Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Happy news!

Widlove, my little patient who miraculously survived when his school collapsed in the earthquake, left for the US yesterday to receive care for his eye. Along with him, we sent an infant named Adriano who has a heart defect. It was a good day in Visa Land!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Why is it so difficult to be vulnerable? I lived through something rather traumatic this year, something that utterly changed my life and yet, when people ask me about it, I generally say, "Well, it was a tough couple of months, but..." and I proceed to list off the positive things that have been happening since the quake. A few of my friends have received a proper picture of how I am and how I've been affected, but for some reason, it is very hard for me to be honest about it all.

Part of the problem is that until recently, I thought that I had pretty much moved on. But now that I have left Haiti and am forced by sheer distance to stop working and to look at the earthquake from a different angle, I am hit by a truckload of emotions. All the grief, the hurt, the anger, the confusion, and the guilt just come rushing back. My good friend Marc has gently argued with me every time I see him that I have been working too much since the earthquake but I would just respond that there is a ton to do and I can't stop. But that wasn't it. I realize now that I was working nonstop because to stop working, to stop doing meant that I might start thinking. Thinking meant that I would have to face all those quake-emotions all over again. And facing quake-emotions hurts. So I kept myself busy, even on my few days off. Always busy, always doing something so that I wouldn't cry, so that I wouldn't see the faces of my victims in my mind.

I feel sheepish saying this, but I have not recovered yet. As I drove down the 2 mile dirt road leading to Chop Point, I surprised myself by suddenly bursting into tears. I cried the whole way, guilty at being able to leave the rubble for this peaceful place, guilty at feeling so happy to be here. There was something else too and it took me a while to figure it out: I was grieving the death of the Keziah Furth who worked at camp for the past 3 years. Deep down, I am not the same person. I suppose you can't live through something of this magnitude and not feel changed.

I am forcing myself to do less and to think more. It's good, but it isn't fun. Sometimes I feel the weight of 300,000 deaths so heavily that I can barely breathe. Sometimes I can't stand the memory of those who died in my field and the fact that I was too occupied with other victims to give them the dignity in passing that they deserved. Sometimes my soul aches thinking about the mothers of Lovenide, Peterson, and Memene, little patients of mine who died. Sometimes I cry out of fear, not fear for safety, but fear of never fully dealing with this and fear of losing my poise at inopportune moments.

It has taken time, but I can say that God loves me and actually mean it. I can also say with utmost confidence that most of my life I have kept God in a little box and He simply does not fit. He's bigger and more complex than anything I can dictate for Him. So I've let Him out of the box. But I'm not sure what to do with Him now that He's out. He overwhelms me, awes me, confuses me. I can't talk to Him or relate to Him in the same way that I did before the earthquake, but I trust that at some point, He will re-teach me how to love Him back. For now, I just keep telling Him, "I don't understand You. Help me to understand." I think, I hope, that's enough.

Monday, June 14, 2010

From one home to another

The time has once again come. I have left Haiti for my summer gig at Chop Point Camp in Maine. It was a hard decision this year; I was hesitant not just because of the increase in my work load since the quake, but also because I didn't want to leave the community that has adopted me on Delmas 91. I was not going to go, but enough close friends and family looked at me and said, "Keziah, you need the time away. You need the change of pace and the change of scenery. Go to camp."

So here I am. I left Haiti a week ago, spent 2 days sick on the couch at my parents' in Boston, and then flew, still sick, to visit my former roommate and good friend, Dannae. Dannae lived with me last year at Dorothy's, so she is someone who knows me well and who, although she was not there for the earthquake, can relate when I talk about Haiti. We had a great visit, with time on the beach and time to watch our favorite movies and eat some delicious food (once I stopped being sick) and just catch up on many months of separation. It was a much needed R&R between jobs.

I made it back to Beantown yesterday, watched the Celtics take a 3-2 lead in the NBA Finals, and today, I will make the drive to Chop Point. I'm excited. Apprehensive because it's about 50 degrees in Maine today and my Haiti-acclimated body starts to shut down when it drops below 80, but mostly, I'm looking forward to one of the most beautiful places I've ever known.

Sendhie, one of my staff at Delmas 24, has taken over most of my medical visa work while I'm gone. She is not medically trained beyond what she has picked up from working with me, but she will hold clinic weekly just to check blood pressures and refill prescriptions, and she can answer my phones and keep the visa process moving. I had been hunting for someone to hire in this role for weeks and suddenly realized that the perfect person was right under my nose. Sendhie is young, only 19, but she speaks English fluently, is computer literate (most Haitians are not) and eager to learn. She also has a kind and patient demeanor, very necessary when doing medical visas and when telling a hundred different patients, "No, the American nurse is not here. She will be gone for 2 months."

I miss everyone, from the St Joe's boys and workers, to my crew at 24, the babies at Dorothy's, my neighborhood kids, the Ravine kids and the Gonaives kids, my youth groupies and fellow leaders. You don't realize until you leave just how many people you know and love in a place like that!

The reverse culture shock has been particularly strong this year - how do you go smoothly from a place where rubble is everywhere to a place where the lawns are manicured and you can walk miles without seeing a piece of trash on the ground? For some reason, changing locations awakens earthquake fears too. Whenever I sleep in a new location now, I have earthquake nightmares on the first night, awaking in a panic, my heart beating furiously, convinced that aftershocks are happening. I also have to walk through a place listening and feeling and offering my brain good explanations for the things that remind me of earthquake. For example, at my parents', the radiator in my room shakes, making precisely the same noise that my gate in Haiti makes during a quake. At the restaurant last night watching the Celtics game, the friend sitting beside me kept bouncing his leg, making the table vibrate. All these things make me panic a little inside and I have to pause and tell myself very clearly that it is not an earthquake. It is odd to me that I struggle more with fear when I am away from my Shoebox, but I have to hope that in the same way that fear faded when I was home there, it will also fade as I'm home here.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Oyis update

Oyis has been in the States for just over 2 weeks and is doing great. I have spoken to him a few times on the phone and although he misses Haiti, Dr Joey, me, and his older sister, he is enjoying his host family and all the amazing new experiences of America, such as cars, pools, flushing toilets, and ... laundry baskets.

Since Oyis was originally cared for by our team of 13 from Roanoke, Virginia, that is where we found a host family and doctor for him. He has been visited by many of the team members and although I'm not sure how well he remembers them, they certainly remember him. It's always wonderful to see how your patients have progressed, especially one with as dramatic a story as Oyis'.

The doctors have decided to wait on his eye surgery for a while, but his external fixator (that ugly metal brace that was sticking out of his right thigh) was surgically removed yesterday. We are all super happy for him!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


What's your favorite kind of pancake? Mine is a pumpkin cranberry walnut pancake that I get at Sorella's in Boston. Of course, I also love a good blueberry pancake, especially if it's made with fresh picked Maine blueberries.

In Haiti, the new favorite pancake is Reese's pieces pancakes. Sounds a bit strange, I know, but when you want to throw a party for 8 teenage boys and the only bulk food you have left in the house is pancake mix, and you don't have chocolate chips but you do have Reese's...I mean, it's the obvious conclusion, right?

For the months before the earthquake when I was living next door to St Joseph's, I only got to know the 3 youngest boys because they were the ones who played with my little neighborhood friends. I thought that the older boys were too cool for me. They aren't like most Haitian kids who would simply die for the chance to talk to a white person; they live at a guesthouse where they have white visitors all the time. So until the earthquake, although I spent time on the roof at St Joe's, I never tried to build relationships with the boys.

But after the quake, it was the 8 oldest boys that came back to St Joe's while the rest stayed in Jacmel. Suddenly I was working side by side with them in the demolition process and that was all we needed. Just sweat with someone for 4 hours and you are instantly bonded for life. Now, the boys and I hang out - we play cards, we listen to music, we make spaghetti, we watch basketball games, we haul rubble, we eat whatever food I have in the house, we bandage up our cuts and more cuts and more cuts...I attend prayers and chapel with them at least twice a week, and last week, three of them made me take them to the Mothers' Day concert at my church. They'd been invited by some of the youth but they said that they wouldn't go unless I went with them.

So for my last hurrah with my young St Joe's neighbors, I cooked about a hundred pancakes and watched them devour them. You'd think the poor guys never got fed! It was a fun evening and a good way to say good-bye. It's funny to remember that 6 months ago, I didn't even know most of their names, and this week, I'm saying good-bye and thinking how badly I will miss them.

Friday, June 4, 2010

I love rainy season

When it rains in Haiti, Haitians freak out and so do I. Of course, my freaking out looks a little different from theirs. I get all excited and grab my potted plants, dash outside in the downpour and put them on the stoop where they can get a good dousing. By the time I've moved all 6 plants outside, I am drenched but happy. After 4 months of gray dust-covered plants, it's nice to finally have green plants again.

"Wait!" you're thinking. "In her last rain post, she said that her house flooded when it rains. So shouldn't she be doing a flood freak-out, not a plant freak-out?"

Good question.

When the rain finally stopped on that fantastic night last month, I took my sopping self across the street to talk to the St Joe's folks. We tossed around a few different solutions and eventually came up with the only feasible one. Bill had the mason build a 12 inch high barrier in my porch doorway so the water couldn't get in. It's hideous, it's annoying and I've tripped over it more than once, but at least it keeps my house dry. In the below photo, you can see Frantz and Jerry standing on my stumbling block to watch the demolition.

Since I don't have to concern myself with floods now, I can relax and enjoy the coolness and the spectacle of Haitians bathing under drainage pipes, River Shoebox (the whitewater stream that flows past my door), and young neighbors in firefighter's gear.

Haitians are scared of rain. They are convinced that they will get sick and die if they get wet. "But you bathe in cold water every day of the year," I protest. No, they tell me. Rain water is different.

On Wednesday, I was supposed to leave the Shoebox at 3pm to go to the Ravine. It started downpouring at 2:57. When it slowed a bit, I called Wesnal, my community health worker, concerned that with the bad weather, all our patients would be hiding and would not come out to be seen. "Oh no, Keziah. It's not raining here," he assured me. "We'll find patients, don't you worry!" So I went.

By the time I got there, it was raining. My friend Scott, Wesnal, and I went out anyways and were soaked within 5 minutes. We didn't even make it as far as the river crossing before Scott's crocs had betrayed him and he'd fallen flat on his back, to the great amusement of the few Haitians who were outside. And at the river, the water was so high that my stepping stones were covered. We had to take our shoes off and ford the river. I just love the feel of trash under the muddy water!

Long story short, I was right. Thanks to the weather, we saw virtually no patients. Ironically, Scott and I were enjoying ourselves immensely, but Wesnal, the one who had insisted that we go despite the rain, was perfectly miserable. I'm sure he thought he was going to die at any moment.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Almost one in a million

Meet Widlove Gedeon.

Before the earthquake, Widlove was a healthy 12 year old boy who loved school and soccer and his mom. But when the earthquake happened, he was in his first floor classroom when the three story building collapsed on him. His mother went to the school within an hour after the earthquake and could hear her son inside the rubble, but couldn't get to him. Meanwhile, Widlove lay in the dark, his head crushed under a concrete column, and his left arm pinned under blocks and touching a live wire. Widlove says he only felt it shock him once - he probably was shocked continually throughout the night, but that first shock effectively killed all the nerves in his hand.

At five in the morning, the day after the earthquake, Widlove's mother returned with help. It took them 6 hours to dig Widlove out. "He looked horrible," she told me. "I could lift the flesh of his face all the way up and off his skull. And I didn't know where to go with him!" She eventually took him to Gonaives, an unaffected city 3 hours from Port-au-Prince, where he received some basic care on Thursday. I wonder honestly how he survived that long! From Gonaives, his brave mother took him across the border to the Dominican Republic. He spent 2 months inpatient at a hospital, receiving skin grafts to three places on his face and forehead as well as surgery to try to correct the contracture in his wrist. But they couldn't do anything for his eye.

Back in Port-au-Prince, Widlove's mother has not returned to work. Instead, she has been searching everything, in every hospital, clinic, and NGO for someone who can help her son's eye. Eventually, someone referred her to Angel Missions. And that's how I came to spend my morning in the company of this miracle child. He is suffering, yes, but he is alive when he should not be.

You see, there were 1,550 students in that school. Widlove was one of three that survived.