I am an emergency physician and had the opportunity to volunteer with FOTCOH during my residency. When we had some time off while we moved from California to Texas, I thought it would be a great time to volunteer again. My wife surprised me by immediately volunteering to go as well. I sent off the email request and hoped for the best. When we learned that there was an opening for a medical provider, our excitement immediately became mixed with apprehension because my wife is non-medical and did not want to be a burden or tourist.
I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I was also concerned about my ability to help the Haitians. Managing chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension, and asthma in resource poor situations is not my normal scope of practice, much less the tropical diseases endemic to Haiti. Her position was to assist in triage of patients so we immediately began practice taking vital signs.
We hadn’t even arrived at clinic before we were overwhelmed by the extreme poverty and desperate need of the Haitian people. We were put at ease when our team leader told us the most important care we would be providing was just the human compassion and fellowship we would be providing to our patients during their struggle for survival.
The bustle of clinic soon swept us up and we both did our best to provide care and compassion. Haiti makes it easy because the need is so great that everyone can find a way to contribute. The gratitude of the patients for the smallest assistance is heart warming. Their willingness to put up with the hardships of weather and long waits is a testament to the good work the clinic provides.
My wife became very proficient at taking vital signs along with many other ways to assist clinic operations. Taking vitals was not her most important contribution, but lending a hand and showing one of the most impoverished groups of people on earth that she cares was.