It was only my first day

“You gotta make sure and drink plenty of water”, Steve (a fellow volunteer) said. Very succinct and pertinent advice for anyone being outside all day in Haiti. I walked anxiously back and forth on the first floor of our clinic, not knowing what to expect. I  wondered if Steve could tell that I was nervous as hell.

Shellie, our team leader, informed us the night before that the first day can be challenging because of the shear volume of patients. It also didn’t help my confidence that this trip had consisted of one of the smaller teams she had been on. Usually fear gives me intestinal problems, but I guess the public domain of our bathroom has caused me shutdown. Nothing seemed right to me.

I went off to the “provider” area and found my translator sitting at the middle table. Shellie introduced me to Roger, a tall, muscle bound Haitian with a very serious affect on his face. I shook his and sat down and could see 30 patients sitting in a row nearly 40-50 feet away from me. I simply sat there for a minute not realizing that Roger was waiting for my cue to call the first patient over.

He mumbled under his breath, ” Are you ready?”, as I noticed his long mustache hairs covering his lips. “Uh, what? Yup, I mean yes, yes let’s start.”, I stammered.

My encounters today ranged from patients with hypertension to diabetes,  asthma to random skin lesions that I had no earthly idea what the hell they were. This aspect of medicine requires the same approach no matter where you are; from the first world to the third world.
But as I saw Garron inspecting a possible inguinal hernia out in broad daylight, Shellie and Jenna working endlessly early in the morning to get logistics in order, Beth saying hello to every Haitian she saw (even if she didn’t know them), Steve playing with adorable newborns, I realized one thing, “This is it, this is all the Haitians have.”

It hit me the most when I walked out with Beth, Ken, and Shellie to pick the patients we were going to see in the afternoon. They were waiting in the shade, some in the heat holding children, some waiting further down from the compound to have even a chance to be seen.

Fotcoh, for most Haitians, is the only access to healthcare available. A functional and well organized pharmacy, nurses available to triage all patients, and so many volunteers keeping the behind the scene processes running – this is a machine built to provide healthcare. No worrying about taking patient’s money, billing or rvus.

I knew at the end of the day, I would really enjoy this type of medical care, and it was only my first day.

Ather Ali