Haiti (part 2): opening the clinic

My wife, Lisa, with our friend Lophant

I forgot to mention in my last post that one of the people were glad to see at the airport in Port-au-Prince was our friend Lophant, who runs a children’s feeding program at numerous sites in Haiti. My wife, Lisa, met him on her first trip to Haiti last March, and our church has been receiving and wiring financial donations to Lophant to keep that program (and the kids) alive. Our visit was short, but we did leave him with a duffle bag full of clothes and other things for his family.

Back to our story. Having arrived at the hotel in Gonaives Monday afternoon, we hung out a little, had supper at the restaurant, did some devotions, and headed off to bed. The restaurant fare was limited: beef, goat, or chicken that first night, all of which was cooked very well. Every meal came with friend potatoes, fried plantain, a big plate of rice and some kind of beans, and a big bowl of sauce, which was actually pretty good. We drank a lot of beer while we were there, mostly Prestige, a surprisingly good Haitian brew.

On Tuesday morning (Oct 19), we were up early for breakfast, where the choice was either an omelet or spaghetti. Most of our Haitian friends eat their breakfast spaghetti with ketchup. We opted for omelets most of the time, and usually had avocados and bananas them.

Anxious to get started, we assembled at 8:30 to wait for our rides to arrive. At 9:30 we were still waiting for our rides to arrive. Thus we had our first lesson in “Haiti time.” Most things happened on a very relaxed schedule, so that took a bit of getting used to. Finally about 10 our rides arrived.

First stop: the guest house, where some medications had been stored. It turns out the guest house was under some major renovations, so we would be at the hotel for our entire time in Gonaives. The medical folks sorted through many boxes and totes full of medications, and packed up everything we thought we could use. Then we sat down and waited for our rides to return.

The clinic

We finally got to the site of the clinic somewhere around 11:15, and unloaded our supplies. The “clinic” was a 40 foot shipping container that had been compartmentalized into three exam rooms and a pharmacy room. A generator supplied enough power for lights and fan, but no AC. The container was on a concrete slab next to an open air Lutheran Church built into the hillside. All set up, we saw the first patients about 11:45. The team worked till 6 pm, seeing 86 patients that first day.

Consider this process the next time you have to wait for the doctor. When someone arrived, they went into a thatched hut, received a number and waited. When their number was called they went into the church, signed in, and took a seat to wait. Next, they were seen by triage, and had vitals taken, and sent to another area to wait. When it was their turn, they were sent to a tent outside the container to wait to see the doctor or NP. After they saw the provider, they waited in the tent for medication. I think it took some people 4-5 hours to get all the way through the line. But I heard little complaint. They were very patient.

Feeling sorry for the waiters, I though, “Hey, I can be helpful.” I gave some blow up beach balls to some off the kids so they could play while waiting. The balls disappeared, but the kids returned with friends, looking for more balls. From that moment on, there was always a kid calling to me, “You!” and motioning his desire for a ball or bubbles or a toothbrush or whatever someone would give them. I wasn’t nearly as helpful as I thought I would be.

My role was chaplain for the group, as well as being available to talk to and pray with some of  the people who came to the clinic. I did very little of the latter and not a whole lot of the former. I was more of a gopher, usher and utility infielder during the week. I did get to help our pharmacist Jesse through one brief emotional moment. And I did a lot of watching, hoping to get some insight into what it was like to live here.

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