple tissue tears on his arm and is stiff and paralyzed. It will probably remain that way. His opposite foot is floppy, also due to nerve damage and lack of muscle control. He doesn’t seem to notice and has learned the rule that exercise comes before a treat. He never complains when we stretch his stiff wrist and hand; a bad sign that there is no sensation present. So he will probably go through life with one eye, one working hand, and one normal foot. But he is alive!

Amputees continue to flood into the hospital for closure of their open wounds, care for infections, and skin grafts for amputations that were done under terrible conditions. Several patients who are healed have already received prosthetic limbs, a miracle in Haiti. I hope that the international support that is making this possible throughout Haiti will continue throughout their lifetime. As the news moves on, Haiti may be easy to forget.

Beth and I will see the patients in the hospital tomorrow who need Physical Therapy, then the Haitian staff will return on Monday. There are so many rehab patients here now that plans are underway to provide some consistent weekend coverage. There are several PT’s and OT’s lined up to come and help with the extra load over the next few weeks, but more are needed. Those with experience in the developing world and skills with trauma victims and amputees are the most needed. A knowledge of French will also go a long way toward preparing you to speak basic Kreyol, and all the educated professionals in the hospital speak French. Medical rounds are now held in French as the majority of the Medical Staff is Haitian, with translation into English for us dumb one language speaking Americans!

I’ll see you in a week. Will try to post again before then.


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