TO MY PARTNERS in MINISTRY
to the PEOPLE of HAITI
APRIL 2, 2016
A dream for a pharmacy to serve the residents of Île-à-Vache has been on the hearts of Caribbean Children’s Foundation and Grace Ministries for a long time. With this dream were grander hopes for a medical facility to treat patients on this tiny isle where no hospital is available. It seems that God is blessing this dream with the vivid possibility of making this a reality.
When a team of doctors and nurses recently scouted out Île-à-Vache as a possible site for a similar dream they had been envisioning, it was then that real planning began. During their visit, they would meet a little boy who would exemplify the great need for just such medical care. Jorge (not his real name) came to them with what he described as a soccer-related injury. Even after 6 or 7 months, his right leg still showed awful signs of bruising and oozing and an unnatural curve to his lower right leg. The team decided to fund treatment of his leg. He would need to travel to LesCayes to be seen by an orthopedic doctor there. Jorge was supposed to return with his mother to see the doctors on their last day on Île-à-Vache. They were a “no-show”.
Several weeks went by before Léon and I were able to track down the boy. He could only estimate his age at 10 years, most likely because a record of his birth had never been kept. The bruised area was still oozing and in need of care. We asked for him to return to us with his mother so that we could discuss our plan for treatment. Either out of reluctance, lack of concern, or worry of the financial burden, she sent the boy’s aunt to us instead. We asked for a phone number so that we could contact the mother with the date on which she would travel with Jorge by boat to the mainland. The aunt said the mother did not have a phone, but she would return with a couple of numbers of people who would know how to get the message to us. She never returned.
Alas, we returned to the mainland and proceeded to make arrangements for an appointment with a doctor in a nearby village who could see Jorge. We were told that in order to see the doctor, one had to arrive at 5AM to get a ticket from the receptionist to assure that the child could be seen on the appointed day. The day was set for Friday and we sent word to Île-à-Vache that the boy and his mom needed to be on the early morning boat that we were bringing to LesCayes for the purpose of picking up sacks of rice and beans for our school feeding program. The boy and his mom arrived, but the mom quickly disappeared into the city. She did not return until it was too late for the scheduled morning appointment. We managed to get another ticket for a late morning appointment. We picked them up in our car and headed out of town. Upon arriving, I overheard the mom explaining to the son that she was hungry. Leaving so early from Île-à-Vache had left no time to start a charcoal fire to prepare any type of food before departing. In reality, as a widow with no employment, she probably did not even have food to prepare. As we waited in the car, near the doctor’s office, I noticed a couple of women selling crackers and beverages. I gave the mom some money to buy a little something for the two of them. I was quickly reminded that this mother most likely had never ridden in a car. She did not know how to open the door to get out. Living in a place where only recently cars have appeared on the scene, it is no wonder that this was a new experience for the both of them.
Soon, the man with the ”ticket” came to talk to us. He had just learned that the “bone” doctor only saw patients on Tuesday. The boy and his mom would need to travel back to Île-à-Vache and return the following Monday afternoon to be there in time for their very early Tuesday morning appointment.
Hmmm! Now what? We decided that most likely the doctor would order an x-ray, so we decided to go out in search of a facility to x-ray Jorge’s leg. The first radiology business that we went to told us that the technician was not working on that particular day. Next, we headed to a hospital where I had taken a young child for an x-ray in the past. We arrived to learn that they no longer had an x-ray machine. We then proceeded to the “poor people’s hospital.” After inquiring at several different offices, we were directed to the emergency room. It was one large room with about 10 beds, all occupied by patients in varying states of pain! We were pleased to learn that not only could we get an x-ray, but an orthopedic doctor was on site and would be able to see Jorge. Various people needed to gawk at Jorge’s misshapen and bruised leg as they shook their head and commented about the injury being an old un-treated one.
Our next stop was to the cashier’s office. We needed to pay to register the patient and to have a file created for him, resulting in an admittance fee equivalent to about $2.50 U.S. We also needed to pay for the x-ray. Once we had the document and receipts in hand, we headed to the radiography room, where the x-rays clearly showed a broken bone not healing the way that it should have if properly treated immediately after the injury. With x-rays in hand, we proceeded to the doctor’s office. The office was located in the only remaining area of a building that was being demolished. Some well-worn benches were perched on a porch just outside his office door. Other children were waiting there with casts on their arms or with limbs that had just been removed from casts. It did not take long until we were summoned into the office and greeted by the nurse. She asked questions and took notes and then told us that we would not be able to see the doctor today because he had just headed into surgery. I asked if there was someone that could at least look at his leg as it appeared to me to be infected and in need of an antibiotic. A gentleman appeared who said that he would see if he could speak with the doctor about the case. He returned a short time later saying that if we could wait for a little while, the doctor would see Jorge. It was then that I realized that Jorge’s mom had disappeared from the scene. A mounting impression of a mother who was not particularly concerned about her child was building up inside me. My “mama bear” instinct kicked in and I proceeded to act as the surrogate mama, staying close to Jorge during his upcoming exam and acting as his advocate. The doctor took notes and said he would need surgery. He ordered blood tests and said that he would be immediately admitted into the hospital. When I asked about a possible infection, the doctor did not directly answer the question, but rather said he would “clean it up” during the surgery. We were then told that we must purchase bandaging supplies. After paying for and sending someone off the hospital premises to obtain the supplies, the staff ushered Jorge into an adjoining room that had clearly been used as the storage room for the construction crew. A hospital bed was against one wall, the bare mattress covered with cement dust and debris. Jorge was instructed to sit on the table. The staff started folding gauze on the soiled mattress and the nurse came in to clean the badly infected area by asking Jorge to hold his leg over a 5 gallon bucket while she poured antiseptic over the wound. The fist-sized area was cleaned and a gauze bandage was applied. No attempt was made to clean the rest of the leg of this otherwise very active little boy. Soon a partial cast took shape and was applied to the back of Jorge’s leg to immobilize the leg. It was wrapped in gauze and we were told to pick out a bed for Jorge in the pediatric ward. The mother had appeared and she took off for the ward in search of a bed for her son. Two men proceeded to carry Jorge out of the room, across the parking lot, up a steep stairs, through the small room of the nurses’ station and to the vacant bed that Jorge’s mom was standing by. A bare, torn mattress on a rusty metal-framed bed greeted us. It was then that we handed Jorge’s mom more money for her to take a motorcycle taxi into the city to buy a sheet for the bed. When Jorge’s mom left her home early in the morning, she had no idea that her trip with her son to the mainland would result in a hospital stay and perhaps several nights away from home. She came with one small backpack, stuffed with a rag-filled pillow and a few papers, but certainly not with clothing or other provisions for a lengthy stay and certainly not with the bedding that each patient must provide for himself. While waiting for her return, the nurse filled out a list of supplies that would be needed for them to start an IV on Jorge. Trips on-foot to three different pharmacies finally resulted in the purchase of all the needed supplies. The mom returned with the sheet and after locating a mattress in better condition, her son was transferred into the bed with a sheet-covered mattress, which only remained clean until blood spurted onto it while nurses were trying to start an IV on Jorge. He was a brave little guy with the needle pokes, not shedding a tear. Next, the lab slip needed to be taken to a “within walking distance” lab to obtain prices and times for the lab work to be done. We learned that Jorge needed to fast overnight, so the labs were delayed until the next morning. It was expected that Jorge would show up at the lab at 8AM, even though he had an IV and an immobilized leg with no crutches or wheelchair with which to maneuver himself with. It was only after some persuasion that the lab worker agreed to walk to the hospital grounds the next morning to take the blood samples at Jorge’s bedside – not a normal way of doing things. With everything on that day’s agenda crossed off the list, Léon and I decided it was time to call it a day. Once again, we gave money to the mama so that she could buy Jorge and herself some food to eat and something to drink since meals are not served to the patients at this or most Haitians hospitals. As I mopped the sweat off my face and arms, I found it hard to imagine that anyone could rest in the overheated, uncomfortably humid and fan-less hospital room that now served as a sleeping quarters for several children and their family members who would be staying there and caring for their child overnight.
The next morning, Léon and I returned to the hospital fully expecting that we would end up having to carry Jorge to the lab. We arrived to find Jorge’s mother nowhere in sight. We were pleasantly surprised to see the lab technician walk in the door prepared to draw lab samples. It was interesting to see him use a lancet to draw blood from Jorge’s earlobe. I had never seen that technique used before. Jorge did wince a bit when the needle was inserted for a blood draw, but again no tears were shed. The technician explained that some of the tests he needed would be done at the building next door because they were free tests that were only offered at that location. The tests would be done on Monday because it was Saturday and they were closed for the weekend. After the departure of the technician, I handed Jorge some goodies that I had brought for him, hoping that it would help to break up his boredom. Hot wheel cars seem to always be a hit with little boys. The coloring book and markers would end up being difficult for him because the IV was in the arm of his “writing” hand, but we did manage to do some dot-to-dot activities that seemed unfamiliar to him. Hygiene supplies and a hand towel were also in his goodie bag for both him and his mom – another luxury that is not provided by the hospital. We bid him farewell and told him we would return later that day, leaving him with more money to give to his mom to purchase food for the day.
Mid-afternoon we returned and found Jorge in a bed with an uncovered mattress in a completely different room. He was fast asleep with no mother in sight. We left him sleeping knowing that we could return later that day.
We returned in early evening to find him in his own bed, but once again with no mother in sight. We asked about why he had been in the other room. He replied he wanted to be in that room to watch the soccer game that was being televised. Haitians LOVE their soccer, so this really came as no surprise. When he fell asleep there, the staff just let him sleep, moving him back to his own bed only after he finished his nap. We made sure that he had eaten during the day and asked if he knew anything more about when his surgery would be. He only knew that he was scheduled for additional tests on Monday. We left our telephone number in case his mom needed to get ahold of us and wished him a good night.
Jorge’s medical journey will continue for several more weeks, but one can only imagine how much easier it would have been if there was medical treatment available right in his own community. With God’s help, future medical cases will be able to be handled much more promptly once our new facility is in place.
We thank God for the possibilities that lie ahead and how He will use us to help achieve His plan!
Please remember to pray for the people of Haiti, including those faced with challenging choices with the lack of adequate medical care for their loved ones.
Missionary to Haiti & the Dominican Republic Until next time, God willing …………