Project Haiti 2014 Blog

Join us on the ground in Fonds Parisien!

The 2014 Project Haiti team would like to thank so many people for your help and support in the planning of this year’s trip. For the first time, we sought to keep all of you up to date by providing a blog of our activities so that you could see what we were up to during our clinic days! Although we did not have steady internet access in Haiti, we were able to upload our complete trip posts and selected photos upon returning.  We hope you enjoy this taste of Project Haiti!

Arrival and Saturday, March 1, 2014

Project Haiti 2014 has started! We have all arrived safely at HCM in Fonds Parisien and we really appreciate your interest in our blog. We are very sorry for the delay but many thanks to Edwens for setting us up with his phone hotspot on the HCM campus this evening. We will unfortunately not be posting pictures until we return but we have been documenting everything to post when we are back with slightly more reliable internet access!

Thoughts from the team for today provided by John A

You know that feeling when you watch a sun rise? When you have that moment where you realize today’s the start of a new day, and that anything’s possible. That you have another chance to try and make a difference in the world. Another day full of unpredictable possibilities.  That’s how today started. The words that were buzzed around with excitement throughout the group and the words that were on the forefront of everyone’s minds were “We’re going to Haiti.” We’re finally going to be going. We have planned for months in advance, with our trip leaders giving every ounce of their beings to hold every piece of this trip together from the very beginning. Figuring out logistics, raising money, figuring out financing, determining all sorts of odds and ends that come along with setting up fully functional mobile clinics in a developing country for a week, along with coordinating a full pharmacy team and a dental team to help provide the best possible care that we can. And this was the tone that was set. That feeling that all the hard work was finally coming to fruition, and that anything is possible.

I’m constantly awed and humbled by the abilities of my peers, and being surrounded by this group of people is no different. People’s talents show in so many ways. Their intelligence, their musical capabilities, their ability to organize and entertain. Their perseverance and dedication. But what has really struck me the most starting on this trip is their ability to break language barriers with their compassion, their desire to help those in need, and to work as a team to help accomplish our goals. We may have come from different backgrounds and healthcare professional schools, and different factors have led us to join this trip for different reasons. But we arrived in Haiti as one and our goals are the same. We are Project Haiti. What this journey will bring for us during the rest of the week is unknown, but I do know that we will go through this together. And though we are standing watching the sunrise full of optimism, I know that we will make the most of our journey in order to seize the day.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Thoughts from the team for today provided by Anouchka D and Jonathan K.

Today I had the opportunity to meet many precious and beautiful children.  They were between the ages of 1 and 16.  I got to practice my french and creole as I did much translating.  I felt like a doctor as a touched many of them in places where they hurt.  As I communicated with them, I thought about how I may be the first and only person they’ve said this to.  I felt that this moment was so important and I wanted to make it worthwhile for them.  I wanted them to feel cared for, loved, and heard.  I will always remember one boy in particular.  He said his ears were hurting him and after examining him, we decided to give him some Tylenol for a few days.  About 30 minutes after my encounter with him, he came over to me and tugged at my arm.  I was shocked because he had been very reserved and shy the whole time before.  I leaned down to hear him as he signaled to me that he had something to tell me.  He said, “sometimes I see double.” I asked him, “what do you mean?”  He said, “you see that boy over there? I see two of him.”  I got very worried.  I checked his eyes and the attending ran him through a neuro exam.  It was clear that there was a problem in his vision.  I was so scared.  I can’t really describe in words how I was feeling.  It was like, I didn’t want to leave his side until the problem was fixed.  Finally another doctor asked me to give him my glasses to try on—An idea I hadn’t thought of.  And he could see! I gave him the same exam I had given him before, and he had no more double vision! I felt so relieved that it was something benign, and that the problem was resolved.  We had plenty of glasses back at the place we were staying (HCM).  When we went back, I tried a bunch of them on because none of them had their prescription on them.  I found several that I could sort of see in and we gave them to someone who was going back to the orphanage to have the little boy try them on.  I know that it sounds like no big deal, but it was a wonderful experience for me as I love to love, and these are the experiences that I live for.  These are the experiences that make me happy to be alive—not because I’ve done something good.  I don’t feel that I really did anything.  I am just grateful for the opportunity to have had such an interaction with another human being.

Later on in the day, we went to another orphanage! My favorite part was at the end.  As we were leaving, the head of the orphanage told us that she wanted to pray with us before she left.  We stood in a circle and held hands.  As we stood there, she asked one of the boys to sing.  He started to sing a beautiful Christian song and those of us who knew the song (not me haha), joined in.  It was a song about hope, faith, and gratefulness.  In the song, we thanked God for being there for us; we thanked God for our lives and we asked Him to bless each other.  It was a moment when we were not doing anything medical, nothing physical to help one another.  There was nothing but words floating around.  But it was beautiful.  It was peaceful.  It was thoughtful, and it was my favorite part actually of the whole day.  It was a time when I felt that we were all truly together, brother and sister in this world together and on this journey called life together. I just felt really happy like I could have stayed there forever holding hands and if I died I right then, I’d be ok.

A Busy Beginning: Choirs, cleaning, children, and tooth extractions

My alarm was set for 6:15am. I’d given myself just the right amount of time to shower, read my Bible, and eat breakfast before the day’s activities began. But I didn’t wake up to my iPod’s marimba alarm; I woke up to a different sound. It was still dark when I heard a choir of voices singing outside my window. I was still disoriented with sleep and forgot where I was, and wondered why I was in an unfamiliar bed. After a few seconds, a flood of realization hit me, and I thought I must have overslept my alarm because there was already a bunch of activity outside when I had expected to get up in the quietness of the morning. I quickly fumbled for my iPod to check the time: 5:30am. I tried to roll over to get a bit more sleep since I hadn’t gotten much the past few days, but I was too excited. Haiti. The entire team has been preparing for this trip for months, and we were finally here! I eventually found out that the choir of beautiful voices was from the sunrise service in the church nearby. I couldn’t sleep so I got up and started my day earlier than scheduled.

After showering, I had some time for prayer on the roof of our compound, enjoying the scenic view of mountains surrounding the area. It was an unfamiliar thing to me since I’ve been born and raised in the flat landscape of Florida, so it was a great backdrop to start my morning. We had driven in to the compound in the dark of night, so I hadn’t really gotten to see what the place looked like until this morning.

After breakfast, a group from the team went to the church next door and got to hear many of the familiar hymns sung in Creole by about 200 Haitian people, all singing in harmony. That is one thing I particularly loved! They all sang in harmony and often without accompaniment. That is a skill that we Americans have partially lost. It was beautiful and so genuine. They had a special welcome for us near the end of the service and they were very welcoming.

We got straight to work afterwards and began organizing and cleaning out the surgical and emergency areas of the clinic in the compound. This compound is much better equipped than I was expecting. They have been building up their facilities over the years and it is neat that UF gets to help contribute.

We ate a quick lunch and headed out for our first visit to an orphanage. We split up into different teams and screened 83 children. I was on the team that painted fluoride varnish on each of the children’s teeth. Unfortunately, there were 15 children who had serious cavities and required tooth extractions. The dental team didn’t want to operate on them in the middle of the orphanage, so we piled these children, the dental team, and 4 of the med students into one of our vans and drove them back to clinic. It was incredible to see our dental team work! They are caring people and fantastic teachers. The med students helped stabilize the children as they were operated on. We also had an adventure setting up the autoclave/pressure cooker to sterilize our equipment.

I’ll share a story of one of the little girls who had a tooth extracted. Most of the children were troopers and cried very little as they were operated on by complete strangers. The ages ranged from 7-15 years old, and even the young children remained strong. One of these resilient children was an 8-year-old girl who, for the first 20-30 minutes of her tooth extraction, complained and whimpered very little. Most of the operations were complete by that amount of time, but her tooth had grown in such a way that it was not easily coming out. I got to assist one of the 4th year dental students, Rob. He was very patient, but the tooth was a challenge. I tried to help stabilize her jaw as he switched back and forth between tools, trying to loosen the tooth. It became a struggle near the end and she was getting more and more scared. Finally, Rob’s patience paid off and the rotten tooth popped out. My heart felt for the little girl though. She was crying after the operation and we on the team got to put our arms around her and hug her. However, she was then sent back to the other children in the waiting area. But she went out of the operating room without a mother or father waiting for her. No family was there to comfort her after the operation. I can’t imagine what her life is like. I am so grateful that the leaders at the orphanage have the heart to care for those children, but I’m sure it is not the same as going home to the love and hugs of your parents and family. She doesn’t have one.

Can you imagine going through a tooth extraction alone, with strangers poking around in your mouth and no parent to give you support afterwards? I can’t. But that is why I am so grateful to be here with this team. It is impressive to see already that everyone on this trip is here to go beyond giving physical care. They genuinely show love to our patients. There is so much encouragement and so many acts of service. That little girl is going back to live in her orphanage and I expect that the leaders there are wonderful. But one thing I know. That girl was shown a lot of love and compassion by the dental team today. She went through a scary and traumatic experience, but I got to witness how one dentist, 2 fourth year dental students, and my fellow med students selflessly loved on that girl today. I know it made a huge impact on her dental health. I’m excited to see what the rest of the week holds!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Thoughts from the team for today provided by Kaylie S and Ariel A.

Today the team split, with half of us going to a mobile clinic and half of us staying at the HCM clinic.
The mobile clinic group embraced our inner mountain climbers, and after a thirty minute drive into the mountains, we hiked a beautiful “path” up to the top. It was a tough thirty minute climb with all of the supplies, but well worth it. The appreciativeness of the Haitian citizens is overwhelming, as they ran both up and down the strenuous mountain to help us in carrying our supplies. Once at the top, we set up a very creative clinic in a small room. We were able to fit a small OB screening room, a pediatric section, a pharmacy, and many other important components. The team worked well together for a very efficient 5 hours, where we were able to provide health screenings and medications for over 100 people. The highlight of the day, in my opinion, was Sam providing reading glasses to the patients. After some of the women saw their new look, they literally strutted out of the clinic to show off to their friends! We are dusty, sore, sleepy, and happy from an incredible day!

The small group that stayed at HCM spent the day seeing patients in clinic as well as prepping the OR for the surgical procedures scheduled tomorrow. As the mobile clinic group set out, we carried our bags downstairs and were greeted by many patients already waiting for us. We were able to both see patients (30-40 in all) and spend time counseling patients in the pharmacy throughout the morning and into the afternoon. After lunch, we cleaned, organized and sorted supplies so we could be fully prepared for the surgeries that will take place tomorrow. To wrap up the day, a couple of us assisted the Dental team as they returned from the mobile site and set up their evening clinic. Although we didn’t travel too far from our Haitian home, we certainly had an action packed day!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Thoughts for today’s blog provided by Jonathan B, Joanne B, and Jacob B. The A Team! 

After a 2-hour drive, we arrived at the church in Simonette where we set up clinic for the day.  As I was working with adults instead of kids, I knew today would be pretty different, but I had no idea what we were in for.  One of the first patients in the morning came in and gave us her intake sheet – “breast mass”.  My heart sunk, as I realized the implications of that complaint in the remote village that we were working in.  I was hoping against hope as we asked the relevant questions: How hard is it? How long has it been there? Has it changed in size? Is it fixed or moveable?  None of the answers gave us much hope, and our fears were confirmed when we did a breast exam.  There was definitively a small, hard, fixed mass in her breast, and Dr. Harman also found some swollen lymph nodes whereby we concluded that this woman likely had breast cancer.  How do you approach such a diagnosis in Haiti?  In America, we could send her for a mammogram, then an ultrasound, then a biopsy, and then get a coordinated and focused team to handle her treatment.  It would be an intensely challenging several months or years, the treatment would be harsh, and there would be a lot of fear and uncertainty, but her chances of surviving, fighting through it, and coming out a survivor would be relatively high.  However here, none of those options were at our disposal.  With our resources, we were prepared to treat minor infections and straightforward pain, not cancers requiring a plethora of resources and specialists.  We were able to refer her to the Medishare Hospital in Port-au-Prince, but it was not a satisfying treatment.  Even as she was leaving, she asked how she would get there, whether she would have to pay, and what there was that could be done.  She deserved answers, treatment, and most of all hope.  But we were left helpless.  And I think it is important that the whole experience felt wrong.  We’re training to be doctors; we want to help people in their journey towards health, not merely put a diagnosis and send them off into the unknown, maybe to receive treatment, and maybe not.  I know that we have to take things one step at a time, but moments like this give me a desire to continue working for access to necessary health care here.  I want to be a part of bringing quality treatment to people who truly need it and have no other way of getting it.  And I think that’s part of what Project Haiti is trying to do, one step at a time.  While the rest of the day was certainly interesting, and we all learned a lot, that woman stuck with me, even as we were driving back home.  I hope she will make it to the hospital and be able to get treatment, and I know her story will motivate me to continue making partnerships like this a part of the normal rhythm of my medical life.

Of the patients I encountered today, Mrs. M was the most memorable. She was a slightly overweight Haitian woman in her late 40s, who wore a brown skirt, an oversized white shirt and a pair of dusty sandals. Mrs. M’s primary complaint was of intermittent lower back pain that traveled down both of her legs. Upon greeting her and introducing myself I began to ask her the usual questions: can you point to where your back pain is? When did you first experience the pain? Is there anything that prompts your pain? It soon became clear that the source of her back pain was how she washed her laundry; when washing her clothes, Mrs. M stated that she sat on the floor and bent forward. That is when she experienced the most pain. “M konprann [I understand]” I said as I nodded and scribbled it down. I then asked if anything made the pain better.  “Priye [Prayer]”, she said, “mwen priye epi doule a sispann [I pray and the pain stops]”. At that point I stopped writing and met her eyes. She was smiling. The people of Haiti truly had unwavering faith.  Faith in their God, faith in their community and faith in what we came to Haiti to do. Without their trust and confidence in our healthcare, we wouldn’t be here. For this I am truly grateful.

The rooster outside my window has become my best friend, at 4 am… Well, not really, but not having to set an alarm this entire week is a great reprieve. The fact that every morning I wake up and realize that I’m in Haiti is an amazing feeling. The days have been long and the roads have been tough, literally, but my experience thus far has been one of a kind. Between the orphanage, the 30 minute hike up a mountain for clinic, and the amazing patients I still can’t believe how much of a privilege it is for me to be a part of this trip. Today was especially memorable. Between the standard mix of complaints I saw a 24-year-old girl with a presentation I knew I had learned about, but never seen in person. She came to clinic with a 102 fever, generalized body pain, headaches, abdominal pain and joint pain, all of which had been going on for 3 days. I began asking her the generalized questions of when did it start, how long as it been going on, is it getting better, where does it hurt, etc. and I started to think about what she could have. The language barrier was proving to be extremely difficult and between the interpreter and another medical student we kept getting different time frames for how long she had been sick. Eventually, through some rephrasing, we found out that it been going on since February, always in 3-day cycles. We suspected malaria and we needed to get her tested and treated quickly. While today I learned a lot in regard to medicine I also learned a lot about barriers to healthcare. We didn’t have a way of testing for malaria and we didn’t have the meds to treat her either, they were all at HCM’s clinic. We contemplated our options and determined that the best was for her to go to the free government clinic to get tested and treated. We gave her some Tylenol for the fevers and sent her on her way, hoping she understood how serious this diagnosis was and how important it was for her to get treatment. I’ll never know if she will actually make the journey to get treated at the clinic, but I will always remember her. She was my first malaria patient, the first spleen I ever felt, and the first diagnosis I made that could save someone’s life. Becoming a physician is a long, tough road, but everyday patients like her remind me why I chose this field.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Thoughts for today’s blog provided by Michael C, Stacey N, and Lexi C.

This morning at seven we set off on a two-hour drive to a small clinic outside of Mirebelais.  We drove across twisting mountain roads through banana farms and small roadside villages.  The drive went quite smoothly; aside from a few near high-speed collisions with fearless street crossing goats.  We arrived at a small church that would serve as our clinic to find a crowd of nearly one hundred people waiting to receive care.  We hurriedly unpacked our bags, set up clinic, and began seeing patients within the hour.  I spent the day triaging.  Although my knowledge of Haitian Creole is quite limited, I employed everything I had to let each patient know we cared for them.  I greeted each with a warm smile and “Kouman ou ye?”, meaning “How are you?”.  Most patients immediately begin rapidly running through their concerns, gesturing to indicate different parts of their body that were troubling them.  It was clear that many of the patients had harbored these concerns without access to treatment for some time.  It was deeply gratifying to know that we could address many of these concerns.  By the end of the clinic we’d seen about one hundred and fifteen patients.

After the clinic we drove to the famous Partners in Health Hospital in Mirebelais for a tour.  The facility was built in the past few years after the earthquake.  It was fantastically clean and well organized, and could match or surpass many hospitals in the United States in quality of care.  It was inspiring to see such a facility, and realize that it came to be through the same desire to help our fellow man that drives our own work in clinic.

Hi! We are the dental team! Wednesday may have been our most beautiful and rewarding day of the week thus far. After an amazing drive winding up the mountains, we arrive at a small rural village. The dental team we have is the outdoorsy type, and just loves working in the open air. The small church would have been really crowded with the medical and pharmacy and dental teams, so we happily set up shop outdoors. We had our dental benches (which were just wood benches) set up under the banana trees with a wonderful shade and breeze. As the patients started lining up, we fully realized the need of the area. Not only did the people have teeth that were so decayed that they no longer had crowns (the tops of teeth), and only had infected and painful root tips, but the people also had never had any extractions before, so clearly no dentist had been into the area for a long time. The patients were steady, and we were working nonstop. Although the dental treatment of extractions in a developing country is reactionary and not preventive, the reality of no electricity, no clean water, no suctioning, no compressor, no dental unit, and no dental chair makes extractions the best treatment for the amount of time it takes, that we can offer right now. The residents were thanking us for coming, and we even took some patients home to the dental clinic at HCM with us to make sure no patient was left untreated. When we got back to HCM, we reopened shop and treated the rest of the patients until 11:30pm. Needless to say, we slept like a rock tonight.

The healing nature of the human touch is something that they talk about in medical school, but it is something that you truly feel while in Haiti. Without lab tests, x-rays, or other costly technology that the medical world has come to rely upon in the United States we have come to rely upon other skills, those of listening with deep care, and examining thoughtfully while in Haiti. Our tools are simple, but our hearts are open to give and receive love, joy, faith and healing. We have offered medications, dental care, and surgeries but we have also offered hugs to children, back rubs to old women whose joints are tired from years of hard labor, and a hand to hold to women delivering beautiful children.  The healing nature of the human touch is something you feel while in Haiti, and we will all leave with hearts that are fuller because of the connections that we have made by simply reaching out a caring hand to those in need.

I love children, and it has become a running joke on the trip that I somehow always can be found with a sweet Haitian child in my arms. However, today I learned the most from the adults that I was blessed to have the opportunity to treat. Today was a day full of joy and faith, quiet prayers and boisterous celebration. While at clinic a barefooted elderly woman followed me slowly to our adult clinic corner of the small church. She had a history of diabetes and her foot was bandaged with a dusty gauze wrap. She had dropped something on her foot and due her diabetes, she now had a large ulceration on the top of her foot that was not healing. I carefully removed the bandage and slowly began to clean the large weeping wound. As I was washing her feet she raised her hands in the air, and began singing hymns, praying, and thanking our team in the beautiful Creole language. Her celebration during the wound care and watching her travel around clinic and personally thank all our team after I was finished reminded me of the importance of living with a grateful heart. I was not able to cure her diabetes, let alone treat the symptoms of the disease, but she was deeply grateful for the simple care that I was able to provide for her wound.  I am forever grateful to the people of Haiti, as well as my amazing teammates for reminding me why I chose to serve as a physician. We are not able to provide the necessary help for all of the people of Haiti, but this week I believe that we were able to make a difference in the lives of many, and in return they have made a difference in our lives.