Friday, November 19, 2010

Reflections of Haiti - by Kevin

Many of you have asked about my trip to Haiti. I'll try to reflect a bit on it. It was one of the hardest weeks of my life. I was ready for the poverty but I thought there would be some relief in places, some portions of the country that looked 'ok'. This wasn't the case. The very worst place in America looks better than the nicest village in Haiti. I saw hundred of miles of abject poverty. Interestingly, you get used to it fast. After 2-3 days it becomes normal and in a way, I found this good. It was good how fast we can get used to things. I got used to not drinking much water, I got used to eating a lot less, I got used to wearing dirty clothes and not having a shower, etc. I got used to seeing Haitians as Haitians, not as charity cases. Humans are so good at adapting. This was encouraging to me because it meant that we as a family can adapt here in the US. We can live with less, we can consume less in order to give more away, we can live with less luxuries. It's actually not that hard I found, you get used to not having stuff pretty fast. It's kind of empowering actually to live with fewer resources (I think this is why many like camping). So although I never felt the Haitians were 'lucky' for being so poor, I did feel that Americans were unlucky to have so much -it hurts the soul to have everything you need and live in comfort all the time. The things we complain about seemed so silly down there. I'm going to try to complain less, now that I have the Haitian perspective. It's hard not to live easily and luxuriously in America so this remains my challenge. I can afford a lot of stuff and lot of things with my job. I need constant work in this area to give more away -feel free to call me on it if you see me living too extravagantly, I need the discipline!

Haiti is a failed state. There is no real law, no infrastructure, no resources. I got the feeling that the place could riot at any minute, and you wouldn't blame them. They have been backed into a corner and feel totally powerless as a people. I didnt see one real commercial store or public building except the airport. It's like the wild West. People drive 70+ MPH on dirt roads, passing people on either side. Pedestrians, animals and kids walk the sides of the road as traffic zooms by at highway speeds. People travel everywhere on tap-taps, which are pickup trucks with extended tops. It was common to see 10+ people in a compact pickup truck bed.

They also drive small motorcycles everywhere. I saw a couple families of 4 on one motorcycle. At the clinic we treated 3 people who had a motorcycle accident. One of them had a complete break of the arm, you could see the broken bone pushing on the skin. If someone has an accident or gets sick in Haiti they just have to live with it. No one can afford care at the few hospitals and there are no ambulances. One lady we saw broke her hip 5 months ago. She was living on her back for 5 months.

Haitians waiting outside the clinic for medical care
The clinic was crazy. People would wait outside the gate starting at 4-5 am. You would hear motorcycles and trucks all night bringing people. Then at 6 am they would let the people into the courtyard and triage them, and give them numbers. Without earplugs I would have been toast. The sound of the donkeys was crazy. They would bray all night. And there were barking dogs everywhere. From 6:30am or so until 6pm we saw patients. I think we saw about 800-900 that week. Most had typical aches and pains (they have a lot of back/neck pain, which is not surprising when you see them carrying 5 gallon buckets of water on their heads for 3 miles).

But we also saw a premature baby with neonatal tetanus infection (no one gets tetanus in developed countries). We saw a fair number of malaria cases, HIV cases, tumors, seizures, STDs, and of course cholera. We had about 7 cases of cholera while we were there. These cases scared the people (the first lady that came in sent people running covering their faces with their shirts (they think it's airborne). We had to educate them on how it's spread. These were the first cholera cases in that remote part of Haiti. It's getting worse now. Cholera is a very treatable infection. One has really bad diarrhea and vomiting but the course is only 3-5 days. The problem is that with the vomiting and diarrhea you can't stay hydrated and people die of electrolyte loss/dehydration. The diagnosis is made by looking at the stool -there is none, just water with flecks of mucous/tissue.
You can literally save lives with a lacate IV. Antibiotics arent even indicated in most cases. But simple IVs and hydration salts are hard to find in Haiti so people are dying from something so treatable. There are so many people with no teeth, injuries to their eyes (or just need glasses but without them are legally blind). The old people often have cataracts. Everything is so treatable in the US.

The quarantine area for cholera patients
The people are so stressed. The 2008 flood, the earthquake and now cholera have stressed them to the core. I would say the Haitians were nice. I would not say they were happy. It seemed to me that most were at the ends of their ropes.

a post-earthquake tent city
We had 7 physicians so I didn't need to see patients. We actually had 2 docs that rotated in the pharmacy because we needed more help there. I drew a lot of blood, did a lot of microscope work looking for trichimonis, malaria, etc. and I filled a lot of prescriptions. We had a good pharmacy which was well stocked.

the pharmacy

The most disappointing thing about the trip for me was that there was only one other medical team member who was a Christian. The others were typical west-coast liberals who were there purely as humanitarians. This grated on me as time went on since the local pastors assumed we were there because we were being obedient to Christ. But most of the team thought religion was just a useful crutch for the hopeless Haitians but had no real value (it was a useful delusion that they were willing to grant the uneducated Haitians). But my friend Lorenzo was there. He is a born-again Catholic and an amazing pediatrician. I saw him literally stay up 2 nights to care for sick kids. He saw hundreds of kids and managed his own neonatal and pediatric ICU wards. He didn't get much help from the other docs (who were not peds people and were younger than me). I learned a lot from Lorenzo. Perhaps my biggest role on that trip was keeping him company. He also felt lonely being on a trip with agnostic doctors.
Lorenzo working with patients
One of the docs got a bad case of diarrhea and was out for 2 days but otherwise the team stayed healthy. I had to take some post-exposure drugs after I got exposed to a patient's blood and those made me very sick for the trip home and for 3 days after. But now I feel normal again. It was hard to deal with the hopeless feeling in Haiti. I kept thinking that even if I had a billion dollars I couldn't do much in Haiti. There is no Home Depot to buy building supplies, there is no real post office to get things delivered, there are no contractors to call, etc. But I can say that the only glimmers of hope in Haiti are around the churches. The church projects build schools, feed the kids and educate them in French. Only about 50% of Haitians can read. Education is key. Without the churches Haiti would be hopeless. The pastors can tell you stories that blow you away. One told me that since the schools were closing due to cholera fears, the kids would not eat. He also told me of a boy who needed socks to go to school so they would cut a sock into strips so that they could wear a 'band' of sock on their ankle above their shoe to make it look like they had socks. As always, it's the kids that break your heart. I gave away a lot of lollypops. And the hardest thing for me was seeing kids sleep on the dirt or on concrete floors (which is how they sleep at home too). These were kids that were the same age as Sydney and Kayleigh.

I left whatever clothes and stuff I could. There was no place to buy souvenirs so I gave that cash away, it wasn't hard, it was very easy to do.

There are Compassion projects in Haiti (Jill can get you a kid) and here is the website for the organization that runs the clinic and school where I was:

kids from the school

This is an overview of the church, school and clinic in Terre Blanche
The older I get the more I feel like being a pastor rather than a clinician. So let me pontificate a bit (oh brother, here he goes...) You all know one of my inspirations is Francis Chan. He is southeast Asia now. Read some of the updates from him and his wife and his 5 kids who all went with him to serve at an orphanage:

Chan has always said, and now I'm going to say; stop saying 'I wish I could help' or 'you're so lucky that you're able to serve like that'. The biggest lie that we all give in to is that since we can't do everything we should do nothing. You can tell me you're not a Christian, fine. You can tell me you don't want to give, fine. You can tell me you're a secular humanist, fine. I can deal with all that. What I can't deal with anymore is the Christian who says "I really wish I could help but after my bills, concert tickets, vacations, etc, I don't have anything left". We care more about our standard of living than we care about others simply living. I also can't deal with people who say they aren't 'called' to serve or sacrifice. Every Christian is called to sacrafice and care for the poor -it's the defining aspect of Christianity. Read Peter, read James, read Luke. Like all of us, I struggle with how to live sacrificially as an American. Check out the book 'Radical' by David Platt. It's a quick read and helped me to focus. He challenges his readers to do a simple experiment for a year -I did the experiment. Give it a try.

Here are some pictures from Haiti. If any of you want to go on a trip like this let me know. I can help if funds are difficult. Currently I have an interest to serve in Thailand...



Grandma Dee Dee said...

Excellent Kevin
Thanks so much for sharing!!!!
You touched our hearts.
Love Dad and Mom Red

Teena said...

wow. no words.

thank you for sharing.


I am reading Radical by David Platt.

Life changing....

I am so thankful for this blog in my life....

Michelle ~ Blogging from the Boonies said...

These posts have left me without words. I have read every one, but can't articulate my thoughts even though they have touched me deeply. Thank you for sharing your experience.

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