Google+ WTN Haiti Partnership: March 2011

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Wes's experience (our pharmacist)

My experience in Haiti was fraught with first-time experiences. Prior to this trip, I had never experienced a third world country. I had no idea what to expect as we landed at the Port-au-Prince airport, but the moment we stepped outside the airport the reality of how much poverty there is in the country was immediately apparent. You want to help everyone you see. You want to give them the money/food/clothing you have on you. I constantly felt guilty for all the things I had that they didn’t and probably never will. It seemed like no matter what you did it would just be a solitary raindrop falling on a thirsty desert, having little effect on the greater problem; but the following morning at St. Vincent’s showed me just how big an impact twelve people can make.

We weren’t supposed to have clinic the first day we arrived but I soon learned to expect the unexpected in Haiti. I owe a huge debt to Miloine (we all spell and pronounce her name differently), the nurse that is now in charge of the pharmacy there. Even though neither of us was fluent in the other’s language, we were able to communicate through the magic of medicine. She let me know if the directions I was writing actually made sense in Kreyol, and in the beginning – they didn’t. Thankfully my English to Kreyol improved as we went along with help from her, the other members of the team, and my iPod (there’s an app for that!). I think I will have “bwe yon grenn chak jou” (take one tablet every day) ingrained in my memory forever.

There were so many memorable moments at St. Vincent’s that it’s hard to list them all. Everyone on the team was always in motion. There was one day where Sherye was being pulled in every direction to interpret for the deaf children. We had two exam rooms with three providers all needing Sherye to interpret for them plus my need for her to interpret directions for the medication… she handled it in stride and I’m not sure how we would have done it without her. Everyone has a role even if it’s not necessarily medical. You will find your role once you enter St. Vincent’s.

I guess I’ve rambled on a bit so I’ll close by saying (typing?) that one month ago I had no idea the West Tenn. Haiti Partnership even existed and now here I am back in Memphis after experiencing something that will forever change my world outlook for the better. I made some great friends whether they live in Memphis, Haiti, or New Orleans. I am thankful for the privilege that this organization has given me to serve a people that need our help. Once your eyes are opened to the plight of those less fortunate, it is impossible to close them again.
sent in by Wes Savage, a pharmacy student at UT

See-through toilet paper

There are many things about visiting Haiti that are memorable and unique, and some are downright funny.  Like the toilet paper that is so thin you can see through it.  Really.  Also the experience of washing off all the dust and dirt in a cold shower, so you can come out and cover yourself with sticky bug spray.  Then there is the terrifying ride through Port au Prince when Ronald is driving.  Ronald Noel is one of the school administrators, and he was one of our drivers, along with Lionel, who also works for the school.  It took 2 vehicles to shuttle us back and forth between the guesthouse and the school every day, and everyone preferred to ride with Lionel if at all possible.  Ronald would slam on the gas pedal anytime there was more than 10 feet between him and the car in front of us, then slam on the brake just before running over a pedestrian or the back of another vehicle.  Ronald also loves to drive on the left hand side of the road, especially if the cars on the right hand side of the road are not moving quickly.  He would somehow manage to squeeze back into the line of cars just before driving straight into an oncoming vehicle. He takes turns at tire screeching speed, throwing all the occupants to one side of the vehicle.  Amy suggested that he must be making a bet with Lionel to see who got to the guest house first.  It was usually a 50-60 minute ride, and Ronald could do it in 35 minutes.  Evidently the only rule for drivers in Haiti appears to be this:  if there is an available space, fill it.
Some of the facts of life of Haiti are even more obvious upon returning to the states. This morning I took my second HOT shower in 12 hours.   I swatted a fly earlier and didn't immediately think of grabbing the bug spray.  There are trash cans in all the bathrooms and even one in the kitchen!  (there appear to be no trash cans in Haiti, they seem to dump all the trash directly into the street).

Here are some memories from our recent trip which may be funny only to those who were there at the time, if you know what I mean:
Nick Pesce was the only team member to bring his own beer cozy

Famous quotes from team members include the following:
Nick:   "Did I tell you I only work with adults? Susan--Did I tell you this was an orphanage?"

Wes: "Its like when you're in college and you wake up in the morning and you have beer and you have cheerios, then you have beerios...and you realize it wasn't such a good idea."

Sonya - after being patted down at the airport, "Dude, I don't even let my husband touch me like that!"

Amy - looking through her many suitcases, "I know I have it somewhere."

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A surprise customer

The first night we stayed at the Heartline Guest House in Haiti, there were other visitors as well. Some folks were working at a local orphanage and they brought one of the Haitian children back to the guest house that night.  His name was Gabriel and he was about 14 months old.  He was quite ill with fever and cough, so the workers were worried about leaving him behind at the orphanage, which they said was not taking good care of its children.  They found out I was there, a family doctor, with medicine in our many suitcases, so naturally they asked me to take a look at the child.  After examining him, I could reassure them that he seemed to have bronchitis but not pneumonia or an ear infection, and we had medicine to treat this condition.  Next step was digging through TWENTY TWO suitcases to find the amoxicillin and a syringe to dispense it with.  Wes, our pharmacy student, found the medication right away.  It was in powder form, so he mixed it up with water and Voila! we had the remedy.  We also found tylenol for his fever, and cough syrup. I dont think Wes expected to be put to work quite so soon, but it was typical for Haiti.  It is always very satisfying for me to be able to help a child who is sick, especially in Haiti where the poor have very few options for seeing a doctor, much less buying medicine.
To all of you who sent in donations to the West Tennessee Haiti Partnership, please know that your contributions helped pay for our $1500 worth of medication which we used on our trip.  Actually, we only used a small portion of our supplies, intending to leave the rest for use by the Haitian pediatrician who works at St. Vincent's 3 days a week.
St. Vincent's has hired a full time nurse, Marilaine, to run the pharmacy.  This is great news, especially since one of her duties is to supervise the distribution of vitamins to all the children every day with their lunch.
She will be training Samuel Elizaire to help her as a pharmacy tech over the next few months.  Samuel is a graduate of St. Vincent's school.  It's great to see the school slowly rebuilding itself after the earthquake.

Dont open till you can cry: Elisme Time 3-23-2011

On Friday February 11 2011 when I saw the email from Susan Nelson saying sad news I knew I needed to pay attention. My heart was saddened when I read that we had lost one of the (Time) identical twins Cebien Time. (pronounced "Tee-May").  I first met the twins a little over two years ago, I tried to have only one of them come in to the small exam room. I learned that that was not an option; that because they were blind and identical they stayed within arm’s reach together all the time. I quickly adapted and proceed to take vitals on the two men. No easy task with their blindness, first their weight one got on the scale then the other you guessed it they weighed exactly the same.  Blood pressure same, pulse same, temp same, they were so much the same that there was nothing different on their cards except for the name. All the time I was doing this they sat smiling and holding hands. I watched them walk off after their exam and realized that I had just witnessed one of the strongest brotherly bonds I have ever experienced in my life. The flowing song kept going on in my mind and at first I thought the Song writer's Bob Scott and Bob Russell must of written it for them, then I realized it was written before they were born but it sure fit them .

The road is long
With many a winding turn
That leads us to who knows where
Who knows when
But I'm strong
Strong enough to carry him
He ain't heavy, he's my brother.
So on we go
His welfare is  my concern
No burden is he to bear
We'll get there
For I know
He would not encumber me

If I'm laden at all
I'm laden with sadness
That everyone's heart
Isn't filled with the gladness
Of love for one another.

It's a long, long road
From which there is no return
While we're on the way to there
Why not share
And the load
Doesn't weigh me down at all

He ain't heavy, he's my brother.
He's my brother
He ain't heavy, he's my brother.

This song kept going in my head as the days passed and I prayed for the surviving brother that God help him cope with his loss. Well God has indeed answered my prayers I saw Elisme Time and he was walking around and at one point on our last day he was sitting by himself smiling that same smile swaying with the music we heard coming out of the dorm enjoying the beautiful weather . I thought he was lonely so I went over and sat beside him and gave him a hug and held his hand. He them proceeded to ask me if I could take him in my vehicle to see his brother in the hospital? Needless to say I wasn’t expecting this I held him and said no I can’t take him to see his brother . But it is apparent that God's helping Elisme cope with his loss; it was a little different then I envisioned. Re read the words to the song

Elisme and Cebien had closeness and love that few people get to experience: God continues to love them.

sent in by John Mutin

Monday, March 21, 2011

Last day at St. Vincent's

Today we had clinic for the last time, then we handed out some of our goodies to the children. Lots of photos of kids in hats and bandanas and Mardi Gras beads, I will upload these later. My favorite part of the day was sitting on the concrete steps with Frenel in my lap, next to Sienna and surrounded by kids.

Frenel is blind and about 6 years old. He is very sweet and gentle, unlike some of the other boys his age who push and shove to get attention (just like little boys everywhere). Frenel usually winds up in my lap and he will sing little songs to me if I ask him to.
We had a large picture book with basic english words in it, like dog-ball-bed-table....and Sienna was going through it with Mackenson, one of the older boys. His brother, Jobson, and his mother, Naomi, were both killed in the Jan 2010 earthquake. He is a sweet boy and we traded english and creole words back and forth.

There was music playing on a radio, solo guitar with a quick rhythm to it, and most of the kids would bounce and sway to the music, especially Maille who has a pretty smile although she cant speak. She is about 17 years old.

When Pere Sadoni told us it was time to go, it was really hard to leave those children, knowing I will not return for 8 months. In fact, Frenel asked me when I was coming back, and I told him in November, so he asked me how long was that. A long time, I said.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Tap Tap

This morning, NIck, Sherye, John and I accompanied Adrian to the local Catholic Church. Adrian works at the guesthouse, he is Haitian and is an "aspirant" for the Franciscan seminary. He also plays drums for the choir at Guatemalca, a nearby Catholic Church. To get to the church, we had to catch a Tap Tap. If you have been to Haiti, you know this means a pick up truck with benches along either side, covered by a roof. Usually about 12-15 people ride in the back of this vehicle, and when you get to your destination you tap on the driver's window to let you out.

We waited while several TapTaps passed us, too full to accommodate 5people, especially 4 Americans (Americans are generally much larger than Haitians in girth as well as stature). We worried that we were going to make Adrian late for church, and we did. But he kept telling us, "Pa pwoblem" ( no problem) and eventually he asked us to walk to an intersection where there were more TapTaps available. This "walk" was a brisk trot on broken dirt/pebbled road, but we did get to a place where we could climb onto aTapTap and off we went. There was a toothbrush tied with a dirty rag to the back of the window of the driver's cab. We did not know what it was for, and Nick said, "That's what you tap on the window with". Sherye and I said "No way!" until about 5 minutes later when sure enough, someone tapped on the window with the toothbrush. You never know in Haiti.

We arrived 30 minutes late to the service, but in Haiti this means we got there just in time for the first reading. The entire service was in Kreyol, and I could catch about every 10th word, but we knew the order of service and could follow pretty well what was happening. The gospel was from Matthew, about the transfiguration. The priest preached about asking God to change our lives because we have " no food, no job, no house" and God has already changed our lives through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Pretty powerful stuff when you're in Haiti, and they truly have no food, no job and no house.

The music was delightful, with Haitian voices and their rich quality. When you go to church in Haiti, you know you've been to church.

The priest was Father Ramon, who greeted us afterwards. No english, so we spoke in a combination of Kreyol and Spanish. He is Canadian and has been in Haiti for 23 years. Many people greeted us during the Peace, and we felt very welcome.

Back to the guesthouse by Tap Tap. This one was a BIT more crowded, 14 people in all. Sherye and Nick held on to the back of the truck, and I told Drew to hang on to Sherye because I did not want to leave her in Haiti. 5 gourdes per person per ride (about 12 cents). Not much to spend for a vivid memory.

Hannah and Sienna

On the second day of clinic we had, as I mentioned, about 50 people at once coming in to see the doctor. John Mutin taught Hannah and Sienna how to take blood pressures, check hemoglobin and glucose levels with a fingerstick test, take temperatures with an ear thermometer, and they helped us get the patients checked in. They are now officially our clinic assistants. Sienna complained at first that she could not take blood pressures because she could not hear the sounds, but she eventually became more comfortable with it. She told John she could not hear one patient at all, and thought it was her fault. Turns out the lady's blood pressure was 240/180! Another patient had a glucose of 480 (normal is about 100).

Hannah insists she cant speak French or Kreyol, but she ends up telling the other team members what is going on when the patients are speaking Kreyol.

Amy observed that we used every available person on our team to make the clinic work. This always happens; we soak up every asset we have to make the most of our time at St. Vincent's. Our pharmacist, Wes, is in his second year of pharmacy school. He was a little nervous before the trip, making sure I knew he was not a licensed pharmacist. I told him dont worry, in Haiti you will be a pharmacist. He has learned to say "Take one pill every day" in Kreyol. (Pran yon grenn chak jou) Then he has to figure out how to say "Put two drops in each eye as needed for itching" Try that one!

Sienna is the Pied Piper, wherever she goes she attracts children. Even at the guesthouse, when we walk down to the neighborhood bar (Casa de Cerveza- otherwise known as George's place). Sienna was giving english lessons tonight to about a dozen Haitian children.

Tomorrow night will be our last night and we will take some pi wi li (lollipops) to the children of the neighborhood. The last day is always hard, saying goodbye.

Elections in Haiti

The elections are today. There are two candidates for President. Michael Martelly, a musician, who has the vote of the young people and many of the poorer population, and Madame Manigat, a teacher and professor of political science who was the First Lady some years ago. Her husband was president and was ousted by a military coup. Pere Sadoni tells me he is voting for Manigat because she is educated, she is professional and he thinks she will represent Haiti well in dealing with other nations; also she values education highly. He thinks Martelly is uneducated (no college degree) and is a rough character who thinks he can say whatever he wants to whomever he wants, even if he uses foul language as he does in his music. He tells the people he will give them money and food and housing, and they believe him, but Pere Sadoni does not. His campaign posters say "Tet Kale #8" The candidates are chosen according to their position on the ballot, so Manigat is #68. The literal translation of Tet Kale #8 is "Bald Head #8" which I think is hilarious.

Most of the other Haitians I have spoken with support Martelly. They say he is more for the people than Manigat, whom they suspect is connected to the French elite and will not help the poor as much.

Today we saw several polling places; all were full of people in line to vote. The UN has peacekeepers everywhere lining the streets, and there are international observers as well. We asked to go inside one of the polling places, but two Haitian policemen (with guns) told us we could only go in if we had a certificate for voting. "That's okay" we said, and did not argue!

Please pray that the elections are certified as fair and the result is the best for the Haitian people. They need a leader to coordinate the relief effort and get Haiti's people out of the tent cities and into safe housing. Haiti has no garbage pickup (it piles in the streets and is basically an extension of the sidewalk). It has no postal service. People have to buy clean water. There are few schools for the children. Only 3% of the population is over 65; actually 38% of the population is under 14. Haiti's greatest strength could be her young population if they can get an education. This is why St Vincent's school is such a treasure. Nowhere else in Haiti could a deaf or blind person get educated. Next time I want to complain about politics in the U S, I will remember Haiti and be thankful that we have a functioning government at all.

Lunch in Haiti

Our guesthouse provides sack lunches for us, but on the first day we realized it consisted of PBJ sandwiches, chips, an apple and a bottle of water. So we decided to skip the sack lunch and eat from our stash of granola bars instead. When you work in 90 deg temperatures all day, you dont have much appetite anyway. Not to mention the fact that after I see several kids with stomachache because they have not eaten all day, I dont feel the need to eat myself. But some of us have gone to a restaurant close to the school, where the piclise is tasty and they have cold drinks. Piclise is a Haitian dish, somewhat like cole slaw, but very spicy with vinegar and peppers. It is delicious, and apparently takes hours to prepare because our Guesthouse hosts told us they dont serve it since it takes the staff too much time. We meet lots of friendly folks at the restaurant and can practice our Kreyol. Also I occasionally meet someone who speaks Spanish, which is a treat since I can speak that fairly well. I never think my spanish is very good until I am in Haiti struggling to say basic sentences in Kreyol. My words come out like "open--door---key?" Then I meet someone from the Dominican Republic and we can have a fabulous conversation! Sienna of course is learning to speak Kreyol VERY QUICKLY, amazing all of us. We now frequently use her as a translator. Must be the advantage of an 18 year old brain compared to a 50 year old brain.

Bheki Khumalo, our podiatrist, is vegetarian AND allergic to peanut butter. Unfortunately the guest house hosts have not been very accomodating in this respect, serving meat dishes every night for supper. When the only alternative is PBJ sandwiches, that does not leave Bheki many options. One day this week we managed to find a restaurant that served grilled fish, and all of us were glad to see Bheki eat something besides rice and hot sauce.

Today (Sunday) a few of us went to a Catholic Church (more on that later) and got back to the guesthouse in time for lunch. All the restaurants and markets are closed today because of the elections. So we had stale breadsticks and peanut butter, plus Sherye provided us crushed oreos for dessert. The oreos get rather damaged in transit from the US to Haiti. Nonetheless, they taste pretty good when you are hungry.

Eating in Haiti, I am always mindful of the people who dont have the luxury of a suitcase full of granola bars and oreos for emergencies.

He is deaf

There are now many more deaf students at St. Vincent's, about 80 I think. On Thursday, our second day of clinic, we asked the teachers to bring the children to the clinic, one classroom at a time. Unfortunately they sent all the deaf kids at once. This is a problem because we have 2 physician assistants, one MD and one podiatrist seeing patients, and only one Sign Language interpreter (Sherye). She shuttled back and forth from room to room and to the pharmacy to try to help. At one point I believe we had 50 deaf people either in the hallway waiting to be seen, in one of the exam rooms or crowded in front of the pharmacy waiting for prescriptions. At this point Amy came out of her exam room and said "I cant do this!" She speaks fluent Kreyol but that doesnt help with the deaf kids! It's the closest I have ever seen Amy to a meltdown. We asked the staff to bring us some hearing kids to balance out the logjam, but anytime you ask to have something done in Haiti it takes 3 or 4 conversations and much lapsed time before your request is granted. Meanwhile I learned how to say "My name is Doctor Susan" and "Take a deep breath" in sign language, I could also ask a few basic questions like "fever? diarrhea?, etc" Several of the kids had no obvious or visible malady, but came in to tell me their problem was that they couldn't hear. Yeah, I get that. Sherye says they think the doctor is there to fix their problem, so they tell me their problem is they are deaf. Also the blind kids would say "I have trouble with my eyes". Dont I wish I had an eye doctor to help them? The best I can do is offer them some eye drops for relief from itching or burning.

On a lighter note, Sherye says one of the kids, Remy, is hearing but he has so many deaf friends that he signs fairly well. She talked to him for several minutes in Sign, until one of the other kids told her "He can hear." She said she rarely gets fooled by a kid pretending to be deaf, but Remy apparently was very good at it!

So if any of you know someone who can sign, please tell them about our work. We have a job for them! Sherye is as important to make the clinic run as the doctors are.

First news from St. Vincent's Mar. 20, 2011

From Susan Nelson:

All arrived safely minus one bag full of granola bars. We are staying at Heartline Ministries Guest House, which is under new management since the last time we stayed. Not quite as charming, but still comfortable beds with plenty of fans and cold showers. For some reason the new hosts prepare things like Mexican food (ground beef with tortilla chips) and lasagna rather than Haitian food, but oh well. Amy complained one day to Madame Marc, who is Pere Sadoni's mother and the chief cook at the school, that we had had no fruit for 4 days. That day at the school we stopped for lunch, expecting to eat from our usual stash of granola bars and salted peanuts. Instead we were taken to Pere Sadoni's office where there was a feast of pineapple, papaya, mango, tomatoes and watermelon. Delicious, although some of us had a few intestinal rumblings after all that fruit at one time. Nothing serious.
The internet connection at the guest house is spotty at best, so I have not been able to send any messages home, and for that I apologize. To all of you praying for us, I thank you. We have seen about 200 kids so far and most of them are quite healthy, they dont seem to have as much anemia and appear to be gaining weight. It was somewhat disturbing one day in particular when I saw 3 or 4 kids in a row with stomachache; they told me they had not eaten anything all day. We questioned the staff later about this, because I thought lunch was served every day to the kids. Apparently these boys had not gone to lunch because they did not like the food. Classic teenagers; my daughter does the same thing. Except that in Haiti you dont have a lot of reserves; if you miss lunch at the school on Friday you may go home and not get another meal for a day or two. There are 275 students at St. Vincent's now; about 80 live at the dorm and the rest live at home. It is interesting to note that if we find a kid with worms or with anemia, it is always a kid that lives at home rather than the school. That tells me the kids who live at the dorm are getting clean water and regular meals.
It is also good to know that the 6 months' supply of vitamins we sent last fall on the shipping container (along with the Stop Hunger Now food) are being used. Pere Sadoni has hired a full time nurse to work in the pharmacy, her name is Nomil and she has been helping Wes every day. He speaks no Kreyol and she speaks no English, but somehow they work it out. One of her duties, Pere Sadoni told me, is to give one vitamin to every student every day at lunch. One of our team members told me they actually saw this happen. So all of you who donated vitamins for this trip, please know that you are helping a child at St. VIncent's. Drew brought about 100 lbs of vitamins in his suitcase on this trip. Tomorrow I hope to find out how many vitamins are actually left from our original shipment last fall.
more later..

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Haiti by moonlight

I wake up like its 6 AM and after tossing about for many minutes I get up to check the time, hoping its almost time to get up. Trying not to disturb everyone else while digging through my suitcase trying to find my watch. I walk outside on the patio and read the clockface by the light of the full moon. 2:15. Ah well.

The moonlight brightens the patio like a flashlight.. There is music playing of course, its Haiti. Sounds like a band or radio with drums and keyboards and lots of singing. From the patio I can see the lights of Port au Prince at a distance and the stars of Orion above me. A cool breeze blows through the mango trees all around the guesthouse where we are staying (and where some of us are sleeping at the moment).

We haven't had internet connectivity all week so this is my first message to write about our trip. I typed this into my blackberry, hoping the message will get through at some point. What else is there to do at 2 AM but think about the kids we have seen?

So much to say about our work at St Vincent's. Tonight after supper our team shared a bottle of Glenfiddich Scotch whiskey and shared stories. Bheki Khumalo is a podiatrist on our mission team and we have Nick Pesce, a physical therapist. They have worked steadily for 3 days with the Haitian therapist, Michel, seeing kids with developmental delay, rickets, and a variety of leg problems. The first day (Wed) was the clubfoot clinic. Dozens of babies and children under 2 years old with developmental delay and foot problems. At lunchtime on the first day, Nick said to me, "Did I mention I dont treat children?" To which I replied, "Did I mention we would be working in an ORPHANAGE?"

They could not finish seeing all the children who came that day, so Michel agreed to return the next day. And the next, even though she normally comes to St Vincent's on Wednesdays only. She will return again on Monday, which I find remarkable and a credit to the dedication and talents of Nick and Bheki. Nick was inspired this evening as he talked about seeing babies the first day, not sure how he could help, then seeing teenagers the next day with permanent deformities because they had not received adequate PT. The light came on as he realized that he has a chance to develop a program, working with Michel, to keep kids like Diana Vincent from becoming permanently crippled. We met Diana on our first trip to St. Vincent's in 2008 when she was so sick she could not pick up her head off the pillow. Each trip she grows bigger and stronger, although she still cant walk and has trouble holding her head up straight. I think she is about 4 years old now. We brought a child sized walker with us from Memphis, donated by Abby Nichols whose son has cerebral palsy and grew out of his walker. My husband had collapsed the walker so it would fit into a suitcase; we took it out with the bolts/nuts attached and John Mutin took it into the brace shop looking for tools and a wrench to put the walker back together. The men in the brace shop promptly took the walker from him and had it together in about 2 minutes.

Nick worked with Diana and some other young children at St. VIncent's and showed the other therapist how to help these children learn to use the walker. It will be a miracle of God's creation if these kids can learn to walk and get out of their wheelchairs, and Nick and Bheki believe they can do it, with continued help from Michel and an ongoing program of physical therapy. Also Bheki plans to make some braces for a boy named Levinsky, to help his legs straighten out so he will be able to walk. Now that's something worth investing yourself in.
 Drew with Levinsky (blue shirt) and blind child at St. Vincent's