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Saturday, March 19, 2016

Haiti

DAY ONE
I'm nervous.  Fearful even.  But why? Not because of the plane ride, or even the suggested "political unrest" of Haiti.  My fear lies in how my heart will handle the new experiences I'm about to face.  I'm afraid of my reactions.  I'm afraid of my ability to fit in.  And while my fellow travelers carry fear in regards to threats to their lives, I once again, am afraid to live.

But then I enter this place. The sun is hot and close. My clothes are sticking to me within minutes and sweat drips from my forehead.  I stay close to my new and still unfamiliar companions. We load the bus full of various supplies we've collected from home and climb aboard as it will be our transportation to the mission.

The roads.  Oh, the roads.  Or are they roads?  They're more like broken pathways through the piles of garbage.  The entire area of pavement is filled with craters that cause us to lurch forward and backward in a vehicle with a rusted, duct-taped door and several broken windows.  We narrowly miss other vehicles and even people as the driver expertly navigates the only street system he's ever known.  We're filled with a nervous excitement and we play the tourist role immediately with our selfies and drive-by candid photos along the way.  As we leave the city and travel further into the more remote areas of Haiti, the roads become even more treacherous, if that's possible.  I'm watching the front door of the bus, wondering why the driver keeps opening it.  Then I notice that he isn't. It's simply swinging in time with the push and pull of the bus' movements.  Ok...the door just doesn't close.  This is perhaps my first "Haiti moment."

We are pulling up to the mission now. "Hopital Christ Pour Tous" the sign reads.  This must be the place.  There it is.  That word.  Christ.  It's true, I'm not going to fit in.  I guess I'll just wait and see.

The metal gate opens and our rusty bus screeches and whines its way to a "parking spot."  Chickens.  I hear chickens.  And...is that a donkey?  Yes, it is.  There are no fences, just animals roaming freely.  This is where we are staying.  This will be my home for the next week.  I stay close to my co-worker and hope that she has accepted my differences enough at this point to include me in her journey through this place.  All seems ok so far.  We climb the hill with our heavy bags full of supplies and we unload them before finding our rooms.

The fatigue of travel should be overwhelming at this point, but I can't help but recognize the rush of adrenaline brought on by watching my new team sorting and separating supplies.  I'm struck by the obvious labor of love that started long before any of us boarded that plane.  I glance over at the pile of rice and oil in the corner, and I know my boy is there.  The money his supporters raised is represented there.  It's a floor to ceiling, tangible reminder of the love that my family continues to feel from our community.  This will be my first emotion-filled moment, and I feel tears of gratitude threatening to spill over.

Now it's time to find our rooms, and to shower before bed.  As I gather my towel, toothbrush, and pajamas and head to the bathroom, I'm transported for a brief moment, back to my days at Children's.  I'd carried my toothbrush there, too.  But the similarities end there, and I'm snapped back to this place.  The bathroom is nice enough, and even closely resembles my own at home. It does, that is, until I see the shower.  The "showerhead" is nothing but a piece of pvc pipe. When turned on, I realize that they weren't kidding about the "no hot water" claim.  I brace myself and take the fastest shower of my life. I'm told that the water comes from a tank on the roof and at times we may have to wait for the tank to refill before any water will be available for showering!

And now we're ready to sleep. Janeen and I share a full-sized bed and have the first of many late night conversations.  She's a good listener, and I feel us growing closer, even within the first night.  I am grateful...

DAY TWO
It's dark outside, but I'm awake.  Why am I awake?  What's that sound?  A rooster? Yes, a rooster.  But, it's dark.  Aren't they supposed to make that sound with the break of day?  This rooster is confused.  And that other sound...a cat?  Yes, the cat wants in.  I guess I'm done sleeping for the night, which isn't all that different from home I suppose.  My sleep is often interrupted there too, and as long as I'm awake, I may as well enjoy the barnyard symphony outside my window.

The rest of the house begins to stir and we prepare for our first full day in Haiti.  We begin with a morning devotional time, and prayer.  The plan for today is to organize ourselves, go on a tour of the compound, and to play with some of the local school children.

The tour of the compound is lead by Betty Prophete.  She is the director of Haitian Christian Mission, and as I see it, she also appears to be the unofficial Queen of the area.  She clearly works tirelessly, and is highly respected. Betty shows us the school rooms, which makes me think of the days I used to watch "Little House on the Prairie" on tv.  The desks are essentially a long board connected to a bench big enough for several children to fit on one. The teacher writes on a piece of plywood which is their makeshift chalkboard.  My mind is immediately transported back home and I briefly ponder the recent push for a SmartBoard in every classroom in America.   Hmmm....

We then move on to the peanut butter factory and Betty shows us some of the completed jars of peanut butter.  She also promises to give us each our own jar before we leave, and we're American so we'll hold her to that. :)  As we are touring, we hear the familiar sound of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" coming from one of the classrooms.  Betty ushers us over to a small room filled with children having band practice.  They play a special song just for us and we clap along to encourage them.  In that moment there are no lines, no color differences.  No language barriers.  Just an appreciation for music.

As the tour comes to a close we notice some children gathered around what appears to be a few pieces of misplaced tile on the ground.  We soon discover that these are students being taught how to lay tile right there in the middle of the compound.  I wonder if they can come back and teach my children such a skill!!  Walking through the compound brings curious children, and they've learned the phrase, "Hey, You!" to get an American's attention.  Nine times out of ten they are stopping us to ask if we'll buy one of the bracelets that they've made.  It's pretty great marketing considering we are bleeding heart missionaries and they have quite possibly the most beautiful brown eyes I've ever seen....by the way, I'm the proud owner of at least 5 bracelets...

After the tour, Betty takes us on a short walk out of the compound and down to a local orphanage.  This place is not what I was expecting.  The children are well-dressed, polite and seem very happy.  I glance over at the perfect time and see that Janeen recognizes one of the little girls she'd visited on this very trip three years ago.  I'm grateful to have witnessed such a beautiful moment. We're told that several of these children lost their parents to the earthquake. We play with the children and hold them close when they'll let us.  I'm still uncertain what my role is here, but being surrounded by these beautiful kids puts my mind more at ease. This particular orphanage is set up very much like a large family.  There are about 10-12 children in total and a mother and father figure. The kids line up and sing a song for us before we leave, and I'm struck by the sense of camaraderie between these "siblings".

It's time to return to the compound for dinner, and once again I enjoy the food prepared for us by the mission workers.  Even more enjoyable are the exchanges of dinner conversation between team members.  I realize rather early in this trip that there will be as much laughter as there are tears.  How could it be any other way when  Dr. Friye is convinced that we're going to either be attacked by a dinosaur or a flying Indian?  I mean, you can't make this stuff up...

DAY THREE
It's Sunday.  Today is a church day.  Although church isn't necessarily my thing, I'm excited to experience it in this place with these people.  I actually find myself looking forward to going. The music is beautiful.  I could listen to the Haitians sing all day long.  It makes no difference that I can't understand a word they're saying.  A beautiful voice is just that whether heard in English or in Creole.

For a couple of hours we listen to a spirited, albeit foreign, message from Betty as she preaches to her congregation.  We don't know what they're saying, but they're definitely enjoying themselves.  This is the perfect time to take in the crowd.  Janeen points to a young baby with a stocking cap on his head!! It's easily 85 degrees in this church and full of people!  A stocking cap??  The randomness of Haiti shows its face again.  And if that isn't enough, a little boy about 2 years old, walks past us down the aisle in a full WHITE tuxedo, complete with tails! We can't help but smile at that one.

After awhile, it is our missionary pastor's turn to deliver his message. He must speak slowly as his words are interpreted for the Haitian people by a man speaking their native, Creole. As the words begin to take on the form of a story, I feel myself tense. He is speaking about a mission trip in his past in which his daughter became extremely ill and many of the local people and pastors prayed around her. I can feel it coming....I can't stop it and there is nowhere to go. And although I've grown a bit closer to these people on my left and right, I'm still uncertain when it comes to matters of my broken mother heart. The tears are threatening, but I'm holding them in for now. The burn is right on the edge of my eyelids and I can feel myself losing the small amount of control I have left. ...then he says it, "they prayed for her and the next day she was completely healed and running and playing with the other children." Yep. There it is. I can't. I just can't.  I have to get out of here. My chest hurts. Certainly they can see the fire rising from it. I need to hide. To go inside myself. But I am unfamiliar with this place and even as I break through the front doors and drink in the sticky, hot haitian air, I cannot leave my group. I turn my face away to hide my pain but it can't be done. Then I feel arms. Just arms. All around me, and I hear soft, soothing words. My team is comforting me. They are attempting to bridge that gap that separates us so deeply. My body gives in and a flood of tears spill over. I can find no words, but take comfort in their love and support. I can't explain it to them in a way that would close the gap of our divide. I don't know how to tell them that although I am eternally grateful for the wonderful outcome and health of another child, I will never be able to hear a message such as that one and NOT feel the pang of guilt and betrayal. The stab of those words cuts deeply, and I have no defense...because I prayed, too.

That burning is all I can feel for now, and try as I may, I can focus on nothing else but the searing pain. I try to hide once again back at the house. But these people, my team, these strangers turned friends see my pain and they don't run away. They offer very few words, only the comfort of their presence. Janeen proves, once again in this moment, that I can trust her with my brokenness. A doctor I have worked with time and again, sheds tears with me and says she is there if I need her. It is salve on an open wound. And again...I am grateful.

As if the day hasn't held enough emotion, we are now boarding a couple of vans that will take us to an orphanage on a mountain. I'm excited to get there, as I've never experienced something like this before and every corner seems to bring with it something more incredible than the last! Little do I know what lies ahead...

After twisting and turning in our crammed white vans for what seems like hours, we reach the metal gate that leads us to GVCM orphanage. Before we can even get out, a little boy climbs in through the side door, and sits on Janeen's lap. She is the pied piper after all... When we're all able to get out, he wiggles himself down and Janeen begins to walk around and take in the sights. I notice he seems to be looking for her, so I step up and take his hand and point to her, indicating that I will take him back to her. He looks up with his incredibly beautiful eyes, shakes his head and reaches for me to pick him up. This would be my job for the remainder of our trip to this orphanage. I carry him everywhere. We are immediately bonded. I speak English and he only knows creole, but we understand one another instantly and I fear ever having to let him go. As I walk around the grounds, I am struck by the love I feel for this child stranger, and also by the intense feeling of gratitude for the weight of his little body in my arms. I have been craving the "burden" of that weight for over three years now, and to have it again fills me with a peace and hope that I haven't felt in entirely too long.

I stop for a moment to take it all in and find myself swaying and singing my Easton's goodnight song to him.."You are my sunshine, my only sunshine...please don't take my baby way..." After a minute,  I notice that his body has become heavier, his head is lying on my shoulder, and I look over at Chaka who says, "Shannon, he's asleep." Sweet, sweet Kerventz...you repaired a piece of my soul. I will always carry you with me.

DAY FOUR
Time to get to work! Our first clinic day at the compound. I'm more than a little nervous. Janeen assures me that I will be fine and that I'll catch on faster than I think, but I'm not so sure. After all, the whole of my nursing experience involves some very specific parts of the female anatomy...what the hell do I know about being a "normal nurse"?

We spend the first half hour or so setting up our clinic. We have access to a few exam rooms, but those are reserved for our providers. The nurses are set up at a folding table on the front porch with our stethoscopes, bp cuffs, a thermometer that doesn't work, and a scale. Patients who have walked for miles line the benches on the porch and look on with remarkable patience as we catch our breath. Ok...here goes nothing! We first meet our translators. I have been told several times that we'll become close to these people, but I have no concept of just how true that will become down the road. Roselande, Michaelle, and Dewins are assisting the nurses today and during our "downtime" we are able to discuss their plans for the future and to learn about their families.

The first patient for each nurse comes to the table and we begin to gather our information. Ok...Janeen was right...I can do this. My biggest problem so far has been remembering to direct my question to the interpreter instead of the patient! I learn this lesson quickly though, considering each question is met with either a blank stare or a string of syllables I couldn't hope to decipher! :) The interpreters are wonderful and they help us navigate the language barrier in such a way that eventually I don't even notice it's there. And you know what? Skin color, language differences, cultural practices cannot change our humanness. Blood pressure is still blood pressure. I still obtain a pulse by taking my patient's hand in mine. Their hearts beat with the same intensity. Although the world of the clinic is alive and buzzing around me, I notice these special moments that bring us together despite our differences.

I notice Janeen looking in my direction, and realize that she is showing me that she has a patient who has a very large abdomen. The woman is 50 years old, and appears pregnant, but as we both suspect, she is not. I had heard of these very large tumors before ever coming on this trip and I am certain we've found our first one. She is triaged and sent to the OR for evaluation by our docs. We continue to work with the rest of the people on the porch, but both of us are wondering what has become of that patient.

As we wait, I see a 17 year old boy who is hunched over in obvious pain. He tells the interpreter that he can't remember the last time he peed! I ask about even a small amount and I watch as he searches his thoughts for a time when even a small amount of relief had been found and he just can't. I feel so sorry for this poor boy who had clearly been in pain for entirely too long. And he'd waited to be seen, why? Because he had no other choice. We are incredibly spoiled by our ability to see a physician and get relief early in our physical pain experience.  This boy had to wait until someone came along to help him. My mind can't fathom such a concept.

As I contemplate the fairness of that, Janeen makes her way over to update me on the patient with the large abdomen.  I anticipate that she will say that we've scheduled her for surgery and we'll get to see the docs remove that giant burden from her. But as I get closer, I see in her eyes that this isn't the case. The physicians have diagnosed her with metastatic cancer. She is beyond our help, and so the docs deliver the news, pray with her, and send her on her way...to die. I had heard that this was a possibility, and while it was difficult to hear, witnessing it was something else altogether. I had laid eyes on her. I had hoped for her relief from pain. And I'd been crushed for her. This is why we've come. This is Haiti.

During one of our many conversations with the interpreters, I learn that each one of them has dreams and aspirations that involve learning in America! Roselande wants to be a surgeon! So, I tell her that I will talk to the docs and ask if she can stand in on one of the surgical cases. They agree, because they're awesome, and because we're in Haiti and HIPPA does not exist. :) I get Roselande all of her OR garb and explain to her how to stand back away from the sterile field, which honestly seems a little silly considering the "OR" literally has a fly swatter hanging on the back wall...

She stands in happily for the first of our many hysterectomies and is just mesmerized. The surgery was filled with surprises, interesting learning moments, and a rather unpleasant smell...but my favorite part was watching her WATCH the surgery before her. She was filled with such wonder and I realized how fortunate I was to do a job that I love every day. I don't have to wonder if I will have an incredible opportunity in medicine each day that I clock in. This girl is soaking up every moment of what may very well be her last experience in medicine. Haitian government doesn't exactly consider whether or not it's fair to issue someone a visa. She may never have the opportunity to set foot on American soil, let alone pursue a career in which she would undoubtedly excel.  Again...I am grateful.

Clinic time is over and it is time to pack up some supplies and board the bus for a little trip to "The Village of Faith." The beauty of this place is astounding!! As we enter the field that serves as their "driveway" the horizon comes into view. Several white stucco buildings line up in front of crystal blue water, complete with a mountainous green backdrop. It's breathtaking, and I need a moment to let it sink in...but we're here and the children of the village are excited. Janeen nudges my side and points out the window. There, on the porch of the first house is a little boy about 18 months old proudly displaying a superman shirt. Ah...hello, my baby boy! #EastieGoesToHaiti!

We are taken behind the houses to a small tent that serves as their "church ". They claim to fit nearly 70 people in there at times. I can't imagine it, but there it is. The children sing for us and we distribute clothing we've brought. They're incredibly grateful, and as other team members pass out rice and oil from the back of the bus, I have the terrible misfortune of playing tickle tag with several of the young children. Language barrier? What language barrier? We're just running and laughing, with tickles that turn into hugs. We don't need language. And again...I am grateful.

After awhile, we reluctantly board the bus once again to return "home". The bus ride is nice though because Michaelle and I are discussing our similarities and differences as we drive. She is a 19 year old student interpreter who aspires to come to America to study music. I tell her about my Easton and give her an ETO card. I then ask her what most Haitians believe to be true of most Americans. Without a moment's hesitation she states in her broken English that "you are good and your hearts are full of so much love for others!" I contemplate asking her if she's ever heard of the Kardashians or Trump...but think better of it. :)

When we returned to the compound and were on our way to get ready for bed, Emily, the surgical nurse who'd stayed behind during our trip, informed Janeen and I that there was a laboring patient in the delivery room! As tired as we were, you couldn't have pried us away from attempting to be present for a delivery, so in we went!! The midwives at the compound aren't all that excited about having labor nurses in their rooms, stepping on their territory,  so we asked if we could simply stand back and watch. The midwife politely agreed and we wedged ourselves into the back of the room.  I think that position may have lasted approximately 2 minutes! We are both awestruck at the apparent dismissal of the patient who is writhing in pain on a bare "birthing table". We each reached for a hand and in our best, broken creole, coached her to push more effectively. Again, language is of little importance in the face of pain. What mattered was the gentle touch and soothing voice of Janeen. I watched and took it in. I followed suit, and within two or three pushes, a little boy was born. They handed the baby to me and I quickly went into receiver mode. It's amazing how that comes back to you, even having been away from work for 9 years. And as I dried him, I took in the gratitude I felt for being allowed to witness his entry into the world. I will never take that for granted. It's beautiful every single time.

As we prepare to leave, the patient reaches up, grabs Janeen's arm and with pleading eyes says, "Mesi, mesi!" Thank you. Thank you. I am, in that moment, simultaneously awestruck by what I've just seen, grateful for the experience, and proud of this woman that I'm getting to know on a personal level. I'm thankful for the privilege of training with her, and I recognize one of the many reasons I was fortunate enough to be counted among the team members on this trip.

DAY FIVE
Today is our first mobile clinic day! I am very excited about this, as I've heard that going to the villages is very rewarding. This bus trip is no different than the others and brings with it several, "OH CRAP!" moments as we toss and turn our way to the village.  Our clinic team consists of three providers, Dr. Nathan Reed, Chaka Batley, NP and Alison Vander Ley, NP, three nurses, Janeen, myself, and Lori, and 4 team members who have jobs outside of the medical field served as our pharmacists.  We also, of course, had our interpreters with us.  They are our right hand at this point!

We set up our "clinic" which consisted of several benches for a "waiting area" at each station.  The patients were first directed to Dr. Benson's station. He is a Haitian physician who was there teaching about the importance of education and testing regarding HIV.  Each person within his specified age demographic was tested.  They then would move on to our station of triage nurses.  Lori and I are to triage first, and Janeen will be the go-between in the middle of the room to keep things flowing.  The patient then sees the provider, gets their  prescription filled by the pharmacy, receives a bag of rice and a bottle of oil, and then exits the building...at least that's how it flows in theory, and in actual practice for most of the day.  We did end up having a few hairy moments, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

As I move through patients, I essentially see the same symptoms over and over again.  Honestly, I think most of the people feel as though they have to make up symptoms to be seen.  I want to tell them that isn't the case that I'd gladly just sit with them, but the never-ending line doesn't allow for that!  One of my patient's is a schoolteacher.  Haitians put high priority on teachers and students, and regardless of line length, if a teacher came in to be seen, he was sent to the front of the line. As soon as he sits down I can see that he is in pain, but what I didn't realize at first was that his pain was more spiritual than physical. He has dark circles under his eyes and rarely meets mine as he speaks.  The interpreter tells me that he is terrified because he truly believes that someone has preached voodoo to him, and has given him a disorder that has changed the color of his face.   Hmmmm, can't say that I've seen that particular symptom in labor and delivery!  I summon Pastor Chris, and tell him that although he needs to be seen by a doctor, I thought that maybe his healing would come more in the form of spiritual comfort.  This is another significant moment for me, and I feel it right then and there. I realize that this is yet another reason that I am here. I have accepted the importance of the role of the pastor on this trip, and although our opinions differ, I recognize the need to allow his beliefs to flow alongside mine in order to bring some hope to this particular man.  I. Am. Grateful.

While Lori and I are triaging, Janeen decides that this would be a great opportunity to roll her ankle! She is clearly in pain almost immediately, and trades me places so that she can sit for awhile. We would later learn that she has broken it...not that her stubbornness would have let her stop doing what she loved!

We return to the compound and have dinner with the other half of our team who has successfully completed 6 surgeries, including removing a large growth from a young girl's ear.  They said that her face was priceless when they showed her it was gone! As we enjoy our food, and their company, we tell of our adventures in the field.  We discuss the moments of fear when the door was accidentally left open, and many desperate people PUSHED and SHOVED their way into the room to be seen.  We had nowhere to go, and I was afraid that they would take our medications in their desperation.  We also talked about how we couldn't even begrudge them their greedy behavior, because we could recognize the fear in their eyes.  Who knows when they'd get this opportunity again?  Once again, I am struck by my incredible fortune...and I am grateful.

DAY SIX
Today is an OR day for Janeen and I!  I'm excited and nervous, as I have not been a useful part of an OR in NINE YEARS! I am the circulating nurse for the day, so that Janeen can rest her foot. But first, we learn of another labor patient! Again, we make our way to the delivery room and ask/beg to be in there to "watch." :)  The patient is an 18 year old prime (first time mother) who has been in labor for 3 days.  She is terrified, alone, and receiving no help from the midwife.  Do not misunderstand me on this, I recognize that this is their culture and I'm not saying that the midwives are wrong in their approach.  It just doesn't happen to be ours.  Anyway, back to the patient.  She looks at me with pleading eyes and reaches out her hand to me, saying, "Si vous plait! Si vous plait!" Please. Please.  Well...that's enough for me! I reach for her hand and stroke her head.  Janeen takes position on the other side of the bed and does the same.  We encourage her to push effectively and gently guide her into the position to do so.  We repeat over and over the very few creole expressions we've learned, which include "Poussez! Poussez!" Push...Push, and "Oui! Oui!" Yes...Yes.  A couple of effective pushes later, and the head is delivering.  As it becomes completely visible, a geyser of thick, green "pea soup" amniotic fluid comes pouring out.  Janeen and I look at each other and silently think what every single one of my L&D friends are thinking right now..."Oh, SHIT!" We are going to have to resuscitate this baby with absolutely NO equipment! I don't even see something as simple as a bulb syringe.  Sure enough, the kid comes out completely limp and Janeen hands her to me and frantically searches the room for something suitable to use for suction.  When she can't find it, she motions to the creole speaking midwife by making a slurping sound and forming her hand in the shape of a bulb syringe. She points her in the right direction! Mission accomplished!! Who needs English?!  She hands it to me and I continue to stimulate the baby while suctioning her nose and throat.  She lets our her first lusty cry and we both breathe for the first time in what seems like hours!  Welcome to the world baby girl.  I feel so privileged to have been here for your first moments of life.

Again, the young mother reached for us, but this time for my hand.  She stared straight at me and exclaimed, "Mesi! Mesi! Mesi!" Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!, and I laid her brand new daughter next to her...I am grateful.

We would go on to do 8 surgical cases throughout the course of this day!  We did 3 total hysterectomies, 2 penile issues (males are uncircumcised), and 3 facial abcesses.  My favorite part of the surgeries today would be the interaction with the incredible surgeons we brought on this trip.  I worked all day long beside my own OB/GYN, Dr. Gina Dietrich.  I've worked with her several times and she delivered three of my children, but I have never had so much fun with her!  We laughed and talked most of the day.  She acted as the scrub tech for a few cases, and by the time we got to our third case, we had that OR cleaned and up and running for the next case in minutes! We really got into a good rhythm there for awhile, probably due to the excellent playlist of music she brought along.  I think the things that stick out most in my mind are when she said that I was in charge of the fly swatter and I laughed, and she informed that she wasn't kidding, then when she acted like the ALP (leg squeezing machine) during surgery, and of course when she just took off her shoes in the middle of the case because she was hot. :) What happens in Haiti, stays in Haiti!!

I also had the privilege of working with Dr. Degreef again!  We have all missed him so much.  He's an excellent doctor and an incredible person.  I watched as he worked with his "dream team" of physicians to tackle things they don't usually deal with, and do so with expert hands.  It was an amazing thing to witness.

That brings me to Dr. Pam Friye. She, too, delivered several of my children, and I have worked with her on several cases over the years, but this experience with her was altogether different.  She certainly continues to be her caring, compassionate self, and I have her to thank for many of the laughs along the way.  Her quirky personality brought me back from the brink more times than I can count.  And her role as the underdog in the OR had me in stitches on more than one occasion.  Rest assured, Quincy, you got lucky when that woman decided to return to us.  I know that I am grateful.

DAY SEVEN
So, today is our final clinic day.  We are sad to be so close to the end of our trip.  The clinic we visit today will be the poorest of the ones we've seen. Many of the children wear no pants at all.  The illnesses are more dire, and the desperation is palpable.

One of Janeen's patients is a young mother who has brought her adorable baby to be seen.  She tells me to take a look at the baby and I glance over at a beautiful child in a "Little Sister" onesie with pink socks.  Janeen then says, "guess what the complaint is??...THREE testicles!" Ummmm, that's three too many! We realize in that moment that the mother has no idea what the shirt says.  Why would she? It's in English.  She also obviously is unaffected by American gender norms.  I'm sure our faces were priceless when Janeen pulled back the diaper and revealed that our "little sister" was most definitely NOT a girl! :)

This would also be the clinic in which I would take a blood pressure that was 240/130! For those of you who are non-medical, this is another one of those "OH SHIT!" moments.  We also saw a patient with a blood sugar of 492, several kids with mumps, and syphilis case.  I thought for a brief moment about how incredibly grateful these people would have been for the vaccinations that we take for granted every day. I am grateful.

It was a short clinic day, because we have an early flight the next day and we have to go back and pack. When we get back to the house, Dr. Friye and I discover that our only source of Wifi is on the steps outside the house. Although it seemed slightly annoying at the time, I wouldn't trade that hour for anything.  I think I laughed harder at her in that hour than I had all week.  Such a funny little human. :)  We were interrupted by a request to gather all of our team to take a photo together on a "tap tap".  This is a vehicle the Haitians use to get from place to place.  It's essentially a taxi cab that they literally "tap" to get it to stop so that they can get off.  However, they pile on these "trucks" in a slightly different fashion than Americans would...so, in true Haitian style, we piled on and got our souvenir photo!

It's dinner time now, and we talk about the day as we wind down our final meal at HCM.  It is a bittersweet moment as we recount our time there together, how close we've grown as a team, and how we've come to love and respect the Haitian people.  We do one final "Good, Bad, GOD" moment among the team, and it's incredible to hear how the trip has affected each one of us.  I know in that moment, that I will never be the same.

Later, we return to our house to shower and hang out for awhile before going to sleep.  While waiting for my turn in the shower, one of the team members asks me about Easton.  I bring her an ETO card, and I explain our mission to remember our boy with love and compassion for others.  It's as if the floodgates just open up at that point, and I find myself pouring my heart out to Sandy, and to Dr. Dietrich.  They are both so kind and willing to listen and allow me to hurt.  I am incredibly touched by their words, and their touch. I would go on to have more conversations with Dr. Dietrich during our trip home that would prove to be among some of the most important of my grief journey.  I am grateful.

HOME AGAIN
The trip home is supposed to feel like a long one.  But I realize that I'm not ready to let go.  My beautiful family meets me at the airport as a surprise, and I'm overjoyed to be coming back home to them.  However, I'm also struck by the very physical pull of the abrupt separation from my team.  I can't leave them.  Although it's only been a week, the amount of emotion expended during that trip was enough for a year, and I have bonded closely to these people.  They are my Haiti family.  I know I will see most of them at work as soon as a few days from now.  Janeen I will see most often, but I can't seem to let go as I hug her good-bye on that day.  We are no longer co-workers.  We are more than friends. We are family. And the intensity of the bond follows us home.

Thank you, Haiti, for your beautiful people. Thank you for your hospitality.  thank you for sharing your pain and your brokenness, as I felt so many times that it mirrored my own.  I have completely fallen in love with your country, and I will absolutely be back. Thank you, Haiti...I. Am. Grateful.













 


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