Sunday, September 30, 2012

Thank God for vicodin

Her name is Jeanita and she is probably 20 years old. Last Sunday she was at home alone, cooking lunch for her boyfriend when she had a seizure. She fell into the fire and lay there for an unknown period of time until someone came home and found her. Initally, they took her to Providence Hospital and in the 4 days that she stayed there, Jeanita received exactly one bag of IV fluids and one dressing change for the burns that cover about 15% of her body.
So her older sister brought her home to Jubilee and to me. On the first day, I didn't have any pain meds strong enough, so all I did was change her bandages. But since Thursday, she has come to clinic every morning for an excrutiating ordeal.
First, I double-dose her with vicodin, my most powerful pain medication. After the drugs have kicked in, I start scraping. All the dead skin has to come off, and all the scar tissue that forms in the middle of the burns has to come off too. We want it to heal from the outside in, not inside out, so that she doesn't end up with horrible skin contractures, with skin pulled too tightly over the healed areas. It's an awful process.

We're tag-teaming it. I did it with my nurse Vesline on Thursday, then with Josh on Friday. Saturday Oscar and Samuela did it, and today, Oscar and Cody are doing it. With 2 people scrubbing, it still takes a full hour to debride her burns and rebandage her. A full hour of agonizing pain. Luckily, there are several large patches of third degree burn where the nerve endings are gone and she can't feel as much, but she is still in so much pain that she cries, writhes and even vomits throughout.

In America, Jeanita would be hospitalized, maybe on a burn specialty unit. She would be continually on a morphine drip and probably IV antibiotics. Physical therapists would work with her daily and she might even get skin grafts eventually. In Jubilee however, we consider ourselves fortunate to have running water in our clinic so we can do her dressings and an ample supply of burn cream recently shipped in from the States. And thank God for my bottle of vicodin! I hate to think what this would be like without it...

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


The worst thing about living in Haiti is saying "No."

Imagine a day where every time you hear your name, the next words are a sentence asking for something. Not just any old thing, but things that matter. Things like, "Can I please be seen by the eye doctor?" "Will you please help me pay my rent so I don't get evicted?" "Would you pay for school for my three children?" "Can you do something about my child's crippled legs?" "Will you find me a job?"

I love when I can say, "Yes". When people are bloody and need to be stitched. When women come for prenatal check-ups on prenatal day and old people come for blood pressure checks on blood pressure day. When someone is hungry and I happen to have a handful of plaintains I can share.

Unfortunately, "No" happens much more frequently than "Yes". We can only see so many patients every day and when all the appointments have been given, I can't give any more. I don't have an inexhaustible fund with which to pay rent and school sponsorships for every family that asks. Some sicknesses can't be healed, even by the best hospitals in the US. And this country is full of people looking for jobs - I have a mental list of about 100 people who have asked me to find a job for them.

I treasure the occasions when people accept my "No" without complaint, verbal or non-verbal. I treasure the occasions when they recognize my limitations and acknowledge that though I am white, I am not God. I treasure the occasions when I can give people a little information to help them on their way and watch them do the rest themselves.

More often than not, though, my "No" is met with protest. Some people become belligerant, aggressive, and rude. I don't have a quick temper, but I have had moments when every fiber in my being wants to punch the offender or grab him by the shoulders and shake him until his teeth fall out. I want to yell at people about gratitude and I want to throw at their feet all the good things that I have been able to do. In a twisted way, those cases are the easier ones because I can justify my refusal with the ridiculous excuse that the person is ungrateful and impolite, unworthy of whatever he's asking for.

Most people just stand there, repeating their need, as if their persistence will suddenly change my mind. That hurts. It hurts in a deep place in my soul and it makes me want to scream. I know that the need is real, but I cannot be the savior and solve all of your problems. I just can't.

We are trying to break the yoke of poverty and to do so, we have to stop simply giving people things, because that thoughtless charity continues to grow the poverty mindset and dependence on foreigners. It would be a million times easier to just pay everyone's rent and everyone's school expenses and see patients day and night seven days a week, but all that does is teach people to beg instead of to work. There is a time and a place for giving without strings attached, but it doesn't come along frequently enough to make my life easy.

I carry the burden of unanswered needs. I carry the weight of expectations that I can never meet. I carry the accusing glare of my Haitian neighbors who do not understand why I cannot or why I choose not to help. I carry a wound in my heart that grows deeper with each refusal and that never seems to fully heal.

All because of that tiny enormous word, "No".

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A pigeon post

In Jubilee, we have a little gang of teenage boys who spend all their free time with us, being helpful and being obnoxious and being teenagers. The core of that group, Djeff (in blue), Obenson (shoveling in orange) and Wiesguer (mudding in green with me) make little toy men out of discarded bottle caps. They sell them to visitors and to Mama Kathy who markets them online through 2nd Story Goods along with the angels, journals, jewelry and other products the people in Jubilee make.

The boys earn about $2 for each "bouch-ko" man. The money is completely theirs, but frequently, they give it to their mothers to help feed everyone. The boys also put some of the earnings into a savings account overseen by Josh (and Grace in his absence). They use the savings to fund school supplies, clothes and recently, pigeons.
 Pigeons are considered good luck in Haiti and they are considered a food option. The boys have bought and are now raising about 10 pigeons which they will eventually sell for a profit. It's quite clever of them. What's also quite clever are the names they chose for their birds: Ben, Josh, Isaac, Grace, Keziah, Lala...etc. Each bird is named after one of the Americans that works in Jubilee.
Meet my pigeon counterpart.

The pigeons have a little pigeon house where they sleep, nest, and lay eggs. Wiesguer, though 16 years old, is very small, so he has been climbing in and out of it. Not long after they started the pigeon business, Wiesguer came to clinic looking like a puffy mess. He was having some sort of allergic reaction and his mouth and eyes were so swollen that we could barely recognize him.

His grandmother covered him with a flour-like powder; Grace and I started him on steriods. It took a week, but the swelling disappeared and he started to look like himself again. We still don't exactly know what caused the reaction, but Wiesguer is thriving and so are the pigeons.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Cuteness incarnate

Do you remember Lovena, the precious little girl I helped rescue from the hospital and eventually sent to Dorothy's because of her malnutrition? This is how she looked when we brought her home from the hospital in March.

Take a look at her now! Beautiful, healthy Lovena! She's been at Dorothy's for about 4 months and she is doing great. I've never seen her laugh the way she did when I picked her up and kissed her chubby little is it that good nutrition affects so much more than simply physical health?

She is stable nutritionally and she can walk if you hold her fingers. In a month or two she will be walking alone and I will be able to bring her home to Jubilee. I showed her grandmother these photos today and she was beaming with pride as she ran to get the other women so they could see her "Little Mouse" too. Hopefully when the time comes for me to return Lovena, her grandmother will still be so enthusiastic. Unfortunately, most parents are rather hesitant to take a sickly child back, even when health has been restored.
Fingers crossed.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Isaac's wake

Hurricane Isaac was kind to us. The worst damage I saw was to a little tent city where some organization had donated what looked like cardboard mini-houses. They were all ripped to pieces by the time the storm passed. An outer wall on my street in Delmas 91 was knocked down by the wind and the St. Joseph's roof lost some of its tin.
In Jubilee, there were strong winds and rain during the storm, but no real damage. We do collect water in the spaces between the school, clinic and houses, but it's been slowly drying up.

The funny part is that the farmers near Gonaives actually wanted Isaac to come and they were disappointed that it didn't bring more rain. The river that runs outside Gonaives is the primary source of irrigation for fields of rice, corn, millet, bananas, eggplants, Haitian sweet potato, watermelons, sugar cane, and lots of other fruits and vegetables. Usually at this time of year, the river is a rushing force to be reckoned with, easily channeled into ditches that drain into the fields. Not this year, though. This year, we haven't had enough rain so it's low and slow flowing. In a few areas, it's almost completely dry. 
Enoch, the farmer that I made friends with on my last bike ride to the river, told me that this happens every few years. "We won't get our harvest this year," he said sadly. "We're going to have a rough year." Like most people who meet me, he asked what I could do to help them. That's the white person's job, you know, to solve anything going wrong in Haiti. I was pleasantly surprised at his reaction to my answer. When I told him that the best I could do was pray for the rain, he smiled, shook my hand and thanked me. "Come visit us here again, Miss!" he called, as I biked away.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Look at this beautiful foot!

This is our foot lady, healed and visiting clinic only periodically for itch cream and pain meds. I am amazed!

Click here if you want to see the X-rated photos of her foot when she first came to our clinic.