Many of us looked into the crowd of faces today and saw the beginning of our roots. We saw the young faces of our parents, and the hands of our grandparents, worn and wrinkled. The lives they lead years ago, as the lives the people in the community of St Michel d’Attalaye lead today, is almost unfathomable.
Every person we saw may have been a stranger to us – but the look in their eyes was a familiar one. In every one of them we saw a piece of ourselves – humanity. It is a part of us that is often lost in the money-motivated lifestyle of the US. The smiles and joy of a community unaccustomed to the luxuries of basic needs we take for granted was impactful. How mothers care for newborn infants, how the elderly survives into their 80s, and how generations continue to thrive without access to medical care was astounding.
As cliché as this may sound, I woke up early that day just to see the sun rise, from a view point in an abandoned developing hotel, up the road from where we stayed. A couple other team members joined me, and were all in awe at how beautiful the sun rose, how orange the sky became, and how layered the sky appeared in various hues. This definitely set a peaceful tone to the day. For here it was: our last day at clinics.
Wake up. Shower. Breakfast. Load the bus. Open the clinic. This step-by-step routine was ingrained in all of us by this day. There was an aura of bitter-sweetness in the air, as we were both saddened and excited to know our final day at clinics were here. My station was at Vitals, and things got pretty frustrating. I had the task of taking blood pressure readings for adults, and temperature readings for pediatric patients. I had to report any extreme readings of blood pressure to the providers, and found myself surprised at how many extreme levels I came across. For example, many of the systolic readings were in the 200 range! What was so surprising about these cases were how frail and malnourished these patients with such high readings appeared. I had the ignorant mindset of thinking that high blood pressure readings mainly occurred in obese patients, but found myself sadly mistaken that day.
In the afternoon, I was assigned to shadow Dr. Ceus, and I truly enjoyed shadowing him. He was very knowledgeable and comfortable with medicine, and listening to him think out loud as he narrowed down the patients’ diagnoses impressed me greatly. Very laid back and easy-going around his patients, he really put them at ease. We couldn’t help but tease each other as to who had the worst Creole speaking skills. It seems I met my match. The experience I had shadowing him truly beat any experience I’d have in any classroom.
This day drew out long and tiring. We saw nearly 300 patients, and didn’t wrap up the clinic until the sun had long gone down. We cleaned up the clinic for one last time, and said goodbye to the very place we were serving for those past three days.
That night was a night of celebration. We celebrated the end of our clinic, and we celebrated the participants of the business workshop. See, from Monday to Wednesday at 2pm, Sony, and his assistant Alex conducted a business workshop where they taught a class of Haitian people tools, tips and strategies on starting a business. They were instructed to begin brainstorming their idea of a business to present during Wednesday’s class in a “Shark Tank”-esque style. That night, all participants were invited to the house where the winners would be announced, and our medical team was their cheering audience. After certificates were handed out, pictures were taken, speeches were given, and food was eaten, we thanked our participants as they left the house. We then reflected in such an intimate setting with one another, and even I can admit I shed few tears. The host of the house, aka the mayor left us with some hopeful words. He urged us not to be too dismayed that we couldn’t help everyone, but to be thankful in the ability to have impacted so many lives. He requested we return to aid him again in the future, and truly thanked us for all we did during our stay, whether great or small.
Final words were shared, and we went to bed that night with days one through five dancing around in our head, and forever in our hearts.
Two days of clinic flew by and today would be our last day. No one mentioned it but you could feel an inexplicable aura of invigoration to do as much as possible on this last day. We hurriedly set to work. Some patients showed up three consecutive days to be seen on the final day of clinic. The work was a lot and we were limited on medical personnel and medication. Pharmacy went over the popular medications we no longer had. By 1pm, that amount had doubled. We were out of the 700 toothbrushes. And down to a handful of Days for Girls sustainable feminine hygiene kits from the 240 we started with. No more of the common antifungals, antibiotics and antihypertensive. Those patients were still seen only to be referred to our partnering clinic in Camathe to receive their medication for low cost or no cost. They were still grateful.
3pm came and the waiting room was still full, with a crowd outside waiting to be seen. No one stopped to take a full lunch break; 5 minutes to eat the sandwich would have to do. The patients persevered, many who had shown up since 5am hoping devoutly that we would have a panacea. Some admired out loud at the compassion shown as one of the volunteers doing flow physically supported ailing geriatric patients to their clinic examination room.
The day started winding down and we were done a little past 7pm. We packed up all the instrument and supplies in clinic to be inventoried after dinner. There was a crowd of 20+ people waiting outside the guest house by the time we returned. They were the participants of the business workshop waiting for the closing ceremony. They were all excited about the applicability of the training they received. Earlier that day, all 20 took turns presenting their business idea to a panel of 5 judges, similar to shark tank. The two winners were announced at the ceremony and each were gifted funds to help start their business. The remaining 18 who did not win were still encouraged by the prospect of their business, equipped with new skills they looked forward to putting to use.
There was still work to be done after dinner and the ceremony. We still had to do inventory. Remaining medications purchased, and medical supplies such as sphygmomanometer and stethoscopes donated by MDF instruments were neatly packed to be handed out to surrounding clinics in the rural communities.
We were finally done by 2am. Most of the volunteers headed off to bed to catch a few hours of sleep before the bus leaves at 7am. A few stayed up to reflect on the trip among themselves. Volunteers started requesting to sign up for next year’s trip. They already have providers in mind to recruit and help address the limiting factor of medical specialists. Over 700 patients were seen by general, dental and ob/gyn clinics. Over 300 local women participated in the women’s health education sessions and 34 patients were referred for follow-up lab tests and/or surgical consult with the Baptist surgical team. We were proud of what we accomplished but disappointed at the work left to be done.
Like most of Haiti’s rural communities, St. Michel is full of joyous and bright individuals who lacked access to proper health care. Our group was comprised of many nationalities including Nigerian, Cuban, Jamaican, Guatemalan, Vietnamese and St. Maartenese. Despite differences in background and circumstances, we all had the same goal of raising a community in need and striving to make this world a better place for all.