Friday, October 30, 2009

Maine medical team

All last week, I worked with a medical team from Maine General in Augusta, Maine. Dr Jim brought 3 residents, Laura, Gretchen, and Gina, as well as Gina's husband, Tod. Jim had been to Haiti before, but for the others, it was a first time experience.

On the first 2 days, we held clinic at Haiti Medicare, a little hospital run by Dr Joey (a Haitian-American doctor who partners with the medical visa organization that I work for). The doctors examined a number of medical visa candidates for me, performed 10 minor surgeries, and did general consultation for scores of patients. One of our most memorable patients was a man who had broken his arm badly 5 years ago and had finally been given corrective surgery last spring. It had come time to remove the hardware in his arm, but he didn't have the money to return to the orthopedic surgeon, so our docs removed it for him. The gaggle of nursing students working at the hospital that week was in awe!

Our next day was split – we spent the morning at Wings of Hope, a home for handicapped children up the mountain in Fermathe. The story behind Wings is beautiful. My next door neighbors are St Joseph’s Home for Boys, a home for street boys and rest-avecs (essentially child slaves), where the boys are not only given a traditional education but also the opportunity to learn painting, woodwork, and dance. Several years ago, a home for handicapped children was going to close, so 3 of the St Joseph’s boys went on behalf of the organization to choose one handicapped child to adopt the St Joe's family. But after meeting the children, the St Joseph’s boys came home and told Michael, the director, that they wanted to adopt ALL the children. Thus Wings of Hope was born, run by graduates from the St Joseph’s program.

I had to be at youth group at Quisqueya Chapel in the afternoon, so the group joined me. The highlight of the afternoon was pick-up basketball after the service. Pastor Bobby frequently plays with the boys, so they were not too shocked when Dr Jim asked to play, but when Gretchen also stepped onto the court, they were surprised. At first, they took it easy on her – c’mon, women never play basketball in Haiti, but we can humor this white lady – but all that changed when Gretchen swooshed the first basket of the day! She instantly had their respect.

The team had invited me to stay at their hotel with them for the week so I got to enjoy extra time getting to know the team, air conditioning, a pool, cable TV with ESPN (football games, baby!), and lots of food. At breakfast, we discovered another Haitian treasure: Let Agogo yogurt, the best yogurt I have ever tasted. Plus, it is produced in Haiti. Delicious yogurt and support for the local economy…how can you beat that?

Our next clinic was held in Cite Soleil, the worst slum in Port-au-Prince. When I first moved to Haiti in 2007, I was not allowed to even drive near Cite Soleil because it was explosively violent, rampant with gang warfare and kidnappings. However, thanks to UN intervention, Cite Soleil is now safe enough that we can not only drive through with several white people in the back of a pick-up truck, but we can also drive into the heart of the slum and administer care to people who desperately need it.

The clinic in Cite Soleil usually has only 1 doctor on staff so they limit the daily quota of patients to 50. At 8:30am, the clinic director, Mimi, walked up to me, “We’re done,” she smiled. “What? No way. These doctors came to work and work they shall." I insisted, "Get me some more patients!” Fortunately, there is never a shortage of available patients in Haiti, so we worked on, seeing 235 patients, the most that had ever been seen at the clinic. It was great seeing how the doctors had adjusted to Haiti by this time – they knew the routine, the questions to ask, the financial and material limitations of the patient population, and the omnipotence of The Vitamin.

Our last day of work was in my ravine off Delmas 31. I love taking people down there and giving them a chance to see the real Haiti up close. There is poverty and need in the Ravine, but there is also a beautiful sense of community and sacrifice. After days of clinic where I don’t generally know the patients personally, it feels wonderful to walk the streets, greeting people by name, and just being able to say, “See you next week.”

Every time a team visits Haiti, they leave me with donations. Each team has its particular excesses – for example, one team left me a giant box of sterile gloves; another left a suitcase full of plastic bags so the orphans could make kites; the military left me enough infant vitamins to nourish a whole village. This team left me…45 pounds of granola bars, Oreo cookies, beef jerky, and dried fruit!

The street children that I meet daily on Avenue Delmas are going to be very happy.

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