Sunday, March 31, 2013

Day 2 of Haiti, Easter Sunday

Today is Easter Sunday. We planned on this being a slow day- a day of rest- but it actually turned out to be quite full. It is 9pm as I begin typing this, and we have just settled down in our room.

The day started out with attending Easter service at a local church in town. We were told that Haitian's dress up nicely for church and it would be a good idea to dress appropriately. Glen donned a casual pair of slacks with a button up short-sleeve shirt that he had to borrow out of the closet in our room. I was thankful that I had thrown a dress and a pair of wedges into my bag to bring. I put it on and we walked out to the front of the house to get into the Jeep...only, instead of the pink Jeep waiting on us, there was a Haitian man on a motorcycle. Um, hmm. Here in Haiti, this is a "taxi." I looked at Glen, laughed, and thought, "Oh boy..." Glen and I jumped on, and Carrie (the guesthouse host) and Liz jumped on another. Off we with my bright, multi-colored, 100% silk Presley Sky dress and 5 inch wedge heels on...hanging on to the motorcycle for dear life! What a spectacle, I am sure. By the time we got to church, my thighs hurt from clentching that motorcycle so tightly.

We went into the packed church and took our seats. I felt as though we stood out like sore thumbs, but much like yesterday, not an awkward or questioning look was given. The Haitians are neither warmly welcoming, nor are they cold or intimidating. They just are. A few minutes before service began, a leader of the church came up and said hello and asked us if we would like to stand up and introduce ourselves. We smiled and thanked him, but kindly said no thank you.

There was a huge choir, and they did plenty of singing. The words to each song were projected onto the wall, and we did our best to sing along. Glen of course seemed to really get into it. At one song in particular, toward the end of service, the chorus seemed to be repeating, but of course we had no idea what the meaning was. A Haitian man who spoke English approached us and knowing we likely did not understand, translated the words for us:

"Jesus is not dead. He is alive in our mouths. He is alive in our heads. He is alive in our bodies."

After he walked away, I felt the connection. I felt it in my heart and had to make an effort to not tear up.

After the service, we walked down to the hospital- 'Hopital Ste. Therese.' We were able to see where we would be working- the Labor and Delivery unit, Antepartum unit, and Postpartum unit. We were also shown where the OR is, as well as the Pharmacy- should we find ourselves needing a medication for a patient. It caught me by surprise how small the "Labor and Delivery" unit's really only a small room, about the size of our office waiting room back home. There are 4 beds, all alongside eachother, divided by curtains.

It is not possible for me to verbalize the conditions of the hospital. Nothing I can say can describe it adequately. Nothing will do it justice. I can't describe the smell, or the heat, or what the combinationn of those two create. I can't describe the very old, crumbling, neglected building that is called a hospital.

Over the course of the afternoon I realized how easy it would be begin doubting what good our presence here does. The conditions are so terrible, you can't help but be overwhelmed by the poor conditions and ask, "What good does a doctor and a midwife visiting for 3 weeks do?" Really...what good is it? How much can 2 people help? And in the end, will it make a damn bit of difference? I found out though, that as terrible as the conditions are, the conditions, care, and outcomes have VASTLY improved over the years. Slowly, change and improvement is being made. It may seem dire and hopeless to those newcomers like Glen and I, but to those volunteers that have returned year after year, change is being made and is blatantly seen. To hear that lifted my thoughts and my heart.

After church, we went through the supplies we brought, sorted them for what we would keep for our personal use while here, what would be kept at the guesthouse for students and visitors, and what we would donate to the hospital. We then sat with Liz and made gift bags for the near-term moms who show up to clinic for care. Not only is it a way to provide a few basic items, but it is an incentive for them to come back for more prenatal care and/or birth. Each bag included a baby blanket, onesie, hat, and a cloth diaper. We made as much as we could, but within 20 minutes had run out of baby items. I so wish that we could have brought more.

After lunch and a nap, it was time to head to the orphanage. The children get fed every day at 3:30pm and the doors are open for volunteers to help. Back on the taxi motorcycles we went. We walked into the infant room and even more so than at the hospital, I had to make an effort to hold my emotions within and keep it together. Thankfully, the conditions were great. It was clean, the caretakers were lovely. It was just seeing all of those babies in a room lined with cribs. So many little mouths, and bodies, and minds, and emotions. So many lives that needed and deserved individual love and attention, but just simply no one to do it.

We were immediately handled bottles of warm formula and each found a baby who had not yet been fed. We sat on the cool cement floor, with our babies in our arms- talking sweetly to them, loving on them, and feeding them. It was in those first moments that it was re-affirmed to me that this was is ok that we are only two people, who will come and go in the matter of weeks and still leave Haiti behind just as it is. Nothing will be changed simply because of us or any other two people. But we are supporting an organization who has and will continue to make change as a whole entity, over the span of many, many years. But best of all, and at the most basic we sat there on the floor with those babies, we made a difference to them. The attention and the love we gave and the smiles we received will hopefully some day play a role to making them loving, compassionate human beings.


After we returned from the orphange, we took a 30 minute lesson in beginning Creole. It was fantastic! We got down the basics that we will need to maneuver through prenatal and postpartum appoitments, as well as birth. We asked our tutor how to say many things- "Hello, how are you feeling?" "Do you have any problems/pain?" "Are you feeling the baby move?" (Which, on a side note, literally translates out to "Are you feeling the baby walk?") "Push!" "You are ok." And lastly, "You are doing good!"
A 30 minute hike up the hill behind the house, followed by 20 minutes of yoga, dinner, and Liz french braiding my hair for me (what a MESS this mane of mine has been!), and our day has now nearly come to an end. Indeed, it was a full day- spiritually, physically, and emotionally. No better day for all of that than on Easter Sunday, as it was all a reminder of love and sacrifice.
Happy Easter.
Until tomorrow...

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Our arrival to Haiti

I am very thankful to be able to say that we have arrived in Haiti, safely and with little incident. We left Alaska at 4pm Friday afternoon and arrived at our destination at 3:30pm on Saturday afternoon. Granted, there was some time change in there, but was a long journey.

We arrived into Port au Prince this morning at 9:00am, collected our bags, and made it through customs without so much as a bat of the eye from the customs officer. I was relieved, but of course relief was a bit premature, as we were then randomly selected to have our bags inspected. First one up was the 70 lb. bag filled with IV supplies and medications. I was very surprised that again, not a word was said. The bag was zipped up, and the agent proceeded with the others, with not one exchange of words. This seems to be the Haitian way.

Now- prior to our arrival I had done some reading which described the frenzy that would soon greet us. I instructed Glen that we would be met with swarms of Haitian men who would be attempting to help us with our luggage...I should say, very aggressively and adamently trying to help us with our luggage. I explained to Glen that this can sometimes be used as a way to hold luggage hostage until adequate papyment is provided to the assistant, or even at the most innocent level, a way to push help on someone to get any amount of money. Seeing as we did not need any assistance, I told Glen that we would just have to be adament in saying, "No thank you. We do not need help." many of you know, sweet Glen is a bit of a lamb...a very sweet, kind, loving, laid back lamb. I look away for a second and he has 3 men helping us! I get the situation under control and repeatedly say, "No, thank you but no, we do not need help. No..." The men did not take no for an answer, so I had to get tough. to make a long story short, one of the men said, "If you do not like Haitians, then you should not come to Haiti!" I tried to apologize and explain myself to him, but of course with the language barrier it was very difficult. Actually...more so than the language barrier, it was the CULTURAL barrier...

We sat down in the waiting area to wait for the other volunteer, Liz, a nurse from New York, who would be arriving at 1pm. Seeing as it was just barely past 9:00am, that meant we had a nearly 4 hour wait. 4 HOURS. Sitting. With all of these luggage "helpers" surrounding us.
In the time we sat waiting, I thought about the incident with the bags and the Haitian man getting mad at me for denying help. As much as it irked me that the idea of "No, I do not need help" meant nothing, I eventually came to an understanding. This is their livlihood. This is how they support themselves and their families. The difference between getting bags and getting no bags was that man having food for his family or not. What if that were me? Would I take no for an answer? Not if I could help it. And so my first lesson in Haitian life unfolded as I sat and waited and watched. I had already read about it but I got to see it firsthand- Haitians are persistant. They persevere. 

4 hours latter, we loaded up onto the pink Midwives for Haiti jeep and got to meet Liz. It was so nice to be in the complany of another birth worker who was excited to be in Haiti to support this organization. We exchanged basic introductions and then watched in awe from the metal cage of the back of the Jeep (where we sat), hanging on for dear life, as the city flew by us.

Getting to the Midwives for Haiti guesthouse took us nearly 3 hours. It was a long, windy trip, on very bumpy terrain- twists ad turns and up into the mountains, leaving the loud and screeching sounds of Port Au Prince down below. As soon as we were at the outside of the confines of the city, the noise level dropped and the temperature felt as if it plummeted 15-20 degrees. The drop in temperature was refreshing, but even with the "coolness" it was still about 80 degrees. I put on my headphones, put on some music, and just watched...
House made of branches and sheets of tarp, scraps of metal, stones, sheets...I don't think I saw one "normal" home. They all were a different version of the same.

We saw women and young girls walking alongside the dirt road with buckets of clean water on their heads, carrying home to the family, groups of women and children gathered around what looked like community water pumps, filling buckets and doing laundry, clean clothes hanging out to dry on makeshift clothes lines, laid on the ground or large rocks alongside the road. And as we whizzed by in the cage in the back of the pink Jeep, they would look up...but not once did I see a change of expression. No smile, no grimace. no curiosity...just pure observation.

Now we are here, settled into the guesthouse in Hinche, our bellies full and ready to go to bed for the night. We sat and ate dinner, telling about ourselves, the community we come from, and how we "practice" birth. When asked what brought us here, the why, I honestly don't know the answer...or atleast how to verbalize it. It's multifaceted.

We were fascinated to get to sit and speak with Liz, the L&D nurse who will be here with us for a week. She shared stories of her work in New York with us, and talked about the desire she once had to be a midwife, but after seeing certain things, she is hesitant that it is the right path for her. I have known her for a few hours, but I can tell that it is. She seems as though she is meant to be a midwife. I'm looking forward to getting to know her more.

For now, Glen and I are off to bed. We have church in the morning and then a down day to relax and explore. Work will start on Monday.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Haiti Preparations

We are one week out from our departure to Haiti and are wrapping up our preparations for this monumental trip. It is so close! This life adventure and opportunity of service is a close reality! 

Earlier this week we began our series of oral Typhoid vaccine, and in the next few days we will need to begin the prescribed malaria prevention. Needless to say, I was (am) very hesitant with the idea of putting a foreign substance in my I am unfarmiliar with and honestly don't know much about. But with that said, having researched Haiti and the environment we will be living in, I know it is very much needed.

Within the last few weeks we have received an abundance of support from our community. Our friends, colleagues, and patients have come together to support us in all ways- through advice, words of encouragement, prayer, monetary donations, and donations of supplies for us to take on our trip, we have been showered with love and support. Slowly the donated supplies have trickled in and over and over again filled the box that has been sitting in our waiting room.

We have sent a formal letter, a verbal request, and several emails to our local hospital, asking for their support in the way of medical supply donation. As of today, we unfortunately have not heard back. While we only have a week remaining to collect these supplies, we hold on to hope that our community hospital will answer our request and fulfill this need to support us in our mission.

We have recently been made aware by the Medical Director of Midwives for Haiti that there is an URGENT need for the medications bupivicaine and lidocaine for spinal anesthesia. Obviously, for a busy hospital, this presents a dire situation. Again, the support of our hospital, or any other medical profesisonals who might have access to these medications and would like to donate, would be greatly appreciated.

Lastly, we are continuing to get inquiries as to what is still most needed. Here is an updated supply list:

Bupivicaine and lidocaine
Anti-hemmorhagic medications (Cytotec, Pitocin, Methergine)
(Or Donations to help us purchase these items)

Gloves (both sterile and non-sterile)
Alcohol wipes
Alcohol (rubbing)
Antibacterial soap
Hand sanitizer
Head lamps 
Blood pressure cuffs
Baby scale
Prenatal vitamins
Iron supplements
Antacids (e.g.Tums)
 Lubricant (KY or surgilube)
Protective eye wear
Cleaning Solution for floors and instruments
Gauze 4x4s
Plastic saran wrap
9V batteries and 3V batteries
Ziplock bags: snack, quart, and gallon sized
Drink mixes 
Lighter (long, hand-held) 
Wash Cloths and towels
Dish Rags
HP #60 Black ink cartridges
Double-sided Tape 
Clear Plastic Shower Curtain Liners
Removable Wall Hooks (for hanging towels, etc.)
Baby: blankets, onesies, hats, cloth diapers (hand washable)
Baby bottles & formula
Plastic Sheet Protectors 
Hand breast pumps
Watches with minute & second hands (for the students)

Thank you to all of you who continue to support us. We look forward to sharing photos and stories of our journey with you!

Tara Elrod