Monday, October 4, 2010
Today we all got up early and headed off to the Bel Aire Clinic in Port au Prince. I have gotten a better look around the neighborhood here in Petionville and it actually is full of gorgeous mansions. The neighborhood is nicer (ie cleaner) and I see more businesses that are transnational chains, more restaurants, more nightclubs, more grocery stores etc. Here is evidence of the class distinction. So far I had only seen poor and poorer and poorer still. I still don't know any Haitians who live in these mansions. However I have met far too many Haitians who are intelligent, and civic minded who are unsure of what the future holds for them. Many of or interpreters such as George, Innocent, Mose, Reginald and many others are bright and energetic young men with unlimited potential, but very limited opportunities. Their is no clear cut route for them to attend college (especially now when many schools were lost in the earthquake). Haiti seems poised to lose its best hope for the future if there are no educational opportunities for these young men (and women). I cannot say what will become of them. If the potential of this generation is not fully exploited, that will be the true tragedy.
The Bel Aire Clinic is housed on the second floor of a church. We had four physicians this morning seeing patients. My students, Rebecca and Sr. Marie did triage, I worked with two nurses in the treatment room (patients came into us to get shots, private exams, wound care, or other special treatments. We had a constant flow of patients. Three other nurses worked the pharmacy including Chris who teaches pharmacology. He really worked hard during the week and got the Bel Aire pharmacy organized and cleaned. I helped, remove a rock from a child's ear, cleaned and redressed some pressure ulcers, dressed a burn, did some bandage changes, assisted with a GYN exam, and cleaned and organized the treatment room, labeling and organizing supplies. I should not use the term room since there are no walls on the second floor and room divisions are by function or walled off petitions. As usual, you make do with what you have. My work to day in the the clinic was my most enjoyable clinical experience. After we finished we went shopping for souveniers. We stopped at two separate market places and purchased paintings, boxes, wall hangings, and Haitian flags. Some of the more adventurous (ie younger) folks then went out to eat at a restaurant while the rest of us came home. I had a nap and got back to the business of blogging. Its been a busy week, We take the plane out in the morning and will take 12 hours to reach home. I wish I had down time to 'recover' but first thing Monday morning, I start teaching again and I have a test to take, and a second draft of my thesis due. No rest for the wicked I suppose.
Today, my four colleagues went out to do a community clinic, while I stayed at the clinic in the can, just down the road a few feet. It was a routine, uneventful clinic with the Haitian doctor. We saw about 30 patients, mostly sick babies, and elderly with chronic conditions. There is so little we can to about the chronic conditions, but because the clinic in a can (a trailer building, built in China and 'mailed' here to it's current location), is more/less permanent, folks can come back to get refills on their high blood pressure medication (lots of hypertension and heart disease). Today was a very eventful day, however, not because of the clinic. We finished up around 1:00 and I headed home to the maternity clinic for lunch. Soon after, my peers returned from their clinic as well, and we also decided to take a walk with our interpreters, George and Mose. George and Mose are 21/22 years old, the typical age of interpreters, young, strong, handsome, and outgoing. As we walked, nurse Linda told me about her most challenging case of the day:
Linda saw a pretty, petite Haitian young woman of about 20 years of age. She administered a pregnancy test to the girl and it was positive. When she found out she was pregnant, she became upset because her parepnts would be angry with her. She said that she would seek an abortion. When Linda tried to talk to her about it, she would not be dissuaded. Even the interpreter told her the girl was determined to do it. Linda gave her birth control information and discussed other options, but in the end gave her a course of antibiotics and made her promise to take them after the procedure was done. Hearing this story was heartbreaking, and Linda was obviously still shaken by the encounter. I'm so glad Linda thought to give her antibiotics. The greatests risks with abortion are hemorrhage (which will kill you quickly) and infection (which will kill you slowly). In a country like Haiti that is very undeveloped and very Catholic, I think she will have a hard time finding a safe practitioner to give her an abortion. Most hospitals are owned by religious organizations which won't offer them. She told Linda she would do it herself if she had to, by pills or by 'other means'. I teach about abortion as a part of my OB lecture so depending on how far along in her pregnancy, pills won't do the job after between 9-12 weeks gestation. If she uses an instrument on herself she is at very high risk of hemorrhage or infection or both. In other words, there are no good forseeable outcomes for this young woman. Attempting an abortion could very well be a death sentence for her. A very sobering thought indeed. Tomorrow I'll ask Dr. Denton (our host) about this. I'd like to know the frequency of abortion here and what options she has to get it done safely.
As our walk continued,we wound our way around the 'neighborhood'. It was quite unlike the view from the road in a tap tap. As we walked we saw up close and personal how people lived. Even after a previous trip to Haiti, I found it shocking. People living in tents and shacks along side their cattle, goats, and pigs. How they lived this way was inconceivable to me. No electricity, no running water. I felt as if I were seeing the real Haiti for the first time. All the people came out of their houses to see the 'Blancs' walking by. No doubt very few whites/westerners ever see what we saw. George and Mose greated all their neighbors graciously and if I smiled and said "Bonsua" they smiled and said it right back, We passed lots of new wooden small shacks that various organizations had come in and built, they were tiny little houses but far superior to a pieced together tent. George took us to his home to meet his family which included a grandmother, a cousin and her three children and another cousin, sister to the first. George's mother died when he was young, and he lost his father in the earthquake. George and his cousins and grandmother lived in a tent outside their home which had sustained lots of earthquake damage and was being repaired by several men walking around and hammering on the roof. 'The men climbed into the trees to get us coconuts, which George's cousin slashed open with a machete and we all drank fresh coconut milk and ate the coconut out with spoons. We stayed about an hour and George and I talked a long time. He wants to go to school in the US and study law and then return to 'do something great for Haiti'. I believe that someday, George will do just that.
We had other adventures on the walk, including seeing an abandoned sugar cane factory, that George says will open in October and employ 2,000 Haitians (may it be so). I lost a flip flop during the walk, and could not continue, so George hired a motorcycle to drive me the rest of the way back to the clinic. I was very nervous, (folks use motorcycles for taxies here, and it was not unusually to see four or five people on a bike zooming by in one direction or another) but as I was the only rider on a privately rented bike, and Mose did the driving (the driver stayed behind with our group) and he headed my admonishments to 'GO SLOWLY MOES" it went pretty well. Remember there were no paved roads where we were, only dirt and rock streets (that's why my flip flop didn't hold up) and of course full of huge holes! So there was Mose driving slowly with me on the back, while he weaved in and out of traffic and gigantic pot holes. That was my adventure for the day. I got back in time to wolf down dinner (a potato, carrot, and greens stew, flavored with meet of an unknown origin, and served with (you'll never guess) beans and rice. All delicious. Then I accompanied Dr. Denton to the hospital to visit a post op patient, which I will write about tomorrow.
Today saw another early start, as four of our small group took a short tap-tap ride to the beach and set up a clinic under the palm trees. We saw about 50-60 patients, some we could help and as always, some we could not. After we had seen every patient, my colleagues took a dip in the ocean while I enjoyed the scenery (I'm not a swimmer). We rode back 'home' to our little maternity hospital and I took a nap until dinner. Tonight we were served a potato, yam and beef stew and white rice with a pureed bean sauce. I've since spent 3-4 hours reading homework (I have a pathophysiology test when I return home) and am finishing a long day with my journal. I'm short on detail because I'm tired and in need of sleep, but it has been another amazing and thought provoking day. We had great discussion over dinner processing what we are seeing: the nature of health and wellness, the geopolitial and socio-economic basis for health, the upheaval of Haiti, the nature of family, the meaning of hope and happiness. Sometimes it is all too much to take in at once. Thank goodness for interludes of blessed sleep.
Addendum: Now with some sleep, I'm ready to reflect upon a couple of events yesterday.
Most interesting case: We saw a boy of 12 years yesterday with severe cahexia (not just lack of fat, but lack of muscle- literally skin and bones.) He was with his mother and younger brother and sister all of whom were well nurished and looked fine. His mother stated that he had been sick for two weeks and had no appetite and diarrhea, but his severe state looked like it took a lot longer to produce than two weeks. He was flaccid and lethargic (not surprising- we produce our energy (ATP) in our muscle fiber and he had very little) and had a very flat affect. He was given a referral to the hospital for follow up care. He was heartbreaking to behold, and difficult to even look at. I felt this child might be dying and there was so little we could do. We talked about him long after clinic. We have no diagnostic equipment to diagnose so we can only guess at what the problems are based on clinical manifestations. Did he have severe and prolonged intestinal worms? Was it neonatal transmission of HIV/AIDs? Did some combination of opportunistic infections tax his immune system to the point it wasn't fighting back? Sadly, there is no way to tell. Worse still, no way to tell if his mother took him to the hospital. You need money to pay for healthcare up front. Without money, they'll be turned away, no matter how dire the situation. The hospitals here do turn people away for all kinds of reasons. I can only hope that emaciated boy with the haunting eyes gets the medical attention he so desperately needs.