Saturday, January 29, 2011

Clinic one-liners

One of the reasons I love working in the ravine is that the people have figured out what can be treated medically and what can not. At clinic, I'm not so lucky.

"Miss Kez, I need some meds for my son. He's not fat enough."

"Don't you have something that can make my hair more beautiful?"

"Every time I climb a hill, I get out of breath. What's wrong with me?"

"My toddler has had these strange red bumps on the exact same spot on both his feet for 3 days....Well, yes these are new sandals that I bought for him 3 days ago. What do they have to do with the red bumps on his feet?"

"When I eat too much, my stomach hurts."

"Doc, too many women love me."

"I need medicine. You see, every now and then, I have to pee!"

Yes sir. I love running clinic in Haiti :)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Grief and joy

The anniversary of the earthquake was not simply one day of mourning. It was a whole week of remembering and grieving and reliving the trauma. I had trouble sleeping that week and had several nightmares; I woke up most mornings already emotionally drained, just from my restless nights. The worst part was how intense and ripe the memories were. I was constantly thinking to myself, "One year ago today, at this exact time, I was climbing over the rubble of my street." Or "One year ago, right now, they'd found Bill's body and I was running up the hill expecting to find him a bloody broken mess." The victims who died under my care, the ones who should have died and did not, the night at the hospital with Bill, the sights and sounds and smells of the all came flooding back. I suppose that's how it is for everyone who has lived through a really painful incident.

I was relieved to discover that my primary emotion was sorrow. There was fear and a lot of questions for God, but none of the guilt and anger that had plagued me for months last year. I cried a lot during the week of January 12th; in fact, almost anytime that I was alone, I cried for those I'd lost, for the burden of responsibility I had carried in the early days, for the loneliness I'd felt as my friends evacuated, and for the fear that reigned for months afterwards. I grieved for the memories of those emotions, but I didn't feel them. Grief is difficult, but at the same time, it's almost soothing and healing in its pain.

And then, 10 days after the anniversary, I walked across the street to St Joseph's and beheld something beautiful. For the first time since the quake, all the boys were back, along with all the members of the dance troupe and some of the children from Wings of Hope, the handicapped home. They were all together and you could taste their excitement!

What an afternoon it was! A pair of popular singers from Puerto Rico who had donated a large sum of money for reconstruction was visiting for the first time, so the boys had gathered to perform for them and thank them. The last time I saw the boys dance was the night before the earthquake. So seeing them dance almost exactly one year later, with the same enthusiasm and passion, was amazing.

The next source of joy was being reunited with Ben Skinner, my friend and Times magazine author. He is the one who flew in 4 days after the earthquake to medivac Bill to the US. We spent one terrifying night all together in my Shoebox, with some of the worst tremors I've experienced, and then one trying but victorious morning at the airport, campaigning to get Bill out. I've seen Ben a few times since that day, and each time, it is a delight to have him back and each time, he cries when he leaves.

It gets even better though. Bill has spent almost the entire year in the US and Canada fundraising, but he was home for this event and he drummed. When I was taking care of him after the quake, his injuries were so bad that he asked me once if he would ever drum again. I remember so clearly grabbing his shoulders and with tears in my eyes, answering him, "You will drum again, Bill Nathan. I promise you that." And here he was, drumming. Drumming with the same strength and intensity that he'd had before he fell to what should have been his death.

But the pinnacle, the greatest moment, was seeing one 13 year old boy. Of all the St Joe's boys, TiPatrick was the one I knew best when the earthquake happened and he is the one who should have died on the field from his injuries. He's the only person I cried over that first night and the one that I prayed most desperately for. Since the quake, he has been living with the other boys in Jacmel and I have not seen him. Reports have told me that he's doing well physically, but that doesn't mean a thing until I've seen him with my own eyes. And on Thursday, I did just that. I saw, hugged and rejoiced over TiPatrick.

Joy. Out of such grief. Joy.

Cholera begins to abate

I made a visit this week to the Samaritan's Purse cholera treatment center (CTC) in Cite Soleil. When I was helping out during Thanksgiving week at their CTC in Cabaret, they were just getting ready to open this new center. It has 2 huge warehouse-like buildings, built of wood frames and tin roofs, with the capacity for 200 total patients. In addition, a series of tents outside contain triage, an oral rehydration station, and a discharge are. They were ready to handle at least 300 patients at a time!

But when I arrived, my friends happily informed me that there were only 30 inpatients and about 10 in the ORS tent! Their highest occupency was a few weeks ago and even then, it was only 100. I have not heard how cholera is treating the countryside south and west of Port-au-Prince, but the rates here in the capital are dropping without ever reaching the deadly levels we feared. Good good news!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Drawing God

At our first youth group session after the holidays, we asked the kids to draw God.

I know that sounds ridiculous. I mean, how can you draw something that you've never seen, something that you can never fully understand, something that has so many attributes? How could you possibly limit the limitless, awesome, majestic, holy, powerful, loving, righteous, all-knowing God of the universe to a piece of paper?

We asked anyways. And the results were some of the most incredibly insightful, creative, moving images that I've ever seen. The teens truly showed through their artwork the hope they have for God's intervention in Haiti, their growing understanding of His great love, and their acknowlegement of His sovereignty.

(In the above picture, the artist wrote "He is the one that melts the coldest hearts; all it takes is time.")

(In the above picture, the description reads "This is the old Haiti when people were sleeping under tents...And this is when God changes the tents into new houses for the people in the new Haiti.")

How would you draw God and what He's doing in your life?

Medical visas are slow

Here at Angel Missions, we are still working on some of the visas that were started over the summer. It has been a nightmare trying to obtain the records from National Archives that will allow us to have passports made for the children. Without a Haitian passport, we cannot apply for a US visa. Kerverson, a little boy from Dorothy's with spinal and leg deformities, Whitney, a little girl with a congenital amputation, and Bethsarida, a baby with a recto-anal malformation, are top on the priority list but are still waiting. Edjour, AMH's paperwork guy, finally got a passport for Bethsarida, so hopefully she will travel soon, but the other two as well as a dozen more, are at a roadblock. Fortunately, only one of those children has a life-threatening problem: little Yanncky Noah, who has what is most likely a cancer of the eye. He does have a passport, but we are still looking for an eye doctor who is willing to donate his services to save Yanncky's life.

Meanwhile, new patients continue to arrive. Rose Carline is a little cleft lip and palate baby from the countryside. We have a doctor for her but have difficulty contacting her mother to get the legal paperwork done here in Haiti. Luckily, the mother is doing a good job caring for Rose Carline, so she isn't in too much danger while she waits.

Nathaniel is a hydrocephalic baby. So far we have nothing for him - no passport, no doctor in the US, no hospital, no host family.

Mardochee is 11 years old and she has a disease called retinitis pigmentosa. I don't know much about the disease but I do know this: Mardochee is going blind. Certain therapies and vitamins could help save the limited sight she still has, but we need to move fast!

Lastly, Dave Mike is an infant with bilateral deformations in his legs. As you can see in the photo, his right foot deviates dramatically to the right and his right knee is partially locked. His left leg deviates to the midline and his left foot is severely clubbed. He also has no passport, doctor or hospital yet, but AMH has some wonderful orthopedic doctors, so hopefully we will find someone easily for him.

The staff that sweeps together, stays together

An American recently visited the clinic at Delmas 24. "Oh!" she exclaimed. "Is all this dust from the earthquake?"

*Slightly embarassed silence.*

I and my clinic staff, Sendhie and Lucson, always start the day by sweeping. Granted, we only hold clinic there on Thursdays, so each time there is 7 days worth of dust to sweep up, but my guest was right, it is an extraordinary amount of dust. I believe it can be blamed on the large roads and the construction nearby, exaggerated by being completely undisturbed all week. When I got back to Haiti after my Christmas break, clinic had been closed for 3 weeks. We took our trusty brooms (named Albertina and Papi Albert) and swept up enough gray concrete dust to build a house for someone. All from the one main clinic room! We could have built a grand cathedral with all the dust we swept from the pharmacy, the halls and the stairway.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

One year ago

I know that I should write a beautiful reflection about January 12th, 2010, and how the past year has changed my life, but tonight, I cannot. Soon, I will, but not today. Today, all the memories are flooding back and with them, the fear, the pain, the loneliness, the confusion, and the deep grief that accompanied those days. It is an awful night to be a Haiti earthquake survivor.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Ravine beauties

I love doing home visits in the ravine. Everyone down there loves seeing me...well, almost everyone. I've been taking care of Samania since she was born but I've never given her a shot or drained an abscess on her or done anything that would cause her pain. Despite that, she screams whenever she sees me and runs and hides! In the below photo, she's actually hiding under a sewing table, waiting for me to leave!

Sunday, January 9, 2011


One of our youth group girls, Ruth Francois, is from a poor family and seems like your average Haitian teenager until you hear her sing. She leads the worship music at youth group and sings in the worship team most Sundays. She recently wrote this song and performed it at church. The song is called Set Your Eyes on Him and was inspired by an encounter she had after the earthquake with a desperate mother who had lost her home and all her belongings.

Click here to give your ears a real treat. Ruth is my favorite singer in the world! I am so proud of her and I can't wait till I can get her songs on ITunes.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Home again, home again

My return trip included an overnight so I had to go through the check-in process twice, in Boston on Wednesday afternoon, and in Miami on Thursday morning. The line at American Airlines in Miami was about 3 miles long and the suitcases I was carrying weighed about 5000 pounds. As I got in line, an attendant asked me what my destination was. "Port-au-Prince, Haiti," I panted. "Oh, you need to go the next terminal," she pointed back outside where I'd just come from. So I gathered up my gargantuan bags and began the trans-terminal trek. A few years later, I walked through another set of doors, only knocking over 6 people with my 10 foot-long Army duffle bag, and prepared for another 3 miles of queue. To my utter astonishment, I saw a line of exactly 5 people and a sign that said:

Who knew that being on a flight to Haiti automatically won you VIP treatment in Miami?

By 2pm, I was inside my Shoebox. Not without a battle, though! The demolition at St Joseph's has accelerated recently and there was a veritable mountain of dirt in front of my house. I had to kick clumps of dirt and rock away just to open my door. The pile is literally at my doorstep and is a good 3 feet higher than my house!

Frantz was at my side instantly and helped me unpack everything, including some very handsome clothes for him. The rest of the kids followed to help unpack, inspect my American goodies, cook me pancakes and watch High School Musical 3 for the millionth time. It is good to be home.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The year of Frantz

Recap of the year 2010: Frantz. He is my most frequent companion, often the first person I see in the morning and the last I see in the evening. We have had some very entertaining and silly days together! His face shows up in nearly all of my photo albums, not just because of the amount of time he spends in my company but also because he is so stinking photogenic!