Thursday, June 19, 2014

Chicken fever

OK, the real name is chikungunya but chicken fever sounds funnier.

Chikungunya is a mosquito-borne virus, similar to malaria, that has recently been introduced to Haiti. The mosquito that carries chikungunya, however, is a daytime mosquito, so unless you are willing to wear long sleeves all day  or slather yourself in bug spray, you're going to get it.

One report I read says that an estimated 50% of Haiti's population will be chicken-struck in the next few months. I think they're right! For the past 3 weeks, I have been missing at least 1/4 of my students every day as they all cycle through the illness. Our clinic is packed every day. My neighbors are dropping like flies; 5 of the 13 people who share my courtyard have already had it. It's all anyone can talk about. "Have you had 'the Fever' yet?"

The last epidemic that I experienced in Haiti was cholera and it killed people. Fortunately, this new disease is only life-threatening to those with poor immune systems such as newborns and AIDS patients. For most people, having the illness means a few days of high fevers accompanied by severe pain in joints, prompting to people to ignore its true name and simply call it "The Bone-breaking Sickness".

Tylenol and ibuprofen control the symptoms quite well until the disease runs its course. Unfortunately, due to the sudden spike in demand for those drugs, Tylenol doubled in price for a few weeks and is now virtually impossible to find. We are using ibuprofen whenever it's safe and relying on deliveries of Tylenol from the US for those patients that require it.

Epidemics are a funny thing. During cholera, every time my stomach gave a little twinge, I thought, "This is it! I've got cholera!" With chikungunya, it's the same thing, but so far, it's always been a false alarm. I just keep waiting. I'm sure my time will come.

Thursday, June 12, 2014


Samantha was in a house fire when she was about two years old. If Oscar, one of our clinic nursing assistants, hadn't run into the blaze and saved her, she would have died that day! She came to our clinic for dressing changes a few times, but eventually, her parents stopped bringing her because it was too painful. Six months after the incident, her leg looked like this:
If you look closely, you can see that the scar tissue has pulled the 3 smallest toes much higher on the foot than they should be. When the time comes for Samantha to go to school, she won't be able to wear the required closed-toe shoes without painful rubbing and probably ulceration of those toes.
Fast-forward 2 years and I arranged to have Samantha's foot operated by a visiting plastic surgeon. She was the belle of the ball - every one of the American medical staff adored her, with her crooked toothy smile and her raspy smoke-damaged voice. One nurse even asked if she could adopt Samantha, mistakenly believing that the little girl is a resident at an orphanage.
The doctors cut away some of the scar tissue and took a skin graft from Samantha's groin to place over the surgical site. It's healing well, and although it wasn't a miracle fix, I think that Samantha will be able to wear a shoe now, so long as she has sturdy socks.

Samantha comes to clinic every day, although now, 5 weeks after surgery, we only change the dressing every two days. She just loves being around clinic, so even on the days that we don't need to see her, you can find her out on the porch watching patients go in and out, or playing with Rudenchly, our other burn victim. I think someday, the two of them are going to co-write a book titled "Children of the Clinic".

They always leave me wondering: do we love them because they are around all the time, or are they around all the time because we love them?

Tuesday, June 3, 2014


"Hey, everybody, I'M GOING TO SCHOOL!"
Happy news - my little burn victim buddy Rudenchly has been accepted to our elementary school, Academie La Saline. He'll start preschool in September. Ever since I helped get Rudenchly the surgeries that helped him walk, his mom, Leila, a courageous single mom of 3 children with a 4th on the way, has relied on me to help keep her family fed. This year, we hired her as our clinic cleaning woman, but she and her kids still look hungry all the time. Having Ruden in our school is quite a break for her. It means that he will get 2 meals a day, 5 days a week, and a virtually free education. She is very happy, so am I, and so is he!