By: Warda Zaman, OMS-II & Yuliana De los Santos, OMS-II
Contributors: Elizabeth Barr, OMS-II, Iwona Dziewa, OMS-II, Bhuma Krishnamachari, PhD, Bill Blazey, DO
We are not going to tell you how the 7.0-magnitude earthquake, one of the worst disasters faced in human history caused the death of about 222,000 and caused dreadful injury to more than 300,000 people. This is an underestimated number if you consider the long-term post-psychological trauma faced by several survivors. Nine months later, a cholera epidemic struck Haiti, the first time in over a century. We are sure you have heard all about it in the news and may have donated the $10 to yélehaiti. Volunteers have come and gone (and continue to go as exemplified by yours truly) to provide medical care, working tirelessly under extreme conditions with no electricity and limited resources. Predictably, the situation is worsened by damaged infrastructure and communication systems.
We are also not going to share with you, how despite more than $2 billion in foreign aid, Port-au-Prince still has leveled buildings, and structures littered with rubble, including its National Palace. More than 550,000 people are still in encampments clustered around the capital, living in conditions that are unfit for habitation. This is the scene our team of five NYCOM first-year medical students supervised by William Blazey, D.O. and Bhuma Krishnamachari, Ph.D., landed in Port-au-Prince after a quick 3.5-hour flight from JFK to see.
But we are going to share with you how when we landed in this beautiful country, we were greeted with a hug and smile by our host, Pastor RoRo, a Haitian-American who supervises the four Haitian Christian Outreach (HCO) mission camps throughout Haiti. How during the 47-mile drive that took 5 hours across rough roads and construction to our final destination- Peredo Community Hospital, we received a crash course on Haitian culture and language by Carey and Mike, a couple from Indiana who had been volunteering with HCO for over a month. Although the long ride was bumpy and tiring, the breathtaking views of the mountains and the Caribbean Sea were enough to dissipate the exhaustion.
The Hospital Communautaire de Peredo- Peredo Community Hospital is located at a camp site along with the guest dorms which allowed us to become familiar with the clinic from our first day. Carey, along with Ally and Allison – two summer interns who were a great help in adapting to the living and social conditions of the camp site, had cleaned the clinic, organized the pharmacy, and started seeing patients a month before we arrived. Due to the existence of the Community Hospital, the locals do not have to travel more than an hour and half to a Cuban hospital in Caye-Jacmel, but can save that trip for dire emergencies.
Once they heard that a medical team (word spread that there were six “doctors” at the clinic) arrived, they began lining up starting at 6am and kept on coming until late-afternoon; traveling from near and far. We, medical students, worked in teams of two with Dr. Blazey swinging by to confirm our findings, make a diagnosis and prescribe any medication as necessary. Our days consisted of working in the Hospital from morning until early afternoon, spending afternoons participating in cultural activities and evenings reviewing the day’s work and engaging in structured educational discussions. The discussion sessions, led by each student member of the team and facilitated by Dr. Blazey, were designed to educate the team about different disease pathologies in the context of Haiti.
We saw familiar diseases like heart diseases, gastrointestinal diseases and diabetes, but then we also saw diseases created by the results of poverty and injustice like malaria, typhoid, skin and soft tissue infections, easily preventable in resource-rich countries but commonplace in Haiti. We saw many cases of tinea capitis, recurrent fungal infections, several upper respiratory infections in children, most of who were malnourished, and even some sexually transmitted diseases. We saw more than 350 patients at the clinic in 7 days, not counting follow-up visits, of which there were many.
What alarmed us the most was a case of a woman brought in after being attacked with a machete. We were told that she was a homeless lady who was mentally ill. We were not able to confirm why she was attacked but she had multiples open-wounds including a large one on her right leg, a left pinky finger hanging off her hand and a wound right above her right eye. She was so strong that it required the whole medical team to hold her down while Dr. Blazey stitched her wounds (he managed with 7 stiches versus what would be 14 stitches here in the US). That same morning we experienced the difficulty of managing chronic disease in a resource-poor country. We saw a diabetic patient whose blood sugar was so high, she was close to a diabetic coma. We stabilized her to the best of our abilities, and sent her to the hospital in Caye-Jacmel. Needless to say, that was an interesting and busy morning.
We also want to share with you that our time at the Peredo Community Hospital was a very rewarding one. Living in the countryside for 10 days allowed us to appreciate how beautiful the land and the people of Haiti really are. We all felt so privileged to be able to help the people of Peredo and meet the wonderful volunteers that spent their time at the camp site. While we were at the HCO mission camp, we had the pleasure of befriending a group of volunteers from Ohio who were of great help to us in our work at the clinic. It was truly wonderful to be surrounded by people who wanted to help others without expecting anything in return. This trip was a life-changing experience that we will always cherish.