Update on My Haiti Trip: Trainings and Reality Checks

ACK! I feel like SOOO much has happened since I last wrote about my trip to Haiti.

Since my first team meeting, we have had one more team meeting, as well as some social and fundraising events and trainings.

Meetings and Trainings

Haiti Missions Team Meeting AgendaAt our last meeting we went over committee fundraising and awareness events. We also learned a little bit more about the trip’s logistics. Instead of going to Port-Salut (and staying in what was more like a “resort” as much “resort-like” as Haiti can get), we’ll be spending all of our time in Port-Au-Prince, and will be staying in some sort of medical practitioner’s compound or something. My team leaders made this change due to the fact that Port-Au-Prince has a greater medical need (a larger percentage of people who suffered  from the earthquake are there) than Port-Salut this time around. I like that we are nimble enough to make these kinds of changes, even though the team has been going to Haiti for several years.

We were trained on how our new electronic medical records system works. It’s somewhat advanced, somewhat….rogue. We have print forms we fill out on site, but then we take a photo of the paperwork with our iPhone or digital camera, and then sync those images to our Evernote account. The hard copies, I believe, stay with the patient or our medical counterparts in Haiti, and we have an electronic copy in the States. The reason for this system is because the earthquake proved that hard copies of medical records could be easily lost, so we have an electronic copy as backup. In addition, Evernote works offline on a laptop, which is great for on-site access when working in a mobile medical unit. Instead of needing to look up files in a file cabinet (impossible with a mobile clinic), we can perform a search within our Evernote application on a laptop and pull up a patient’s medical history.

Tumbling E Chart
Tumbling E Chart

A few weeks ago I was trained for our Optometry clinic. It was voluntary, and they said non-medical professionals could sign up for this training. I figured I’d find out what this would entail and see if I would feel comfortable rotating in the optometry clinic. I was trained on how to administer a super basic eye exam. I learned three things: how to give the visual acuity exam using the vision chart(s) (and how to score vision acuity), how to check for healthy pupil function (flashing a pen light in pupils and making sure they act right), how to check for proper ocular motility (moving a pen light slowly around and making sure your eyeballs move in unison).

The idea is that I can fill out intake information on a patient’s record, run these tests and then pass the patient off to a medical practitioner (the American residents & attending physicians coming with us, or the Haitian residents and attending physicians working with us) who can run further tests if needed. So, in a way I am doing basic screening. I’ve been getting eye exams since I was in the 4th grade, so I’m fairly comfortable with what will be asked of me for the optometry rotation. I have another optometry clinic training in a few weeks.

Reality Checks

As I’ve been going through training, I’ve been listening closely to the experiences of my teammates who’ve been to Haiti within the last year.  From these conversations, I realize there are some very simple things I take for granted. For example, with the visual acuity exam, we tend to read letters of the alphabet on a chart. Except, some of the people we are serving will be illiterate, on top of the English-Creole language barrier. We have a tumbling E chart to take with us for administering this exam. But, I guess I assumed language would be the only barrier, not literacy.

Another reality check I’ve noticed is that many of the people we serve don’t know their birth date. The number 2 question we ask everyone is their date of birth, and yet….can you imagine if you didn’t know your birth date or how old you were? Here I am trying to think up the best 30th birthday bash for myself–6+ months out–and there are people in this world who have no idea when they were born. I’m getting new perspective as I get closer to my travel dates.

So, let’s talk about the reality check items I am worried concerned about:

  • Language barrier. Unfortunately, I have made no efforts to learn Haitian Creole. The most I’ve done is download a Haiti Relief iPhone app that has recordings of phrases related to medical use. When I went to Brazil a few years ago, it was exhausting talking to Brazilians all day, yet not knowing what they were saying. I relied on an interpreter but it’s just…exhausting on the mind to relay everything through a translator, all day everyday. From what I hear, our translators may not be the best with English, which might make it difficult. In Brazil, I eventually tuned people out due to my frustration, but I pray I’ll remain focused and attentive when in Haiti.
  • Cholera. Haiti is currently going through a cholera outbreak as we speak, and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned about my personal health while traveling there. They say 1500 people have died from cholera, with another 28,000 sick with the disease; (these are probably underreported numbers ). I think we will be okay, but I have a feeling I’ll be drinking less water while in Haiti, due to my own paranoia. More importantly, I am concerned about the lives of people in Haiti; I hope we are able to treat as many people as possible without running out of resources to do so.
  • Civil unrest. UN peacekeepers have been blamed for the cholera outbreak, so this probably doesn’t bode well for international visitors in Haiti. Some say this idea is being played out more in the media than it is in real life. I pray everything bodes well, but you never know. Also, elections are Sunday. I’m just really remembering how much of a third world country Haiti is, and I have a bit of anxiety about it.
  • Immunizations. Sigh. I still lack health insurance, and I’ve got to figure out how to get roughly 10-12 immunizations for my trip. I can’t remember which immunizations I got in college, so…I guess I am going to get everything all over again. I have to figure out how to pay for this.

Everyone on my team is confident but cautious about our plans for the trip. I think that’s healthy. I’m not trying to worry too much about the items I listed above, but I do have to be cognizant of what’s going on. I have so much to do between now and then. I want to read some books on the history of Haiti, I need to read more on what’s really going on on the ground and I’d like to learn the language. So much to do in such a short time.

I have a feeling this won’t be my only trip to Haiti.

6 thoughts on “Update on My Haiti Trip: Trainings and Reality Checks”

  1. I definitely feel you on the reality checks, especially travel medicine! Some insurance companies don’t cover travel medicine. I only got 2 shots (Typhoid and Yellow Fever) and 1 prescription of Malaria pills, when going to Kenya this summer but it still was mad expensive. I think you will get a whole new perspective seeing the Haitian IDPs.

    I love these updates, by the way. I feel like I’m going on the journey with you! 🙂 Some of my friends in my refugee and IDP class have been to Haiti and the one thing they tell me is that the displaced people there want their story to be heard. They want the international community to know what is going on.

    Good Luck!

    1. I need to get on the ball about these immunizations 🙁 I think I have a spot to go to but…yeah. Not sure about the costs. GRR.

      I will hopefully try to be more frequent with my updates on Haiti. I still have much more to say than just this one post. Thanks for reading!

  2. Hello

    I am also going to be on this trip. I don’t know how I came across your blog but I have enjoyed reading it!

    I live upstate so I haven’t been able to attend any of the meetings. You and I have not met yet.

    Just wanted to say “hello.” See you soon.


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