Note: This is the third entry in a series of posts about my first visit to Haiti on Dec 30-Jan 2. You can read the first post here, and the second post here. The events in this post took place on January 1, 2011.
It was New Year’s Day in Haiti and we woke up bright and early for our last clinic day. This clinic day was special because it would take place at the hospital where we had been staying. Also, we were going to have a short day so we could have a luncheon to thank the Haitian medical students, doctors, and interpreters we worked with all week.
Since we weren’t going off site that day, we were allowed to sleep in…..to 5:45 am. I got up and decided to walk around the grounds and take some pictures. Haiti was a beautiful place, and I wanted to spend some time appreciating its beauty.
Breakfast consisted of Soup Joumou, a pumpkin soup that is customarily eaten on the first day of the year. I don’t really like pumpkins, so I was skeptical of the soup, but it was pretty much the best thing I’d had all week. So very yummy and nourishing. I don’t think it tasted like pumpkin at all. I made a mental note to check out a recipe later.
For this clinic day I was assigned to the pharmacy. My day began trying to set up whatever furniture we could find to make our station as efficient and comfortable a possible. We found some benches to serve as a seating area for patients and another bench for our Haitian medical students to receive charts and disburse medication; we used one of our beds to hold our medication inventory (formulary). I helped unpack and organize our formulary in alphabetical order, which was quite a process. Half the things I couldn’t pronounce, but I got used to it over time. Here and there one of the medical students would explain which medication treated which types of disease.
Once the formulary was set up, I got settled in my station, which was the Electronic Medical Records station. I had a laptop (with an extra battery, since we didn’t have access to electricity) and a scanner that would become my best friends for the day. The scanner would prove to be super awesome. It was a very compact Doxie scanner, which easily integrated with Evernote on the PC. I want a Doxie scanner now!
A few hours later, we began to get some patients trickling into the pharmacy. First they handed their chart to me, where I would scan it, then hand it off to one of our Haitian medical students who would write the medication and dosage information on a plastic baggie. The chart and baggie would be handed over to the Americans on the team, who would fill the order from our formulary. From there, we gave the meds back to the Haitian med students who would explain the medication and dosage to each patient. The patient took their chart and meds home.
One interesting thing that was unique to this site: we asked and encouraged patients to give a financial donation to the hospital. At first I felt some kind of way about this, but after talking to a few other people on the team I concluded this was a good thing. Not all of our patients were financially destitute, and they could afford to give a donation. Also, the Haitians we worked with said that the influx of NGOs giving things away for free was doing more harm than good. Sure, residents would get free medical care, clothing, or food, but these services didn’t do much in terms of investing in the local community for the sustainability of Haiti. Encouraging patients to give a donation to their local hospital would hopefully get them used to the idea that handouts aren’t an expectation, and that they can play a role in helping build a hospital in their community.
Pharmacy turned out to be a fairly intense station. Like the previous day, I was in a situation where I met every patient that came through our system, only this time I was at the very last stop. Instead of seeing my position as simply scanning documents mindlessly, I tried to make sure all charts were completely filled out and properly labeled on all pages. The language barrier and illiteracy often resulted in patients coming to pharmacy before they had seen the dentist, for example. Many patients were supposed to see more than one clinic, so I made sure their chart reflected that they’d seen all clinics denoted at registration; if not, I had someone run them back to the missing clinic.
I didn’t get to interact much with patients this day. I was the one who typically greeted them when they walked in the room, but that was it. A few patients stared at me for a while. This one teenage boy stared at me for the entire 20 minutes he sat in the waiting area. It was uncomfortable. I looked at him and smiled once or twice, but he didn’t seem like he wanted to talk. He just wanted to stare. So, I kept on scanning.
I took special interest in the Haitian medical students working with us. One of them was a nice guy who always smiled big when I said his name. I’m sure I was mispronouncing it. Or, perhaps I was over-pronouncing it. His English wasn’t super strong, and my Kreyol was nonexistent, so we got by with smiles and the over-pronunciation of names and words all day.
I didn’t want to take a break because I was so focused on making sure our medical records were accurate, but I started to get a headache and my butt was hurting from the hard school desk I was sitting on. I got up and took a tour of the other clinics. Dental was happy they actually had a dental chair for patients to sit in that day. Optometry was rockin as usual. I went down to the medical clinic to see how everyone else was doing. It was nice to see the hospital busy with patients because it had been completely empty during our stay there.
Walking around outside, I felt more eyes staring at me. Usually I would greet people and keep it moving. But, this time, I decided I would stop and try to talk to the people behind the staring eyeballs. My attempt to talk to a group of young Haitian men proved to be somewhat unsuccessful. They seemed interested in speaking with me, but the language barrier quickly made things funnier than they should have been. I tried to ask them if they spoke Spanish (this worked for me in Brazil), but I didn’t think they did. Someone asked to take a picture of me…which…ummm, felt awkward. I hate getting my picture taken, but I agreed to a mobile phone snapshot or two. The guy behind the camera remarked on how beautiful my “color” was. I refrained from launching a Colorism debate, and just decided to smile for the camera.
We closed clinic early so we could gather in the dining hall for our Thank You luncheon. We let our guests have the big table, as the American team stood around the room. It was a touching experience for me. We introduced and thanked our interpreters, Haitian medical students and doctors. We shared words of encouragement for our Haitian counterparts, and vice versa. We said a few prayers together, and the leaders of the various teams spoke to the group about how much they enjoyed working together. Our Haitian counterparts thanked us for coming to Haiti to help them, and said they were thankful for our support in their efforts to rebuild their country.
After that, we took a group picture and said our goodbyes to our Haitian counterparts. I gave some hugs, took some pictures, gave out my email address. Lionel found me and gave me a big hug. I talk to him on Twitter every few days.
With the sun still up, we didn’t know what to do with ourselves. Some of the boys went to the backyard and played soccer with the neighborhood kids. You could tell the soccer ball we provided for the kids had been the best thing they’d seen all week. We had to bring out a second soccer ball just to play a decent game among the adults I stayed outside and watched everyone play soccer as the sun set behind the hills. Once the sun went down, I went inside to contemplate taking one more shower from a bucket. I’d be home in less than 24 hours, I could wait it out, no? Eventually I decided I needed to shower, as I would hate myself for not showering the next day. I took myself to the one bathroom that had a window and decided I’d turn off my flashlight and enjoy my last shower under the moonlight. Slightly corny. Slightly out of necessity: I had no idea who could be peeking through my window if the light were on
After shower time, I organized my bags and belongings so I wouldn’t have to worry about it the next day. In the hallways of our dorm, several team members were organizing team supplies by candlelight and flashlight. They stayed up until midnight alphabetizing our formulary for the next trip, organizing supplies we were donating to our partner churches in Haiti, and packing up supplies we would put in storage. I donated my suitcase to the group, letting them use it for transport in Haiti.
Tomorrow would be our travel day back to the states.