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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Last days treating patients in Haiti

Traveling to Nativity Village through the mud and giant puddles.

Haitian Border with the Dominican Republic

Saying goodbye to Jakzi (Dr. Morgan and children of Jakzi)

Patient with severe Vitamin A deficiency

by Dr. Jim Morgan

February 17 (Wednesday)

I’m blogging the next 4 days “post facto” since Megan left today with her iPhone and we had no way to communicate. We went to Cap-Haitien this AM and took Megan to the airport. Sadly we lost a major player on our team but still had a lot to accomplish. We met Jennifer (Pediatric PNP from Northern VA), her team, and VOSH (a long established optometry/ophthalmic group) at Mont Joli Hotel (Haitian 5 Star hotel which is equivalent of our 2 Star hotels). I didn’t realize places existed like this in Haiti. I had a room with a beautiful view of ocean (from a distance that is), electricity all day (as compared to just 4 hrs. in Jakzi), a TV with 4 fuzzy channels, and a hot water spigot (sadly no hot water came out).

Jenn had arranged for us to do a clinic in Nativity Village which is one of the most poverty stricken areas in Cap-Haitien. Basically a swamp with too many people. When we arrived, we had to somehow portage the large puddles of contaminated water with our supplies. The motorcycle taxis arrived and saved the day! They not only carried our supplies, but all of us across deep, dirty water. They were amazing how they drove their bikes and didn’t dump our stuff (OR US!!!) into the mud. The clinic itself was a huge success both medically and for the patients seeing VOSH. The problems were the same – malnutrition, worms, scabies, diarrhea, fungal infections. Dr. Maklin helped us and we saw dozens of patients. The absolutely worst conditions I have seen so far in Haiti!!! I don’t know why the flies wanted to stay near me.

We went back to Mont Joli that night for a dinner conference with Haitian Health Network at Hotel Roi Christopher. Got to meet the leaders of many of the voluntary health organizations like Haiti MaryCare to see what they were doing in Haiti. Ted Kaplan, who we had all worked with @ Pillette, organized everything with his wife Elizabeth. Best meal of the entire trip and gave us a broad overview of all trying to be accomplished in Haiti. So many organizations trying so hard and I felt proud to be a part of one of the best, Haiti MaryCare.

February 18 (Thursday)
Left early that AM to return to Jakzi. with our team, Jenn, and VOSH. Starting to realize that everything in Haiti is relative. Jakzi is so fortunate to have a clinic that functions daily as compared to other areas that rarely see a medical person. Again, we saw many patients as did VOSH who were doing eye exams and providing glasses if necessary (and if not they got sunglasses which they loved). It was quite cool that day (Haitian perspective that is). About 65 degrees. Rain had stopped, but clouds persisted. Made for great working conditions. We wore shorts, but many of the villagers were in ski coats! Saw a blind mother raising small children who had severe corneal clouding from earlier Vitamin A deficiency. I also saw the worst failure to thrive baby I can ever remember. Six months old and only 6 pounds. I’m learning in Haiti that I have to approach problems totally differently – no lab down the street, tests cost money the patients can’t afford, and you really have to rely on clinical judgment (its sad this is being lost in the USA or that fear of litigation inhibits its use). A trial of a medication for a parasitic infection is all I can do and hope it works. I wanted to test for HIV but not available. We returned to the Center for Formation that evening for a nice dinner with VOSH. Even enjoyed a few cold Prestige before lights went out.

February 19 (Friday)
Last work day in Jakzi. Started to get sad about leaving, but ready to go home to see family and friends. Took a walk from the center to the village to cherish the sites, sounds, and people along the way I’ve met this week. Once there, not much time to reflect. Everyone knew it was our last day and came out to see us. We saw ~100 children in a 4 hour time span, but gladly had to turn no one away. Said our goodbyes at the church and slowly walked home just reflecting on the past two weeks. Before leaving village, went to see Yudinx one last time. He was thrilled to get my cap that read Doctors Have Patience. He wants to be a doctor and I have faith he will accomplish his goal. Quiet evening of packing to get up at 3:30 AM to start our trip home.

February 20 (Saturday)
Awoke at 3:30 AM & got to see beautiful stars of Haiti one last time before going home. Fenalin took us to northern border dodging all of the cows and goats sleeping both in and alongside the highway. It still amazes me I never saw a car hit an animal, person, or another vehicle this entire trip! Two hour wait before the border opened. Small glitch with passports, but easily walked across the bridge into the Dominican Republic. We missed our direct bus to Santo Domingo, but with the help of a new-found Haitian friend Gary, we took another bus to Santiago and transferred to Santo Domingo. There we saw Papito one last time before we went to the airport. How good it was to see his smile before we left! We easily got to the airport on time (a little nerve racking since we had to travel in Haiti, cross the border, and then go 6 hours by bus in the DR). Flight home quiet and even getting through customs a breeze.

This was my first trip to Haiti and suffice to say it was the most life changing journey I’ve ever traveled. Even for the regular team members of Haiti MaryCare, this trip required so much coordination for it all to happen it defies imagination. Especially in Haiti where NOTHING is predictable. This was all do to the efforts of Mary Lou, Sherman, Papito, and the unsung hero Tom behind the scenes at home. Considering we flew to the DR, traveled by bus to PaP, then again by bus back to the DR, back to Cap-Haitien by bus, clinics in Jakzi, Pillete, and Cap-Haitien, and then back to DR by bus and flight out to NYC. Exhausting to even put all of this in one sentence. One always comes away from Haiti appreciating EVERYTHING we have here in the USA. I was so glad to have a roof over my head, a clean toilet and shower, healthy food and water, and 4 hours of electricity at night. It’s so easy to take all of these things for granted. I realized how much time I waste at home sitting in front of a TV, computer, or on my cell phone. How nice it was to even read some books. The old saying “early to bed, early to rise” really applies in Haiti, especially when the roosters start crowing at 5 AM. You really learn a lot about yourself.

I was immersed in a culture that has so little, but is so kind and appreciative of everything people do for them. They work tirelessly without complaining just living from day to day. Many only get one meal per day, yet have a resilience that is extraordinary. I’m convinced this is why so many survived the earthquake is horrendous conditions. I am grateful for my new Haitian friends – Papito, Father Dorcin, Dr. Maklin, Dr. Vaval, and the entire village of Jakzi. I look forward to returning to the village that so embraced me. Hopefully my Creole will be a little better next trip. All prayers and God’s blessings are now needed for those who suffered loss in the earthquake as well as the millions of other Haitians who strive everyday just to survive and hopefully have a better life.


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