Saturday, February 25, 2012

Not my favorite week

It's not easy for me to write about the hard parts of Haiti. I find the stories of fun and progress and cute children much easier to report to the world. But the reality is that Haiti is hard sometimes; in fact, it's hard most of the time, and to ignore that is to write partial truths.

This week has been hard. Very hard.

It started with Thabita, one of my sweet youth group girls. She and her sister, Diamanta, lost their father to a stroke. I called her as soon as I heard the bad news and all I could do was cry with her as she begged me to "Do something, Kez. My family, me, we are all broken. What are we going to do now?"

On Monday, just days after Thabita's loss, one of the women who lives in Cite Brian, the little concrete houses behind the abode house, brought an 18 month old girl to clinic. We'd seen her already and sent her to the hospital because her illness puzzled us. They wouldn't admit her. So on Monday, Roselande lay in Grace's lap, breathing that shallow, raspy breath that I've only ever heard just before death. We rushed her to hospital and she was dead within 20 minutes of arriving. Later that morning, a neighbor took me to the little red house where her body lay wrapped loosely in a white sheet. I knelt beside her, cried and told her I was so sorry. Outside, her family wailed in Haitian mourning custom and the curious neighbors whispered about the white nurse who cried for the baby.

We have been helping to coordinate care of a tiny hydrocephalic baby named Samuel for the past 4 months. Neurologists examined him in Port-au-Prince in Octobor and sent him back to the orphanage to die but somehow he hung on until Wednesday morning. Though we knew that we should rejoice that his suffering was over, it was still incredible difficult to watch that infant-sized coffin go into the ground and to hear the women who cared for him say, "It feels like we just lost the battle."

We thought we'd cried as much as one can cry in a week. We were wrong. Thursday morning brought us a week old baby girl whose mother had died, leaving her and 2 older sibling behind. The grandmother was hoarse almost to the point of being mute from all her wailing and mourning. And minutes later, Oscar told me that Erilien, a 17 year old boy who'd come to clinic 3 weeks ago with probable tuberculosis and HIV, had died.

Five deaths in a one week period. It's not supposed to be like that.

We don't fear death in Haiti as much as people sometimes do in the US; it's a part of life here. But as nurses, we feel responsible in some strange way for every person who's ever come through our doors, and when one of them dies, we grieve not only the loss of life, but also the failure to preserve it. This week, the grief was overwhelming and it was paralyzing. I have avoided our clinic since Thursday and I dread walking back into it on Monday. If I'm not in clinic, perhaps no one else will die.

Every kid needs a fort!

Every kid needs a fort and I particularly love the latest one that the Jubilee kids have made. It will be theirs for a few more weeks until it becomes the intended finished product: a latrine.

Friday, February 24, 2012

All grown up in Port-au-Prince

When I went to Port-au-Prince last weekend for youth group, my little buddy Frantz practically attacked me in his excitement to have me back in the neighborhood. When he'd calmed down and stopped telling me I'd abandonned him (oh, my aching heart!), he asked for a marker and paper. I watched as the boy who had needed a full year to learn how to count to 10 wrote my name, "Kez", without any instruction! The only other word I've ever seen him write without copying is his own name. I know I'm not his mother, but I sure felt like a proud mama right then!

And moments later, I had to laugh out loud when he told me what the sign was for: "It's for the kids, when they come looking for you. It needs to say, 'Kez is not here. Come back another time.'"

Frantz isn't the only one that has grown up in my absence. St. Joseph's has been nearly completed! It is a huge, colorful, creative building, with lots of light and space. Most importantly, it is the most structurally solid building I've ever seen in Haiti.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Heroes of the week

Last week's first hero is Osidye, one of our community leaders from Jubilee. He appeared in clinic with a long gash on his arm and another on his chest. The story is that he was walking through the neighborhood when he saw a circle of young men with a teenage girl in the middle. Knowing that the situation was trouble, he pushed through the crowd, took the girl's hand and led her out to safety. The men were all angry, probably somewhat drunk, and one of them attacked him!

The other heroes are Chris and Isaac, two of our long term tribe members, and week-long visitors, Luis and Cheryl. A woman came to clinic on Thursday after a botched home abortion. Her blood pressure was only 70/40, she was running a very high fever, and she was going into shock. I made the call and my Haitian version of 911 was answered by Isaac, who arrived in Much Ministries' white truck to rush us across town to Providence Hospital. He only ran one taptap off the road in his enthusiastic ambulance driving!

My week of recon at Providence paid off big time. Nurses and one particularly kind doctor I'd befriended were on duty and helped me get the woman admitted. Our next needs were blood so Chris, Luis, and Cheryl volunteered to come with me to the hospital's blood bank. Many people would be too afraid of the risks but those 3 were determined to do their part to keep our patient alive.

A few hours later, I was informed that the hospital had performed a D&C, removing the leftover placenta and fetal parts from the woman's uterus, an operation that I thought they couldn't do in Gonaives. Nothing short of a miracle, as far as I'm concerned! They had given her blood and strong IV antibiotics. Her temperature had dropped and her blood pressure had risen, both to normal levels. Two days later, she was home and healthy.

Thank you, heroes!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Clinic staff

My main job in Gonaives at the moment is getting the Jubilee clinic up and running. It was closed over the holidays and the solitary Haitian nurse who used to run the show, quit in December. So Grace and I have started from scratch, hiring a new nurse and 3 nursing assistants (NA) trained in Much Ministries' Medical Trade School this past fall.

We spent a few weeks prepping the clinic and our supplies, then we spent 2 weeks just doing staff training. Clinic opened officially on February 6th and has been running remarkably smoothly since then. Vesline, our nurse, and Oscar, our clinic NA have been doing a great job, learning as they go. Our happiest surprise has been Samuela (below in white), an NA hired to do home blood pressure visits to the elderly. She has come daily to clinic though she knows we can't pay her for it, just because she wants to help.

We have general clinic on Mondays, prenatal program on Tuesday mornings, malnutrition program on Tuesday afternoons, blood pressure checks on Wednesdays, and follow-up day on Thursdays. The home visits occur every Saturday and Sunday, and of course, people come to me and Grace constantly during our off hours with wounds, headaches, rashes, fevers, and all sorts of ailments. Needless to say, it's a busy life!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Gandhi of Jubilee

Yonelson has an infection in his ankle bone. Bone infections do not heal easily, so upon advice of an infectious disease doctor in the US, we have started Yonelson on doxycycline and a daily shot of rocephin, a powerful antibiotic. Nobody loves getting shots, but poor Yonelson knows that for the next 6 weeks, he will have a needle stuck in his bottom every single day. Needless to say, he's not happy.

Yonelson has a terrific ability to sulk. So we tried bribing him with cookies. I've never seen a Haitian child refuse cookies but Yonelson sat for almost 15 minutes, ignoring the cookie in front of him. He's skinny as can be and we know that he rarely eats at home, surviving entirely on the breakfast piece of bread and small portion of rice and beans that he receives at school. But stubbornness beat hunger and he would not touch that cookie.

Fortunately, we discovered the secret that afternoon: Coke. A cold Coke won the heart of Yonelson and got him laughing and goofing around with us. So now we have a happy pre-teen, an infection hopefully on its way to healing, and a perfect leader for the next time we decide to hunger strike.

Cast of characters

I've lived alone for the past 2 1/2 years. Suddenly, I am living in a community of other foreigners, all loving Haiti and loving each other. It's complicated and tiring and absolutely wonderful. Let me introduce you to the members of our tribe:

Kathy and Beaver Brooks are the "chiefs", though they would hate to hear me describe them that way. They are certainly not our bosses, but they help cast vision, keep things moving in the right direction, and provide wisdom and experience. Beaver helps coordinate my work in conjunction with Providence Hospital, but his main task is taking care of the visiting teams that stay with us at the Big House, where the Brooks live. Kathy works with the women of Jubilee, making jewelry, purses, journals, sandals, baskets and other creative marketable items.

Their daughter Rebecca is 13, she’s homeschooled and babysits Youvendjy in the afternoons. All the teenage boys in Jubilee are madly in love with her.

Kervens is the Brooks’ adopted 13 year old son. He lived at Dorothy’s for 5 years, including the year that I was there, so he and I are special friends. He goes to school nearby and loves to read books, especially the Redwall series.

Scott, better known as Gwo Bab (Big Beard), is our resident handyman. He teaches English at several English schools, fixes all our plumbing, electric and carpentry problems, and rides around town on the loudest dirt bike I’ve ever heard.

Lala’s real name is Laura Lynn and she is a nurse by training but by trade, she is the director of Jubilee School. Lala has lived in a one room apartment above the school for 1 ½ years, speaks Creole fluently, and knows the community better than any of us.

Youvendjy is Lala’s adopted son. He was dying from malnutrition and sickle cell anemia when she took him in last year. He was sent to Dorothy’s for 8 months and then returned to Gonaives to live with Lala. He is the cutest, most cheerful 3 year-old in the whole city.

Across the street from the Big House, there is the Girls’ House. Grace, a nurse from Salt Lake City, arrived in January and has been my most frequent companion. She is the primary overseer of the clinic in Jubilee and we are working together to train our staff until they are self-sufficient. Grace amazes me daily with her self-confidence and sheer excellence in the care she provides.

Tia teaches pre-K and kindergarten at Jubilee School. She is the youngest of the girls at 22, but she has a huge heart and has made real friendships among the parents of her children. I love Tia’s ability to see a need and go meet it without hesitation or question.

Julie taught in the US for 8 years before moving to Haiti in 2010. Now she teaches 1st grade at Jubilee School and takes care of a set of twins whose mother died at birth and who live with their grandmother. Julie takes care of the chocolate cravings at the Girls’ House.

The newest teacher is April, a law enforcement officer who left her job to come join the tribe in the fall of 2011. She teaches pre-K with enthusiasm and creativity – yesterday we had no forks in our house because she’d taken them all to Jubilee for a lesson in table manners, complete with pancake breakfast cooked by her students.

The adobe house is not entirely finished yet, so the boys have been staying at the Big House since their arrival in September 2011, but within the next few days, they will take up residency in Jubilee.

Isaac shares the deep honor of being a New Englander, like me. He has a Masters in sports medicine, but in Jubilee, he has taken charge of our agriculture projects. Isaac also spends hours just mingling with the people, building relationships.

Chris accidentally became the English teacher. What started as a simple class 2 days a week for a dozen guys has now expanded to 120 students, beginner and advanced levels, 5 days a week, all taught by Chris, Scott, and 3 of their Haitian friends.

Josh, the younger of the Rustin brothers, is known as Rusty among the Americans and Bob Marley among the Haitians, thanks to his dreadlocks. He does construction work around the school, and like Isaac, spends a lot of time just visiting our Haitian neighbors and strengthening our relationship with the community.

Ben, the elder Rustin, is currently overseeing the construction of latrines and shower units for houses that we built this year and last year near the school. He is also our tractor driver and is always busy moving dirt and gravel for construction projects and getting our building ready for flood season this summer. Ben and Josh are the favorites of the teenage boys, acting as their mentors and big brothers.

And that's our tribe. Eclectic mix; big family.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Tires burning!

Rumors have hit the streets - a UN soldier supposedly raped a little boy from Jubilee 2 weeks ago. The Haitians are furious, as are we. I've been hearing a lot of anti-UN and anti-foreigner comments in the streets, and recently, there's been some tire burning and rock throwing on the main roads. So far, it's absolutely nothing compared to the political rioting and the cholera rioting that the UN inspired last year; schools only closed for a few days this week and all the markets stayed open and the streets have been as busy as ever.

I hope the rumors are false. If they're not, I may be the next tire burner and rock thrower...

Friday, February 3, 2012

A bloody mess

All last week Grace and I were holding training sessions with our new staff for Jubilee's clinic. Our class on Monday morning was supposed to be medication dosing, but it turned into a crash course in wound care...

Fourteen stitches and frankly, not one of my best jobs. I do not like stitching palms. Too many creases. He returned today to get the sutures removed and I was not thrilled with my work. I had to keep reminding myself that even my less-than-amazing fix was probably better that what he would have gotten anywhere else in this city.