Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Look-out point

What better place to pray for Port-au-Prince than from the look-out point where you can see the entire city, from Croix de Bouquets all the way to Carrefour?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Pray for the elections!

Presidential elections take place tomorrow, Sunday. Traditionally, elections in Haiti mean rioting and violence. Many schools and businesses closed on Friday and won't reopen until Tuesday in anticipation of ugly situations in the streets.

Posters with the faces of each candidate smother the city. They are attached to every surface: walls, cars, electrical poles, billboards, motorcycles, tents, even people. Political rallies have been taking place for the past week or so, generally consisting of a crowd of about 100 people marching down the street, playing drums, honking horns, yelling, laughing and waving posters. On Thursday, when I was making my way from clinic to Thanksgiving dinner, I maneuvered around 3 very large rallies for 3 different candidates on main Delmas. They were intimidating, especially the one at a large intersection that had collected close to a thousand participants. Fortunately, none of them turned violent and so far, things have been completely calm in the Delmas area this weekend.

Everyone asks me about the candidates, but I truly don't know much. Jude Celestin (middle photo, green and yellow poster) is the son-in-law of current President Preval, so he has lots of money and is backed by the acting government. He is also soundly disliked by the Haitian populace. Rioting crowds in Cap Haitien have been burning posters of him and rumor is that the streets will explode if he wins the election. Wilson Jeudy is currently the mayor of Delmas. All I've seen him do during his years in office is rebuild his own mayor's offices, bulldoze 300 homes in my ravine, and force the demolition of all walls that were built within 3 meters of the road. He won't be getting my vote. Sweet Mickie Martelly (above photo, red posters) is a musician and he is the one that my neighbors seem to be least leery about. As Alix says, "He's the only one of the candidates that hasn't been in politics yet so we don't know if he's corrupt. We might as well try him out!"

Alix is the only one of my Haitians friends who has answered "Yes" when I asked if he was going to vote tomorrow. Everyone else either laughs at me - how humorous that American Kez thinks that it's actually worthwhile to vote - or they shake their heads solemnly at me and say that they are afraid to be out in the streets on election day.

I seem to always be asking for prayer, but here I go again. Pray with me that this election day will happen without violence and that God's man will be placed into office. This nation is crying out for a leader who cares more about his people than about his pockets. God, provide!


I was blessed to be invited to my friend Marc's house for Thanksgiving. I wasn't the only guest. Marc has a family of 4 kids that he has taken under his wing; he and I frequently stop by to see them when we are in Quisqueya Chapel neighborhood and we get to play with them every time we go to feeding program. Johnny, Gigi (below in pink), Lizianna (below with Marc), and Lucson (below in red) are four of the cutest and most entertaining little children I have encountered here. Somehow they manage to be endearing and affectionate without begging or being clingy, and they surprise us over and over with their personality and their generosity towards each other and even towards us.

On Thanksgiving morning, I ran clinic and then went to Marc's. As soon as I got there, he and I walked the mile downhill to fetch the kids and then pranced, danced, capered, and carried them back up the hill in time to watch the last quarter of the New England Patriots' game. We ate a delicious dinner cooked by Marc's mother, Glee, and took the kids home before dark. It was a truly delightful way to spend Thanksgiving Day and I'm so grateful to Marc's family for their hospitality to me and the children.

I am thankful for so many things: a God who sustains me every day, my family in the US and Indonesia where my sister is teaching English for a year, my friends around the world, teens from Chop Point who continue to be my campers from afar, my super supportive boss and her husband, everyone who prays for me and encourages me. I'm thankful for every aspect of my life here in Haiti. Today, I am particularly thankful for my dear neighborhood children who never fail to brighten my day. It doesn't matter what we're doing, whether we are dancing in the street together or making popcorn or cleaning house or teaching me how to blow the traditional conch shell, the love that is the foundation of our relationship is so strong. Thank you, God, for children!

Cholera in Cabaret

On Sunday night, I received a summons to go back to Cabaret to help at the Samaritan's Purse cholera treatment center (CTC). They were losing a lot of their volunteers at the beginning of the week and were going to be short-staffed. Could I come and help out for a few days?

I went out on Monday morning and was promptly handed the triage tent again. It was a similar picture: lots of children on the verge of collapse, lots of adults able to hold the rehydration fluids until they started vomiting, and lots of elderly folk who were either very feisty or very close to death. My favorites were the people who came and, after a little questioning, turned out to be suffering from a normal diarrhea and could be sent home with just a dose of cipro. My least favorites were the ones who got rushed in by taptap or moto-taxi and literally collapsed in my arms, no radial pulse, partially conscious, and so dehydrated that if you pinched their skin, it stayed exactly as you pinched it.

I was very fortunate this time around to have an emergency room doctor floating between triage and admit, so when those severe cases arrived, he was generally on hand to receive them while 2 wonderfully skilled nurses got IVs into the patients. A Haitian nurse worked with me in triage, refilling ORS cups and handling some of the discharges. Two young Haitian men helped with paperwork, handwashing, filling cups, and shoveling dirt over all the vomit and diarrhea.

One afternoon, a few of the staff had to leave to prepare for a flight so I was transferred to a tent of 13 hospitalized patients, adult and child. A few of them were quite sick and 6 of them were spiking fevers, possibly due to malaria, so it was a busy evening. I have never worked as a nurse in a hospital setting - this was the closest experience I've ever had! My patients all did well though, and I was very gratified to see that several of them did so well overnight that they were discharged when I returned in the morning.

Overall, rates are dropping in the Cabaret area. Last week, the CTC had about 200 inpatients. This week, it had closer to 100. And instead of receiving about 150 new patients through triage every day, we were receiving approximately 90. Although we were short-staffed and therefore working very hard, there was a general sense of relief at the downward trend. Of course, rates are now climbing in Cite Soleil so when Samaritan's Purse opens the site there this weekend, I may be called upon to help there as well.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Warning - the below link has graphic images

If you'd like to see what the cholera epidemic is really doing in Port-au-Prince and outlying areas click here.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Captured moments of the week's adventures

Stitching up a bloody foot in Gonaives

In the back of the truck and happy to be on the road again

Road block number 1

Road block number 4 where we literally drove through fire!

Almost arrived in Gonaives but happy to have left all the roadblocks miles behind us!

Our loyal US Embassy escort from Gonaives to PAP

The medical team, my boss Vanessa, and journalist Beth Macy safe and sound back in PAP. I don't think I've ever been happier to see my boss (in the neon yellow shirt) in one piece. She calls herself my Haiti "Mom" but in this particular situation, I was feeling rather Mom-ly worried about her!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

There and Back Again - a blockade runner's tale

Life in Haiti is many things. It is never boring.

A friend of Marc's was in Haiti this week working with Samaritan's Purse at a cholera treatment center in Cabaret. We wanted to see her and I wanted to get some exposure to this disease. Not to infect myself, obviously, but to know what it really looks like and how treatment actually works. We walked in and before we even saw Marc's friend, we were grabbed. "You're Rhoda's friends, right? You're a nurse and you speak Creole? Great! We need you in triage!"

Thus I spent the next 2 days running the triage tent, which essentially consisted of figuring out who truly had cholera, who needed oral rehydration, and who needed an IV. Some people would show up complaining of symptoms that I could happily tell them were normal old diarrhea. Go home, folks! Many others, particularly the young men, only needed a few hours of ORS there in our triage tent before they could be released. And some arrived close to death or violently vomiting and had to be moved immediately into the hospital tents to receive IV rehydration. It was intense and incredibly busy - going back and forth between holding buckets for people to giving out ORS to admitting new patients to yelling at family members to please sit somewhere other than the triage benches...My highlight was a 9 year old girl who came in looking like she was going to crash pretty soon, but after 5 hours of consistent ORS, she was laughing at me and sitting up. I was able to discharge her at the end of the day.

Samaritan's Purse asked us to only take general photos so I apologize for not being able to show you my 9 year old girl or any of my other patients. Frankly, you don't want to see what many of the victims looked like.

Robbie and I shipped out to Gonaives next, where we spent some time looking in the ghetto for cholera victims. One elderly woman was a classic case: she had just started having explosive watery diarrhea 15 minutes before we arrived but she was already too weak to walk. We transported her to the hospital and then I spoke to the staff, hoping that I would be able to assist them for the duration of my stay, but they were dealing with political issues between the US aid workers and the Cuban doctors who run the hospital, so I was politely told that they would call if they needed back up. I did get to do a brief teaching with the Haitian nurses staffing the ORS tent, but then I left. I went back to the ghetto, stitched up a boy's foot, and hung out with the kids under the gorgeous sunset.

On Tuesday morning, I'd planned on doing more home visits in the slums, but I got an urgent call from my boss, Vanessa Carpenter, ordering me to go back to Port-au-Prince immediately. Vanessa had gone to Cap Haitien with a team of doctors from Maine and a reporter from Virginia to help with the cholera epidemic at Bon Samaritan Hospital in Limbe. Since their arrival by helicopter, the streets had erupted in rioting, a desperate people's response to a disease they fear and blame on the United Nations. Vanessa and the team needed to leave the hospital because they were due to fly out on Wednesday and because with upcoming presidential elections, it was only going to get harder to travel.

I am sheepishly happy to admit that I did not obey my boss. Instead, I got into a truck with my good friends Emory, Kathy, and Bryan. Robbie and a Haitian pastor named John also came with us. We knew that there was rioting and road blocks the whole way there, but we prayed and felt a distinct peace to go and rescue to medical team.

We hit 6 road blocks on the way to Limbe, with escalating violence each time. At the first one, it was just a large truck pulled sideways across a bridge. At the next, there was a truck, a barricade of large rocks, and a small mob of teenagers hurling rocks at us from the hills. There was glass all over the ground, but apparently they had run out of bottles by the time we arrived. At another one, burning tires completely blocked the road and an angry mob leader paced around waving a wooden club and threatening to smash windows if we tried to go through. And the last one had trees down across the road and a crowd that swore at us, threw rocks, and waved machetes.

But each time we stopped, we watched God open doors. Bryan and I would jump out of the truck, and start explaining that I was a nurse and we had medical supplies in the truck and we needed to get through to Limbe. Situations that would normally made me really skittish seemed like a walk in the park. Keys to trucks blocking the road would mysteriously appear after block leaders had assured us that the key and driver were nowhere to be found. Rocks would fall near us, but not hit us. At the tire burning block, we literally drove through fire. I have no explanation for how we got through 6 road blocks without any injuries or major violence except that God was moving things for us.

Again, I apologize for the limited photos but Haitians under normal circumstances hate having their photos taken so I didn't think photographing angry Haitians was a great plan.

We reached the hospital in the mid-afternoon. The docs were happy to see me, to say the least. So we piled back in the truck and drove through only 3 road blocks to get back to Gonaives (appears that some of the crowds had gotten bored and simply given up). The team spent the night at Emory's place in Gonaives and drove into Port-au-Prince this morning. Of course, the great irony of the morning was that the US Embassy, having heard about their predicament, wanted to help. They did not have security clearance to come rescue the doctors from Limbe, but once they were safely in Gonaives, a convoy could be sent. So we met 2 Embassy vehicles on our way into PAP and got the royal escort on the completely safe roads home.

And this is why my life in Haiti is never boring.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Busy busy busy

I am leaving for Gonaives momentarily, but a quick note so you know I'm alive and kicking.

Our medical team arrived, did one day of clinic in PAP and then got called to a hospital in Cap Haitian to help with the cholera epidemic. I opted not to go so that I could instead go to Gonaives, to help my friends with cholera there. Of course, plans never go exactly as you intend here, so I ended up spending 2 days running the triage tent at a cholera treatment center in Cabaret. As you can imagine, it was a zoo. Photos and better updates to come.

And now, to Gonaives where I'm not sure what I will be doing, but I'm sure I will be doing something.

Keep praying for us!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

My loyal shadow

This is Robbie. Robbie is a videographer. He was hired by Angel Missions Haiti to be my shadow and film every move I make for 3 1/2 weeks.

OK, slight exaggeration. Robbie is here to film everything that Angel Missions does so that he can make a documentary on us and a few short clips to put on the website. Of course, this is Haiti, so he has also been carrying water, painting, preparing oral rehydration solutions, and helping us furnish the house at Delmas 5 that we recently rented to host our medical teams. His wife, Kristal, stayed with us for his first week here too and she got to play his assistant, my assistant, and Vanessa's assistant, depending on the day.

The house at Delmas 5 has been a source of much frustration for me. From plumbers who are hired to replace a blocked drain and instead rip out an entire bathroom, to electricians who leave unencased live wires within easy reach of Bill's neice and nephew, it has made me want to rip my hair out on more than one occasion. Edjour and I finally got all repairs done and then I was perfectly content to hand the task of furnishing the house over to Vanessa. I spent one day with her, helping to find rugs, kitchenware, a stove, brooms, and shelves, but for the most part, it has been Kristal, Edjour and Sendhie who have helped her turn the house into a home. It's quite comfortable now and has the major perk of having national electricity nearly 24/7.

Meanwhile, Robbie has been following me everywhere : to the ravine, to clinic, to cholera teaching sessions, to church, to the grocery store, to medical visa appointments, to tent cities during hurricanes...Sometimes I have to wear a cumbersome wireless microphone; other times, I have to give elaborate apologies to Haitians who think he is filming them and get insulted. Last week, I dedicated one afternoon solely to answering interview questions and feeling like Angelina Jolie.

I already had a good idea of what it's like to be a celebrity just from living in Haiti. People yell my name or "Blan" as I walk by in the street; children just want to touch me and play with my hair; doors of wealthy institutes open for me almost magically; I get moved to the front of lines at offices and banks; people who only barely know me will boast about their white "friend" Keziah and strategically meet me on the street so that others can observe them being recognized by the American. Well, thanks to Robbie, now I know another aspect of the celebrity lifestyle - the paparazzi part!

OK, another slight exaggeration. It's really not like paparazzi. I gave him permission to film me and he has been very sensitive to cultural taboos about filming and about giving me space when I want it. It's just a little odd to be treating a woman for her vaginal infection and suddenly remember that every word I say is being recorded and captured on film...

Monday, November 8, 2010

Hurricane and cholera updates

Things have been rather hectic in Haiti lately, and on top of little issues like hurricanes and epidemics, we haven't had power here at the Shoebox for nearly a week. Again. I don't really mind living by candles and flashlights, but when it comes to internet access, not having power is a bit of a hinderance.

We made it through Hurricane Tomas without much damage. In Port-au-Prince, it has mostly just been a long weekend of rain. I was out in the middle of the night during the worst of it checking on tent cities in my area and though everyone was wet, the only injury I encountered was a bump on a women's head where a piece of wood framing had come down on her. People are hungrier than usual because with the storm, most markets closed, but overall, we did quite well considering the catastrophe that it could have been.

Most schools were closed in anticipation of the storm. In my neighbhorhood, that meant kids hanging out at my house helping me do hard tasks like...eating pizza. Over at St Joe's, the boys were thrown right into the bucket brigade...or into the wheelbarrows.

We continue to send supplies out to our collegues in the Artibonite where the cholera first hit. Vanessa, my boss, has been in country for about 2 weeks (more about her visit in another post) and she has spent many hours preparing oral rehydration solutions with water, salt and sugar. This week, the kids and I joined the party. It's good to add very important English words like "Shake" and "Reconstitute" to their vocabulary.

Today, I got the very bad news that cholera has hit Gonaives. My friends who work in the slums there have already had several neighbors die of the disease and they are fighting it with all they have. I am working to get my hands on IV fluids for them and am trying to find a way to get there myself. Of course, at the same time, we have heard reports that over 100 cases of cholera are being investigated today in Cite Soleil, the worst ghetto of Port-au-Prince. If those reports are true, there is no need for me to go the cholera. The cholera will come to me.

I love Haiti, but sometimes, I just wish it would be a little less Haiti-esque!