The trip was exhausting! An early flight and long van ride over 300 hair pin turns from Port Au Prince to Jacmel were just the beginning. Just after dinner, on the eve of our clinic opening, the whole team was sitting in the dining area. Dr. Trainor, our team leader and a pediatrician who frequently makes trips to the FOTCOH clinic, reviewed the medical guidelines with us. Although the list was exhaustive, it ended on an important note. “Touch every patient you see tomorrow. They just want to know that someone cares.” All of us went to bed early that night, but I couldn’t stop thinking about that piece of advice and made a promise to myself to be vigilant in both the quality of my medical care and my attentiveness to each patient.
The next morning I felt a bit flustered as I was seeing the workings of the clinic for the first time. Between seeing patients and trying to remember how to do certain lab tests I was kept very busy. About a couple hours passed, and I remembered what Dr. Trainor had said the night before. Despite the hard work to be done, I was able to relax a little. My smile returned and my brow unfurrowed. Yes, I am busy – but that is not why I or any of us are here.
I started taking more time with each patient that I saw in triage. I learned to ask ‘How are you’ in Creole and I tried to pronounce each patient’s name. Christianella, Hervé, Rose Anouise. They are all beautiful names for very lovely people. I found the patients would often smile after I say their name – whether it is because they find my accent funny or because they feel special, it doesn’t matter because they are smiling and that makes me happy.
Now truly engaged and connected with these patients, I bear an even stronger sense of responsibility for them. Beyond just acknowledging the patients, I was able to direct an asthma patient who is having difficulty breathing to the area where she can get a nebulizer treatment. People came to me in need of help, and I was able to take care of them, it was wonderful!
A woman says ‘Bonjour’ as she passed me a four-month-old baby, and I was afforded the opportunity to cradle the baby in my lap. Even though I found that my pants were soaked in the baby’s urine, I was not caught off guard. After swooning over this beautiful child, I handed the baby back to the grandmother and then ran to get disposable diapers before the baby was seen by the practitioners. These moments stick with you.
As Dr. Granger told me during the windy drive from Port Au Prince, there is a story about a boy throwing starfish in the water, one-by-one, after thousands have washed up on the beach. A man asks the boy, ‘What are you doing? You won’t be able to make much of a difference.’ The boy throws another starfish in the water and says, “But I made a difference for that one.” This is why the FOTCOH team and I are here. We may not be trying to save Haiti and turn around the world’s poorest country, but we are doing what we can to help the men, women, children and babies who come to us in need both physically and emotionally. We each do our job to ensure that they feel that “someone cares,” and it’s an experience I wouldn’t trade for the world.
Megan K. Hunter and Dr. Mark McHaney