Thursday, June 15, 2006

Haiti Mission Trip Part III

Day Two: "My Love" of Juchereau

I suppose if this were a novel, I could tell you that I couldn’t sleep all night from the excitement of helping the poor of Haiti. I would also be lying. I fell asleep almost immediately as we started our trip the day before at 2 a.m. in Lima, Ohio, and did not arrive in Cap Haitian until 6 p.m.

I slept through the drums, roosters, mosquitoes and pretty much everything else. I didn’t feel rested, but I felt functional. Fortunately, our hosts understand the American need for caffeine as we had access to coffee. After a light meal, we load a pickup recently donated by a group in Texas and a van. Room was tight so I volunteer to sit in the back of the pickup.

My lungs and I are still not on speaking terms.

The roads are mostly washed out and when I use the term moguls, trust me that I am not kidding. First gear is the best friend of the drivers here.

We travel some two and a half hours and arrive at a small church in a place called Juchereau. The church is of stone construction with a metal roof, but it in no way seemed meager as we settle in. The first step leading to the church was quite high as the rainy season had washed away much of the soil from the area.

Our "waiting room" is a shady area on the side of the church and several pews that needed to be moved to make way for our clinic were carried outside to allow people to sit down as the temperature rose to well above 90 degrees. We set about seeing patients and it wasn’t long before "it" happened.

You can always identify a sick child, a dying child. They are unnaturally quiet; they lay in their mothers’ arms without interest in the world. Anyone in health care who has ever seen a child die will tell you that a screaming child doesn’t worry them. A quiet one scares them the most.

The young woman with a deathly quiet child sits down in the chair with an infant we judge to be a few weeks old, a month at most. The young woman is not her mother, but her aunt. The child’s mother had died three or four months before of an unknown wasting disease after long bouts of terrible diarrhea. It didn’t take much more of a description to know that she had died of AIDS. Before she did, she named her child "My Love." The aunt had tried everything to nurse the child, but the child was failing.

I take a deep breath as I begin my examination of My Love. Part of me thinks, "I’m trapped in a poorly written Hallmark special. The name just put it over the top." The infant was impeccably dressed, as are all the Haitians who would visit our clinics. After our interpreter, Julio, translates a few more of our questions it becomes evident that the child is suffering from the virus, too.

How do you tell someone what you know to be true? My Love will die soon. One morning she will wake up, perhaps with a cough and fever or that diarrhea that runs epidemic in the children of Haiti from the parasites in the water, and her condition will worsen throughout the day. My Love will not cry, nor will she struggle for she is already too weak. With perhaps no more than a whimper, the infection will overwhelm the remnants of her immune system and My Love will become one more of the faceless masses to die in the AIDS epidemic. (As you read this, that day may have already passed. I do not know her condition as information reaches us very slowly.)

Every person on our team has the same thought: "Take her home to the United States, bring her to the experts, and let our medical system have a shot at saving this child." Some will say that for the hundreds of thousands of dollars one could invest in a fight that will likely be lost, you could start an immunization program through USAID and save hundreds of children. While I know in the logical side of my brain that it is true and good math, it held no sway as I cradled this child. It was her eyes that I will remember the most. Her eyes were not dim or dull but rather drank in everything around her. They were curious eyes, those that belonged to any four-month-old. Those eyes will stay with me.

We were quiet at lunch as the weight of the encounter stayed with us. We talk of it throughout the remainder of our trip, and as our experience in Haiti grew, so did our understanding of how common such things are.

I don’t know how many patients we saw that day. We did our best. Our interpreter, Pastor Julio, was amazing. He never fatigued. I’m pretty sure he could run the Boston and New York marathons back-to-back and still have energy to spare. I would learn later, while I lay in my bed exhausted, that Pastor Julio went back to his church and preached for three hours.

We drove back home and, after another two and a half hours on the road, I’m certain that there were more potholes than there were heading out. We sit down for a meal and I find more coffee. I retire to my bed to write down some thoughts and think about the day. We are returning to Juchereau in the morning, and after the first day there, I could not help but wonder why I had ever left the states. Though no one is looking forward to the ride out there again, it is far too dangerous to sleep there.

My thoughts return to My Love and I cannot help but think of my youngest daughter, who is near the same age. In another life they could have been playmates. Sleep comes and I miss my second night of voodoo drums


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