Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Youth Group has been back under way for 6 or 7 weeks. Of the 100+ teens that were attending pre-quake, only about 25 remain. Some, missionary kids and Quisqueya students, have evacuated to the US and are finishing the school year there. Others, children from 2 local orphanages, went to adoptive families on the Humanitarian Parole fasttrack. Still others are just not around; perhaps they have gone to the country or perhaps they have not heard that we are back in session.

However, we do not have 25 attendees on a given Saturday. Youth group has already doubled in size - this week, we had 52 teens crowded into the church gazebo. They are almost all from lower middle class or poor families so when I hauled out the suitcase full of donated Bibles that you, my faithful blog followers, sent me, they got very excited. Every teen who asked received a Bible and there were still a few leftover for future needs.

Thank you very much to everyone who donated Bibles for the Youth Group! They will be changing the lives of young people, their families, and their communities. Mesi anpil!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Clinic 24

I run clinic every Thursday at the Surgery Center on Delmas 24. Technically, I'm working in the adjacent school, using 3 classrooms (an exam room, a pharmacy, and a bandage room) but when school starts in 10 days, I will be relocating to the first floor of the actual Surgery Center. I generally dislike stationary clinics but Clinic 24 has been a total success thanks to my team of dedicated youngsters.

Caroline is 18 years old and is a student at the school. She wants to study nursing after she graduates this summer, so she has been coming to clinic. I have her work alongside me, preparing bags of medications as I work. By now, she can predict which med I will want for which complaint (ie ibuprofen for lower back pain, cipro for UTIs, bactrim for infant diarrhea etc) and she is rarely wrong. I work much better having another pair of hands counting pills for me.

Blondy gets on my nerves a bit because he doesn't follow directions particularly well, but I don't want to kick him out. So he hangs out, helping in the pharmacy or with making patient cards as patients line up.

Josilien is usually my blood pressure assistant, checking BPs on all the adult patients before they get to me. When he can't come, he sends his beautiful girlfriend, Ruth, to replace him. I love being handed a card and immediately knowing a patient's blood pressure so we can have the "LESS SALT" talk before the patient starts listing his million complaints.

Jean Marc and Obed, aka Tweddledee and Tweddledum, are my silent shadows. They are brothers, age 15 and 13, who live a mile from my house. Before the earthquake, they used to hang out with the St Joe's boys and they would frequently come begging for food at my door. Since the quake, they have asked me to allow them to come along when I go out to work. So for the past 6 weeks, they have gone almost everywhere with me. They are painfully shy, even after all that time. I tease them, talk to them, question them, tell funny stories, but all I can get out of them is one word answers and embarrassed laughter. I don't get it.

At clinic, they bag my most common meds for me: tylenol, antacids, and vitamins. They also act as my photographers (until I get angry at how many photos they are taking of themselves) and sometimes help with card making.

Lucson is my right hand man. He graduated from the school a couple years ago but still helps out with the church and clinics. Since the first day, he has been fully responsible for the card writing, patient triage, and crowd control. If extra patients show up with prescriptions to be filled, he filters them before getting me. If more patients come than our daily quota, he decides if they need to be seen or if they can wait till next week. When I don't have an American assistant such as my friend Lauren to do dressing changes Lucson takes that task on as well. He does home visits for me on patients that I am particularly concerned about. He visits Ois weekly and does whatever extra errands I need done such as transporting patients to the hospital or taking a mom and child for passport photos for a medical visa.

Sendhi is a 19 year old graduate from the school. She helps with bandage changes, patient triage, bagging meds for me, and keeping the boys under control. She is exceptionally good at understanding the patients that I cannot understand. She and Caroline are learning very quickly - it is truly a joy to watch.

And then there's me. I see patients, treating them for every day Haiti-ness: headaches, hypertension, back pain, reflux, malaria, diarrhea, scabies, and vaginal infections. I still see some quake-related injuries as well as a lot of insomnia, but otherwise, it's like prequake days.

My Delmas 24 crew make Thursdays my favorite day of the week. We laugh a lot while we work and we often spend 30 minutes just talking when clinic is over. I count them my friends, and thanks to generous donations from friends and family in the States, I can also count them my employees. I am able to pay them all a small salary for the work that they are doing with me and I hope that next year, we will be able to continue and expand this newly hatched community clinic.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Ois update

Ois continues to improve! I have been able to visit him three times in the past 10 days and he is better each time. Angel Missions is paying for him to stay at a small private hospital where he is cared for by a nurse round the clock (not that he needs much care now, but the company is good for him). I have arranged physical therapy and speech therapy for him, and we are working on a medical visa for him.

As you can see in the below photo, his left eye cannot move further than midline. He will need eye surgery to correct this and prevent him from having long term vision problems. I just got his birth certificate so that we can start the passport application process and then apply for a visa. With his birth certificate, I realized we have been mispelling his name all along. His last name is Oyis and his first name is Retasse, but he has asked to be called Oyis, so Oyis he will remain.

Xrays of his leg indicate that the external fixator needs to stay in for another month, but doctors say he can start to walk despite it. Two months without any activity have taken a toll on his leg, so Rony, the PT, is starting him with just standing and stretching exercises this week. Oyis is anxious to walk and play again. You would think that it would bother him to have a piece of metal sticking out of his leg, but his biggest complaint was this: "My leg is too short, Kez!"

Interacting with Oyis just makes me wriggle with excitement. He has gone from virtually catatonic to full sentences and even some smack talk! He loves to tease me, my silent shadows Obed and Jean Marc, and the nurses that we have skinny arms. "The only person with big biceps is me!" Oyis proclaims. (I think his arm is as wide as 3 of my fingers).

His speech is definitely slurred, but it also definitely the speech of a fully brain functional kid. He uses the slang that all the kids here use, he laughs at every little story I tell, and he asks me intelligent questions like, "When is Giset (his older sister) coming to see me?" and "Will you come with me when I go to America?" Although I know that he can speak now, a part of me is still jumping up and down with joy when he starts to tell me a story about "My big brother hunted down a brown cat and killed it for us to eat...It was delicious. Have you ever eaten cat?" And when he cracks a joke, I have to whoop and cheer out loud!

I asked Oyis how old he is. "Eight," he answered. I nodded and then thought for a second. "No, you're not. You just had your birthday on the 11th." "OK, I'm 10," he said. "What happened to 9?" I asked.

"Oh, I skipped 9."

Friday, March 19, 2010

Crushing concrete with the big boys!

Life in the rubble

Every day's REALLY an adventure

This week, Haiti took me to Bolivia.

I spent the week helping Much Ministries, a wonderful group run by friends of mine out of Georgia, with food distribution in my ravine neighborhood on Delmas 31. We gathered a team of 50 local men to help unload and hand out 500 bags of rice, beans and oil each day. Things were a little chaotic, but it got better every day.

Security for the distribution was provided by the Bolivian Army contingent from the UN base. Note to self: brush up on your Spanish next time you are going to be ordering 40 Bolivians soldiers around! Fortunately, with my French and Creole background, I could actually understand them relatively well, but speaking back to them was a little more challenging. They provided a translator most of the time, but occasionally, we had to resort to sign language and Keziah's famous Sprench (Spanish that is mostly French).

On the second day of the distribution, I was late arriving. As I approached the site, I could hear music that was distinctly not Haitian. Puzzled, I walked around the building and there was....a full brass band! I'm not sure if this is protocol, but apparently, the Bolivians brought their own band and are planning to perform at many of their posts during their 6 month assignment. The music did not seem to have the calming effect on the mob that we were hoping for, but it certainly made my day.

After the distributions, we would ride back to the UN base with the Bolivians to debrief and plan for the next day. I think they really enjoyed having guests because they kept us for hours, feeding us, treating us to pineapple juice (must be a Bolivian specialty), showing us films about Bolivian culture, trying to get us to dance, speaking more broken English and Spanish. On Tuesday, we happened to be there the same day as a UN inspector, so we were included in the VIP luncheon. For a girl who has been living on protein bars and MREs since the quake, it was the kindest thing they could have done for me!

Where will Haiti take me next?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Resurrection Dance Theatre of Haiti

Michael, Walnes, Lele, and the rest of the Resurrection Dance Theater of Haiti, the dance team run by the St. Joseph's Family, have gone to the States for a month-long tour. Bill, my recovering spinal patient, joined up with them and is, against my medical advice, drumming for them. So far, they have performed in Georgia, Arizona, and California. They will still visit Nebraska, Colorado, and Florida before returning to Haiti. The dance theater is one of the ways that St Joseph's funds its operations, and in the aftermath of the quake, donations raised through the tour will go towards the much-needed reconstruction of St. Joseph's and her sister home for handicapped children, Wings of Hope. You can check out the schedule at the Haiti Timoun Foundation website.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Friendly faces

I have been very fortunate to be reunited with some dear friends recently. Spending quality time with them has made the craziness and the constant reminders of the earthquake a little more tolerable. Marc is back, Patricia came down from Gonaives for a quick stay on her way to the US, and Joy took a week off from college to visit her family and friends, including me. I have been able to visit Stephanie and the other HFC kids, and of course, seeing my Johnny J always makes my day! This past week, I was especially lucky to have Lauren, a close friend from nursing school, come stay with me. She traveled all around the city with me and was basically a second brain and a second pair of hands for me.