As I mentioned my upcoming trip to people, they grimaced or questioned why I chose Haiti. Some smiled softly as they reminded me of the devastation, the disease, the trash and the poverty. My heart sighed as people criticized the country or warned me about all the apparent danger. All people could see was the devastation that the earthquake had left in its wake.
Haiti is definitely poor, I am not denying that, but Haiti is so much more than rubble and trash. It is the poorest country in the western hemisphere, but it has the more missionaries per sq. mile than any other country.
That statistic hit me hard.
Missionaries should help make a country better, but some of the missionaries are instigating the dependency of the people. Haiti is a country in desperate need of hope, but it is so much more. I was devastated by the vast poverty, but I was impacted by our leader who encouraged us to see the beauty in the ashes. Haiti is a beautiful country full of beautiful people. The beauty comes from their smiles and love of community. The beauty comes from the ocean, the trees, and the sunrises. When trying to pick a moment that impacted me, I could not narrow it down.
The whole trip impacted me more than I thought possible. If I had to pick one moment it would be at the General Hospital. We had planned on going to the General Hospital earlier in the week, but plans changed. We ended up visiting the pediatric ward on our last day. We brought diapers and baby wipes so that we could be allowed in. When we first got there, we went into a large room with beds and cribs lining the walls and making aisles in the room. The nurses were helping people but they were outnumbered by the number of patients. The interesting thing about the General Hospital was the price. It was free to anyone. This means that they got the poorest of the poor coming through their doors. The hospital is free, but everything else is not. The parents need to bring sheets, food, and medical supplies. If or when, the patient needs a procedure, he or his family is in charge of acquiring all of the necessary supplies for the procedure or surgery. In the pediatric ward, the parent or caretaker is in charge of the basic care as well as blood draws. The parents take on many of the tasks that would normally be delegated to an aide in America. It was distressing to see how little resources they had, but how they were creative with the resources that they had. They cut up bandages and used as little as they could on each person. A challenging moment was watching them take blood from a patient. They did not have access to all the normal tubing that we have, so they inserted and IV and held a blood collection tube at the end of the catheter to collect the blood. I cringed because the whole process appeared to cause more distress to the patient. When they had collected all that they needed, the nurse put pressure on the IV site and removed the catheter. The nurses expertly used only one glove to treat the patient and helped the parents understand what they were required to do to help their child. The nurses use betadine to clean every wound. These are only some of the aspects of differences in nursing care that caught my attention. I will never forget the feeling of helplessness I felt when I observed kids with diabetes, and dehydration, sitting in the hospital because of a lack of resources.
Another relatively intriguing aspect was the idea of community responsibility and the importance of relationships. Haitians have an amazing sense of community. In general, people watch out for each other. Parents can let their kids wander around their community knowing that their neighbors will be watching out for their kids and will discipline them if the children misbehave. The community takes care of each other. The same goes for the hospital. At the general hospital, most of the patients are crammed into two large rooms, so parents watch out for each other’s children. If one mom needs to go eat, desires a break, or wants to shower, another mom or dad will watch the child until she gets back. They simply care for each other without expectations. Even when we went to the room that had abandoned babies and children, we noticed that as the older kids ran around, parents of some of the patients had taken them under their wing. They looked out for them and were not afraid to tell them if they were misbehaving.
Their attitude about community is beautiful and so different than American life.
I could go on and on about how this experience in Haiti impacted my view of medicine, the world and my view of God. In observing the way healthcare looked in Haiti, I realized 1) I often take for granted the amount of resources that we have access to, and 2) we look just as silly to Haiti nurses with our American way of doing things, and Haitian nurses look to us. Sometimes we want to go in believing that our way of doing things is right and our view of Healthcare and Medical care is the only way. I had to realize on my second day, that while it was easy to say that I would have done things differently, it was because I came from a different culture. I was not aware of how things worked in Haitian culture. There were some areas where I could see lack of critical thinking skills and education in newer methods and technology, but the nurses were doing the best that they could with the resources and education that they had. They also taught me a thing or two about how to treat Haitian patients who bring with them their own cultural ideas and expectations which are vastly different than mine.