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Sunday, November 8, 2015

Team Withdrawal

This morning I am back in Memphis, listening to Pandora on my ipad and sipping hot tea while my schnauzer Rosie lies snoring on the couch next to me.  Every few minutes I give her back a good scratch and she stretches in her sleep.  Three open suitcases lie on the floor around me, and I've started the first load of laundry.  That's as far as I've been able to get since I woke up 3 hours ago.  I told my husband I'm in "slow-mo".
Missing my team members.  We spend 7 intense days together, morning, noon and night.  We share coffee in the mornings, granola bars at lunch, spicy Haitian food and Prestige beers in the evenings. We pray together, get on the bus together, load and unload suitcases together.  We introduce each other to the new and old Haitian friends we've made,  struggling through french, Kreyol, and sign language.  We worry together about the St Vincents children we see who are sick, and remind each other who to check on next, who needs to go to the pharmacy, who hasnt seen the nurse yet.  At recess we blow bubbles with the children and in the afternoons we work on art projects together, smiling through our tears when the children prsent us proudly with the art pieces they make for us. At night on the roof of the guest house we tell each other stories of the day, stories of our lives.  Singing songs in the muggy night air, learning more about each other in a week than most people know about us at home.  All our imperfections come out in Haiti.  I like to say Haiti brings out the best and the worst in people, and we learn "forbearance against one another".  We all strive mightily to offer our best selves to the children while dealing with our own personal responses to the incredible contrast between our American lives and what we see around us in Haiti. Sharing heartbreak and joy.

So to John, Hilarie, Sherye, Tess, Alison, Claire, Brittany, Sonya, Dr Sue Trzynka, Chris, Debra, Jody, Daphne, Kristen, and Calley....there is a Haiti sized hole in my heart this AM and you are all there with me.

Susan and Sherye (aka Ethyl and Lucy)

Susan Nelson

Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Man of Steel

  My friend John Mutin has been with me to Haiti so many times I have lost count.  During the first Thanksgiving dinner we had together after I started going to Haiti, I convinced him we needed his paramedic skills to help me take care of the children.  That was probably 2009? He is my first lieutenant, finding the power cord, the clean water, the keys to the clinic and pharmacy, plugging in fans, setting up clinic.  (where are the alcohol wipes, the stethoscopes, the otoscopes, the clinic cards, the hemocue (machine for checking blood), the glucometers?- John will find them)

  This week we had the CBU nursing team working with us, which was fabulous.  We saw over 200 patients in 4 days.   Every patient gets their "finger stuck" for a hemoglobin (iron count) and most of the adults get their glucose checked also.  So while each nurse saw about 30-40 patients each, John saw ALL OF THEM.  In the heat and what I call "clinic chaos",  being interrupted every 30 seconds by some team member to ask ," We  need more alcohol wipes/hand sanitizer/glucometer strips/gloves/tongue depressors, etc. etc. etc."  Team members would rotate out of their stations to take a break or get themselves a small snack, but not John.  He kept going like the energizer bunny.  He has done this trip after trip.  He does not complain and only cries if a kid breaks his heart, which is about 3 times a day!  So this trip I named him the Man of Steel and decided he needs a SUPERMAN shirt. 
John at work

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Rollercoaster Day

Today we had so many emotional ups and downs.  Sonya asked Pere Fan Fan yesterday if she could buy a nice meal "with meat" for all the resident kids and staff at St Vincent's; this is about 70 people.  The kids normally don't eat meat more than once a week so this would be a special treat for them; also Sonya pointed out that eating dinner together is what you do with your family, so she wanted to have all of the team eat with the children.
We were very excited in anticipation of this, so imagine our frustration and disappointment when we were told this morning that the presidential election results would be announced today so we would have to leave the school in the early afternoon.  Many tears shed after breakfast this morning, but off we went to the school with plans to see as many kids as we could and hopefully spend some time with the children before having to leave.

Arriving at the school, I went straight to Pere Fan Fan's office to discuss the situation with him.  Turns out he was upstairs with what we call "Drew's kids", that is the most physically handicapped children in the school.  These children are wheelchair bound and unable to leave their dorm room by themselves, so often spend the day upstairs even when other activities are going on downstairs.  I was very pleased to learn that the new priest in charge of the school ( Pere Fan Fan), goes upstairs to check on these children regularly.  Marie Carmelle, the cook at the school and a longtime friend, told me that the children were all very nervous and tense when their beloved priest Pere Sadoni left the school suddenly this summer.  For about a month the children did not know Pere Fan Fan and were anxious.  After about a month, Marie Carmelle tells me, the children started to relax.  Pere Fan Fan shows affection for them and takes some of them to the park on Sunday nights for ice cream and other entertainment.  

So, finding him upstairs with the most severely handicapped children was a pleasant surprise. He told me the election results would not be announced until midnight tonight, so we could stay for dinner!  Sonya and I hugged each other in delight.

Alison and I and Calley (CBU nurse) checked on Margaret and Vundla and Matthieu.  Alison is a clinical neuropsychologist so was evaluating Vundla for developmental delay and neurological responses.  This sounds very technical and boring, but it really means laughing and singing and trying to get the kid's attention by being silly  (meanwhile monitoring their response).  

Claire with Vundla and Alison
So many emotions on the last day, thinking about things DONE AND LEFT UNDONE as we Episcopalians say in our Confession of Sin.  Have we remembered to give the prescription for cough syrup to the caregiver for Matthieu, who has a fever and a chest cold? Did I double check that we received all the medications we ordered and do we have a final inventory to leave with the priest when we leave?  Did we find the kid who came to clinic yesterday but left before he was fully examined?  Did we give a glucometer to the teacher with the 3 year old daughter with diabetes?  At the end of the day there was a run on glucometers.  I must try to write down all the promises I make to people to give them glucometers, because I always seem to come up one short.  Nothing like telling the music teacher that I gave the last glucometer away and I must wait until I return in March to bring him another one.  
Brittany and I try to give the teachers enough blood pressure and diabetes medicine to last until my next trip, because many of them will not be able to afford to buy their own medication.  If I can help these amazing people continue to care for the children of St Vincent's, I feel like I am contributing in a small way to keeping this school going.  

The art teacher had his students give each of us a colored drawing they have been working on since last week.  A gift for the visitors, he told us.  A treasure to take home. 

At 3:00 the priest told us they had decided to announce the results at 4:00 so we would have to leave early after all.  But the cooks had managed to prepare all the food early, so we had dinner with the children as we had hoped.  I must say it was the best fried grease I've had all week, with griot (fried pork), marinade (fried dumpling), french fries, fried plantains, and picliz  (Haitian spice cole slaw).  My best experience of the day was getting a plate for Rochelle, my blind friend, and holding her violin while she ate.  She played for us today and also played in the bell choir just before dinner was served. 

Rochelle plays in the bell choir.
Leaving is always hard, and this time was no different.  Some of the kids came on the bus to say goodbye, hugs and kisses and tears all around.  It has gotten easier every time for me because I know I am coming back; first timers like Hilarie find it very hard to drive away on the bus.  

Hilarie with a lapful of kids
So much else to say but sometimes photos say it best.  We are all exhausted after this week but happy to have been a part of these children's lives for a short time. 
Tess, Sherye and Brittany on the bus.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Deaf School in Leveque

Leaving CRP3 and Wes behind, our next stop was Leveque where Mission of Hope has built a school in the deaf community.  Many deaf people who survived the earthquake in 2010 apparently found their way to form a community together.  Sherye wanted to visit the school, where we learned about the Haitian government's ministry for Deaf Education and the Mwen Kapab ( I can) curriculum for the deaf.  Encouraging to hear about special programming for the handicapped.  The most exciting part of the visit, however, was the ride along the rocky road to the school.  Brittany said it felt like a DisneyWorld ride. I banged my head against the van door good and hard, and Sonya had the breath knocked out of her at one point.  Met by braying donkeys and bleating goats on the hilltop, we laughed and took pictures of the blue gray mountains and the turquoise ocean.  

We arrived back at St Vincent's at 1:00, after the nurses had finished clinic.  They saw over fifty kids today.  We plan to finish tomorrow and have time for the bell choir to perform for us and some of the students to play guitar or violin.  I'll close today's post with some photos.  Look for smiling Haitian children and sweating Americans!

Palm frond gate

Chris takes Professor's blood pressure.

Susan in clinic

A trip out of Port au Prince

This morning the CBU nursing team went to St Vincent's to have clinic, and Sherye, Sonya, Brittany and I went north out of the city. We travelled to Cabaret and Leveque along a now very familiar well paved road that goes past the airport and up the coastline.  Magnificent views of the ocean to the west, mountains to the east, and miles of rocky dirt fields in between.  Lots of banana groves and what looks like cultivated crops, then open empty fields with the occasional donkey or goat.  Villages have market stalls, filled today with mangoes, plantains, car parts, tires, clothing, shoes, stereo equipment, mattresses, furniture, sheets, juice or soda in bottles, sugar cane in wheelbarrows.  Then there are the SUPER LOTO stalls; small wooden buildings only big enough to hold one person.  Brightly painted green and yellow and orange, they are everywhere.

 Looking for a church and school community called CPR3, we drove past the Monroe's tire shop which was our landmark.  Stopping to ask directions, we turned back and found our way.  The tire shop was still there but had a different name, and the small road turnoff was hardly visible through the palm frond gates and cactus fences along the roadside.  Sonya had special shoes to deliver to a little girl named Wes.  Wes had a problem walking when she was very little and was seen by our podiatrist Dr Bheki Khumalo last year. Plans were made for her surgery, money was raised and Dr Bheki came back to Haiti last August with arrangements to take care of this little girl along with nine other children with foot deformities. Much to our delight, Wes had grown and was walking much better and the decision was made not to operate.   Corrective shoes would be sufficient!  So we were delivering some very particular shoes to a very special girl today.
Shoe delivery

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Clinic day 2

Apologies for no report yesterday other than photos. (slightly delayed by a slow internet)

 Had our second day in clinic today and saw about 60 kids with their teachers.  Most of the kids are reasonably healthy except for their handicaps. Sherye observed that the wonderful thing about St Vincent's is that if you DON'T have a handicap, you are the odd one out. 
Jody, a CBU nurse who works with children at St Jude's, has a wonderful way with the children.  Many of them cannot stand on the scale, so getting their weight requires a creative approach.  Nurse weighs himself first, then picks up the child and weighs again.  Of course, Jody loves the job.  Kids with leg braces, kids with no feet, kids in wheelchairs. All smiling to be picked up by the "wolf - man", the kids call him, because of his hairy arms.  

We found one child with a hemoglobin of 4.3  (normal is 12).  John said her blood came out "like water".  In the States we would admit that child to the hospital for a big workup looking for some dread disease.  Here it is always nutritional.  One of the reasons we bring suitcases full of children's vitamins with iron.  

 The record high blood pressure for the day was 230/108.  It was a patient I have come to know well over the years, one of the deaf teachers. We'll call her Dixie.   Her blood pressure is ALWAYS high, despite my best efforts to bring her enough medication to keep it under control.  The conversation is always the same, "Did you take the medication I gave you when I was here last….March…..May….November….?"  "Yes, I take the medication."   "When did you stop taking it?"  "When I ran out."   "When was that?".  "I take the medication until I run out".    Time has no meaning in Haiti.  Symptoms such as cough are reported as happening "Since the earthquake."  (Which was in 2010).  I have tried to bring enough medication for the staff to have for their blood pressure and diabetes, to last until my next trip.  For some, it seems to work, because their blood pressure and blood sugar are normal the next time I come.  Others, however, like Dixie, never seem to have any improvement.  I wonder if they take the medication, or lose it, or sell it, or only take it sometimes.  
Sending partial post…..power going out.
I wonder how a woman can survive so long with that kind of high blood pressure.  I have been treating Dixie for 7 years, and am fairly certain I am the only doctor she ever sees.  

On a lighter note, many of the boys and girls I know seem to have grown a foot since May.  Frenel, my good friend, who reads me his science homework in Braille, has grown 3 inches. In 6 months.  Some of the older girls now wear lipstick and talk about their boyfriends, just like kids anywhere.  It is a delight to be part of their lives as they grow.  Dieumene is studying English so she can go to University and study child psychology.  She wants to be a child psychologist and work in  Haiti with handicapped children, to tell them that they can do anything and not to be held back by their handicaps.  Dieumene has no arms and grew up at St Vincent's.  Like many others, she has received an education here that kept her from begging in the streets and has given her a chance to grow and develop her potential as a human being.  

Alison doing pentangles with a concentrating student.

In the afternoon, we have arts activities for the children, sidewalk chalk to draw a hopscotch grid, beads and pipe cleaners for the blind children to make necklaces or other crafts.  It is a quiet time after the rush of clinic, and is my favorite way to spend an afternoon.  I often sit against one wall or in the corner, absorbing what is going on but not in the middle of it all.  It's a great way to decompress.  

During the week we read Morning Prayer every day after breakfast, and this week we read the parable of the mustard seed.  A tiny bit of faith growing into a big tree that can cover and protect all.  Our little bit of work in Haiti feels like that mustard seed, and I can see the tree growing year after year.  Its fun to watch.

Susan drawing chalk paintings with the kids.
more pictures
Dr. Sue Trzynka and friend
John watches Bergens draw.
Ariana and Susan
Daphne checks a patient.

Monday, November 2, 2015

First clinic day

Driving through the gates of St. Vincent's is like coming home to family. Familiar faces and arms and hugs. Smiles and cheers. Old friends connecting again. Tears of recognition. A welcome sign greets us. 

November is blessedly cool this year, only 85 degrees.  

Sonya hugs Auguste and he stands up out of his wheelchair. A rare occurrence.

John hugs Diana. Dachnika standing next to John.

Repair of the light socket in the music room now a temporary pharmacy.
Blue sparks flying shortly after this photo was taken. I couldn't bear to watch. Mercifully no electrocution injuries.
Chris helps Brittany set up the pharmacy.

Claire helps a child with the art project.

Chrisnel is blind. He is working on an art project.
End of the day. Brittany counting meds in the pharmacy.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Sitting on the Porch

Sitting on the porch at the guest house with Brittany and Sherye, listening to the rain fall in the trees just beyond.  A nice gentle rain that was heralded by spurts of lightning that drove us off the roof.
Left Memphis at 8 AM with our team of 7 CBU nurses, a pharmacist, a paramedic, an interpreter for the deaf, a guitarist, a graphic artist, a psychologist, a friend of my realtor who happens to be fluent in French,   and myself, the family doctor..  Typical mixed group of many talents, with about 20 suitcases of vitamins and medical supplies, bandaids and gloves and bubbles.  Yes bubbles, for the children.  

Sorting through all those bags after we have arrived is always entertaining.  Ziploc bags of hand sanitizer and bug spray, crayons and tylenol.  One team member lost all his clothes, but found them again in someone else's suitcase (?).  The bottle of Glenfiddich arrived safely.  Team members giggling to discover nail polish, anticipating the fun they will have with the kids.

As we sit and enjoy the cooling effect of the rain, it is nice to be back in Haiti.

Susan Nelson