Friday, March 30, 2012

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The wheelchair

I was walking through Providence 2 months ago and I stuck my nose into the men's post-op ward, looking for a patient I knew. Instead I saw something that struck me as truly beautiful: a young woman was shelling a basket of beans and the patient in the bed beside her was helping.

The scene got even more touching as I met them. The woman was Yolande and the patient was her husband, Jean Carlo. He had been in Port-au-Prince in January 2010 when the earthquake hit and he was buried in the building where he was working. It was 3 days before Yolande heard the miraculous news that her husband and the father of her 3 children had survived! In the immediate aftermath, Jean Carlo lost his left leg above the hip and a year later, he lost the right leg due to infection in his injuries. He'd been in and out of the hospital since the quake and when we met, he still had an open wound on the latest amputation site and had been in Providence for 3 months.

We became fast friends and I have visited them every week or two. Jean Carlo, despite his tremendous loss, is always smiling and interested in my work. Yolande, quieter than her husband, still has a confidence and a poise that is rare among young Haitian women. In the post-op ward with them are 2 burn victims who we've taught to do basic physical and occupational therapy to prevent complications; when the instructions got difficult, Yolande offered to be their coach and help them remember what to do. In a country of broken marriages and constant infidelity, I am so impressed by her faithfulness. She comes to the hospital every day after their children go to school to bring Jean Carlo food, to bathe him, and to just keep him company. She stays until the afternoon when she goes home to do all the same things for the children. And somehow, she remains cheerful and hopeful.

Jean Carlo was released from the hospital after a skin graft 2 weeks ago. I'd been plotting since I first met him and with the help of my friend, Adam, I was able to get a hand-crank wheelchair for him. We delivered it this week and watched with pride as Yolande helped Jean Carlo climb into it and then loaded his two little sons in too. Jean Carlo rode that wheelchair down the street and back, with a huge grin on his face.

I know that a patient's personality and attitude shouldn't necessarily affect the care he receives, but let's be honest, it does. It was a pleasure to go out of my way for Jean Carlo and Yolande and if I can ever say that a couple "deserves" special treatment, they are that couple.

Sunday, March 25, 2012


Say "Hello!" to the newest member of the family in Gonaives: Tortuga. He is a 6 week old rottweiler puppy that we got from my friend Miguel in Port-au-Prince. We call him Tug and we love him!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Big baby brother

My brother, Barnabas, came to visit me in Gonaives last week. Haitians think that all white people look alike so it was a relief to finally be able to say "Yes! This one is in fact my brother!" when everyone commented on how alike we looked. Everyone loved him but they were very confused by the fact that he is bigger than me despite being younger than me...

He and I stayed with the guys out at the adobe house, rode bikes all over town, ate lots of street food, played soccer games with the teens, learned Creole (he would have been fluent in a month), and made lots of friends. It was a great visit!

Thursday, March 22, 2012


My new little buddy, Maudlin, teary-eyed after we drained a mini-abcess on his finger.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Meet Lovena

Lovena (pronounced Lov-NA) was 2 months old when her 17 year-old mother abandoned her with Paulette, her grandmother. For 4 months, Paulette tried to keep the baby healthy on rice water, porridge, and occasional milk, but when I met Lovena, she was 6 months old and only weighed 8.5 pounds. We started her on MedikaMamba, a malnutrition program we run that gives kids a nutritional boost through a peanut butter supplement. After only one week in the program, Lovena became ill with vomiting and diarrhea and had to be hospitalized at Providence.

Paulette has small children of her own - 9 year old Shelda, 6 year old Ecclesiaste, and 18 month old Yolande - so she found Lovena's teenage mother and took her to the hospital. "You have to stay with your baby until she's better!" Paulette insisted and then went home to her family.

Five days later, I stopped by the hospital to check on someone and saw Lovena, all alone, in the malnutrition ward. The teenage mom had abandoned her again and though other moms in the ward had been helping out, Lovena looked awful. She'd dropped to 7 pounds and though she was alert and spirited, her little body seemed to be wilting away. I sent for Paulette and after we talked, we both agreed that it would be best for Lovena to come home to Jubilee where we could keep an eye on her without leaving Paulette's other children untended. Unbeknownst to us, however, the hospital had already started abandonment papers on Lovena and refused to let Paulette take her home!

Once more, my connections at Providence paid off. It took several hours of arguing and cajoling and sweet-talking nurses and administrators before they would agree to release the child to us. We took her home on a taptap and walked the mile from Gonaives' town square to Paulette's house in Jubilee. I was carrying Lovena, wrapped up in a white blanket. It was only a week after the baby had died in Jubilee, right next door to Lovena, and I remember several people whispering as I walked past, "Oh no, Paulette's baby has died too!" It was eerie.

Lovena's been home for almost 3 weeks now. She is back on the peanut butter supplement and is doing well. Her weight has climbed to 8.4 pounds and she is always a spunky, lively little thing whose favorite sport is grabbing my nose. Her toddler aunt, Yolande, calls her "TiSourit" (Little Mouse) and when they come for their appointments, it's a whole family affair - Paulette, Shelda, Ecclesiaste and Yolande, all there to rejoice in Lovena's progress.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

River run!

Gonaives is dust bowl, but just outside the city is the river.

I love the river!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Our littlest patient

This is the little baby girl whose mama died during my rough week. Her grandma has been bringing her on Tuesdays to get formula and so far, she looks good. She still has a long road ahead of her though. I think it would help if she was given a name, but grandma has not chosen one yet, as is rather common in Haiti, so we just call the baby "Blue Bonnet" because she's always wearing one when she comes to clinic.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

A better week

Nobody died last week.


Instead, it was a normal clinic week...although the word "normal" really can't describe anything I do in Haiti. This is what clinic looks like:

Half-naked children hanging out with us while we work.

A 9 year old burn victim named Sabrina who needs 4 people to hold her down while I scrape and clean her cheek. She screams in agony the entire time, yet somehow manages to forgive me.

Outfitting an elderly patient with glasses which led to outfitting my clinic staff with glasses. And it gave me 2 watermelons as a thank you gift from the grateful patient!

Patient charts, ID cards, official stamps, prescription pads, and a filing cabinet. We are super high tech!

Teaching our staff how to prepare and give shots.

And teaching them how to inject lidocaine for local anaesthesia … using my leg. Don’t worry – it wasn’t for nothing. I had a piece of wood stuck in my leg from a hiking accident and in a stroke of genius, we managed to teach my staff a valuable skill and fix my ankle, all in one fell swoop!