Friday, July 30, 2010

Haiti, July 13-19, 2010.

We flew into Port Au Prince on Tuesday, July 13th, and we drove directly from the airport to Les Cayes.This time the driver took us through an area of PAP that we had not visited before, Cite Soleil. I have been coming to Haiti for more than 10 years now and I thought that I had seen all the misery there is. But there is plenty more.

The chaos in the streets, the tent settlements boiling under the sun, the trucks that throw the blackest and thickets of fumes, the constant noise of the drivers pressing their horns, the smells of rotten fruit and human waste, the merciless heat, the dust from the bags of cement being transported, the piles of rubbish, the raw sewage, the debris from the toppled buildings still lying everywhere, how on earth can these people bear so much pain and discomfort?

The landscape of the city and the countryside still looks very similar to what we saw six weeks after the earthquake. Reconstruction and recovery seems to be going very slowly. This time around we noticed that some of the tents are brand new, also there are portable toilets and the second floor of some of the damaged houses are being demolished. The rubble has been moved around but its presence is still suffocating the city and the villages.

Our trip to Les Cayes took us seven and a half hours. The car was heating up and we had to stop to cool down the radiator every few miles. Finally it stopped working all together and we had to wait for another car to pick us up. We took the boat to Ile A Vache when it was already very dark. The 45-minute boat ride was punctuated by a lightning storm. The next day we learned that it was the same storm that had damaged the newly established refugee camp north of PAP.

We settled at Port Morgan in Ile a Vache as always. We are glad to see that the hotel has plenty of guests and that they are expanding the facilities. That means work for the islanders.

The main reason for our trip at this time of the year is to reorganize the administration of the school. We have met with Phelix Joseph, a local guy who is trained in accounting and who speaks very good English. We have asked him to do some organizational work for the school. We are trying to set up a committee to oversee its administration. Xavier met with Alexy, the current administrator, and with Marie Anne, the school director to explain the new plan. We are finding some resistance. We realize that it is not easy to change things but we are determined to make it better.

Xavier has been working in the clinic every day. On Thursday there were over 60 patients, many of which had came from Bois-Bouton, at he far end of the island, more than 3 hours walk away from the clinic. That day they saw many sick people. We gave money to two of the patients to go to the hospital at Les Cayes. One was a little girl with a huge abscess by her eye that was too risky to be opened and drained at the clinic. The other was a frail woman with respiratory problems who needed an x-ray to determine if she had lung cancer. She has lost 15 lbs in the last year, and though she could barely breath she came walking 2 km to reach the clinic. We wondered how she could make it back to her village, O'Kachiman, which seats on the top of a hill that we fight our way up every time we visit. Xavier also opened a giant abscess on a young man's neck and another on a woman's breast.

On Friday, there were sixty people waiting when we arrived at the clinic. There were many babies, including a one-day old baby brought by her weak mom. It is unbelievable how much people can endure …... the 16th year-old boy with swollen infected feet with fungus and bacteria barely able to walk. The 75 year-old woman who came by horse from a village two hours away with an incredible vaginal infection; the diabetic pregnant woman with a giant pregnancy due to uncontrolled disease. The elderly woman with a dislocated knee who came from another far away village....We have diagnosed six cases of malaria today. Human misery at its worst.

On the positive side, we are happy to see that more patients are coming to seek help from the clinic. We have spread the word in the island that not only the visit is free but also the medications. We will increase the annual budget of the clinic in order to make it 100% free for everybody. No more guessing about who can and who cannot pay for some medications. This has been an uphill battle with the staff at the clinic. They insist that some people can pay for medications and that in Haiti people are accustomed to pay for medical visits. We have finally convinced them to do a trial for the rest of the year of total gratuity including medications.

On Saturday we worked setting up a lap top we have brought for the clinic. Xavier has created a simple electronic medical record to substitute the current photocopied forms they have been using. He has also installed Skype and a camera so that the clinic staff can communicate with hi, view patients and send photos of patients if necessary. The clinic is now connected to the Internet!

In the afternoon we meet again with Phelix Joseph and Dstil Nestor, another law educated islander, to further discuss the establishment of a supervisor committee for the school.

Sunday morning we meet with Surzie at the clinic to go over the computer set up and the software. We also meet with Patrick Lucien a Haitian American who has spearheaded various very interesting development programs in Ile a Vache.We decide to take the afternoon off because tomorrow we travel back to Miami. But as we are sipping an after lunch rum, a distressed mother with a 12 year old daughter came to the hotel looking for a doctor. They came from Tromelieu, a far away village, to attend a festival that was taking place in Anse a lo, a beach close to our clinic. The girl had just nearly severed her left thumb with a machete trying to open up a coconut. She was bleeding profusely and in terrible pain and shock. The hotel gave Xavier a medical kit to clean up her hand and check the seriousness of the cut. We had to take her to the clinic to give her stitches. We phoned Surzie and asked her to meet us at the clinic. The hotel took us by boat. The poor girl was terrified and her mom could not tend to her, she was as horrified as her daughter. I helped holding the girl's hand and caressing her cheeks while stopping her from looking at what they were doing to her thumb. Xavier did a very good reconstruction of her finger, but he does not know if she will be able to save it because she had cut into the bone. We gave her pain medication and antibiotics and told the mother to go to get an injection for tetanus from a hospital the next day and come back to the clinic for follow up.

That evening we ended up visiting the festival on the beach after all. We just got back to Miami.
We will further report on the developments at the school