Monday, March 16, 2009


Another reason I love Haiti is the number of new friends that I make in my different endeavors here. It can be tough to make friends with Haitian adults because the cultural gap is so big, but when I do, it makes me so happy. And people who visit on teams may be people that I would never encounter or with whom I might not have anything in common, but here, we always share one thing: a love for the citizens of Haiti. And that is enough to make people I only spend a few days with feel like family.

Herman, the dentist, is from Columbia, but he had to flee his country with his wife and 2 boys several years ago when kidnappers began threatening them. In Canada, he had to learn English and try to find work until he could apply for a license to practice in Canada. It was very interesting to hear him tell stories about the transition - going from being a successful orthodontist in Columbia to being a beekeeper on a small farm just to make ends meet while he studied. He has finally been accepted into a very competitive program for international dentists who are applying for Canadian licensure so hopefully he will be able to open his own practice in a few years.

Herman was a blast to work with. We worked from 7am till 6pm, on our feet the whole time, doing a very demanding job. He would be exhausted but he never stopped joking and smiling and teasing and encouraging his assistants. He was willing to let everyone participate, no matter how inexperienced they were. Most importantly, he sincerely cared about the Haitian people that we were serving.

Reg is a farmer whose only prior experience with teeth was on his pigs at the farm. But he stayed with us all the time, assisting as needed and handling all the technical support. He and Herman had brought a portable drill and a suction machine made from a vacuum cleaner. Whenever we needed those tools, Reg got them ready for us. He was a big help and the source of a good laugh every time we came into exam room 2 and saw him asleep in his chair!

As Herman says, Reg is a beautiful human being. He felt like a grandfather to me by the end of our time together and I was very sorry to say good-bye to him. He was always saying something encouraging and always looking for ways to help. He even gave me a gift to help out with the work I do here.

I wish I had photos of the other team members, Jane, Theresa, and Marg because they were great too. Jane spent hours in the clinic's new lab, training the lab tech and getting equipment updated. Theresa was our main dental assistant and she kept it up despite some very bad swelling in her ankles from the heat and the standing. Marg was the team leader and she made sure things were running right. Without her, we couldn't have made the clinic happen.

I met little Amos last year when I stayed in Cazale. He had just been claimed for adoption and moved upstairs with Licia and her family, so he was very shy and uneasy around us. Now though, he is a pistol! He would run up to me and yell at me or karate kick me. He was constantly talking, a crazy mix of Creole and English that is almost impossible to decipher. I would tease him about his big head or his huge appetite and he would just grin. I don't think he understood, but he sure loved the attention.

Henley and Trey are flat out the most handsome boys I know. They remembered me from my other visits and couldn't wait for eveningtime so I could tell them stories. We gathered all the older children from the rescue center and I told wild stories about Philippe the hat seller and Denny the talking tooth and Peewee the farmer. The team members would just walk by and laugh at me - I must have looked pretty funny, pacing back and forth, acting out different animals, changing my voice, all in a language that they don't understand.

Carmelo, my buddy Carmelo, always wants to be part of the action. He helped with cleanings and held equipment for us. A few times, he covered for me when I had to run out to do something. He is so fun to goof around with, whether it's in a game of monopoly or tag or just lunch. My last day, he got very sick and Licia says he is still running a high fever and vomiting. Lori had to start him on an IV, but hopefully he'll start pulling out of it soon.

Len and Sharon are in their 70s and they were as sweet as can be. They wanted to be helping in any way, so we invited Len into the exam room to hold instruments for Herman. We were working away when Herman looked over and saw Len turning white. Len began to fall and Herman and I grabbed him. After this, I'm not exactly sure what happened. Len seemed to have passed out, but he was rigid. We had to literally shove him to get him into a chair. I started checking for a pulse on his neck and Herman took a stethoscope and listened for a heart rate. I did not find a pulse and Herman didn't hear anything.

Herman looked at me and just said, "Do you know how to do CPR?" I said yes, and we yanked the chair out from under him, laid him on the floor and started doing CPR. Thank God, after less than a minute, I saw Len start breathing on his own, and Theresa, one of the nurses, felt a pulse in his wrist. A minute later, Len woke up. We kept working on him, checking his blood pressure and his blood sugar, which was low. Eventually we moved him upstairs and he spent the day recovering on the coach. We stood around him and prayed a fervent thank you to God.

The scariest moment was when Sharon came in and saw Len unresponsive in the chair. She threw herself at him and began weeping and yelling at him that he couldn't leave her! As the men pulled her away so that we could work on Len, she passed out, came back around, and collapsed sobbing in Jane's arms. I cannot fathom how terrifying it must have been to her to think that her husband of so many years might have died so suddenly.

But what I remember most clearly from the whole incident was the moment when Len started talking again. He was still on the floor; I was kneeling on his right and Herman, the dentist, was on his left. It was obvious from the way he was responding that he was going to be all right, and we let ourselves start breathing again. I looked up and Herman looked at me and we didn't say anything, but his eyes were saying, "We did it." and I know mine were too. He reached out his hand and we high-fived over Len's chest. Zach told me later that we both had the strangest expressions on our faces and that he could tell something special was happening. Certain experiences foster trust and relationship, but there is nothing like the bond that comes from saving a life together. I don't think I will ever forget that moment.

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