In Haiti it is easy to focus on the difficulties and disease that you see, smell and hear from the moment you arrive. BUT . . . there is incredible beauty here. The mountains and ocean are breathtaking. Interestingly, I am not convinced that we are truly any happier here in the U.S. with all of our possessions, opportunity and options for health care (and everything else) than our Haitian friends are without it. They look serious at first but smile so quickly and sincerely with a simple “Bonjou”. They love a good story. They are grateful. They laugh easily and talk in a big, enthusiastic, and animated way with their friends and neighbors, and with me when I used the few Kreyol phrases I knew. Our Haitian interpreters were invaluable.
It was an adventure just trying to get to the clinic. Hurricane Irma delayed us more than once. We finally arrived me for the first time, on a hot Sunday afternoon during the hottest time of the year. After a tour and overview of the FOTCOH facility, a meal, and a team meeting, the clinic started first thing Monday morning. We saw about 225 patients each ranging in age from a newly born premature little boy (I would estimate to be about 32 weeks) to older folks in their 80s. They arrived from the mountains and towns, some walking, some rode tap-taps or motorbikes, and many slept all night in the FOTCOH shelter so that they could be seen and evaluated.
The Haitian people are beautiful. Many came freshly bathed and dressed in their very best with their hair braided or combed. They are patient and polite and so very strong. There were children I couldn’t help, and that was very hard. There was a 2-year-old little girl – Christiana – who was very sick. Judging from her heart sounds, she was likely in heart failure perhaps resulting from a congenital heart problem that would’ve been promptly evaluated and repaired in the US, but for whom there were no immediate or affordable options in Haiti. On our second day, I met Noël, a 9-month-old baby boy. It was quickly clear to me that Noël was having seizures, nearly constantly, just during the time I held him. As a mother and a nurse, I almost physically felt my heart breaking when I had to send these mothers away, telling them that their children needed more help than we could offer. I knew they would likely not get it anywhere else. I had to go inside to cry. And then I had to go back outside and continue our work.
I learned that largely because of the work of FOTCOH, through the provision of medication and scheduled visits, the adult hypertension, and diabetes that is so prevalent even in their young people has become markedly well controlled in that community. Children can receive well-child evaluations at the clinic until they are 2 years old. There is prenatal care. This clinic makes a difference.
On Tuesday I will return to work in the Emergency Department at our Children’s hospital in Minnesota. I will have a renewed sense of gratitude for the ease with which we can help those who come to us. There is great complexity and contrast in Haiti. I saw joy and gratitude in these Haitian people living their everyday lives and it is transforming. The words I share here are inadequate to describe all I saw and felt, and I am changed.
Kristin Dettmer, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, St Paul, MN