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This past Thursday we went up to our clinic in Gatineau as usual, not knowing that a routine 8-10 hour work day was going to turn into a rugged 24 hour shift! We saw over 40 patients during the day, and at 4:30pm had the truck all packed up to start our drive home, feeling contented that we had been of service to so many people, but tired after what had been a busy day. I put the key in the ignition and turned it and the engine went chug-chug-chug, but didn’t turn over. So, I tried again. Chug-chug-chug, same result. I continued doing this over the course of the next 15-20 minutes, not believing that our pick-up truck, which has been so reliable for the past two and a half years, was failing us. But, alas, it was true. We weren’t going anywhere very soon.

We’re unable to get a cell phone signal at the clinic itself, so Cherlie and our co-worker Ti Jean climbed up a hill where they could get reception. She called our mechanic, and he said he’d get a motorcycle taxi and come up to help us out. But, the way he said it made Cherlie have her doubts. At the same time, Ti Jean’s son Jimmy, “just happened” to come riding up on a motorcycle, having given someone a ride to their home just up the road. So, we sent Jimmy off down the mountain to find a mechanic and bring him back to us. We, in turn, settled down to wait. We thought the problem with the car was a relatively simple one – I had just filled the gas tank at a local pump and we figured the gas had water in it, which is an unfortunately common event around here. Well, Jimmy and a mechanic we had never met before named Ernest, arrived just at dusk, around 7pm. After taking off the gas tank, Ernest decided he needed some more tools to remove the fuel pump. So, around 8:15pm, off went he and Jimmy, supposedly to check for tools at a mechanic’s house in Latiboliere, a community half way down the mountain.

As 9pm came and went, we came to the foregone conclusion that the guys had gone all the way into town; a conclusion that was verified when they showed up again at 10:30pm. But, they brought some food with them, so the lengthy delay was quickly forgiven. In the meantime, about six of our neighbors had wandered into the yard, wondering why they hadn’t yet heard us pass by their houses. We usually wave to people all along the road as we leave the clinic and head home for the day. So, when they didn’t see us, they knew something was wrong. One of them brought a wind-up flashlight and held it for Ernest as he worked on the car. The rest of us sat around together on the ground around the truck, alternately talking and sleeping as the night wore on. It took Ernest until 3am to fix the problem, which turned out to be a faulty connection on the fuel pump, but in removing it, some of the small metal pipes leading from the gas tank to the engine were broken. He patched them up as well as he could and the car finally started!

At 3:30am, 11 hours after our first attempt, we thanked our neighbors, waved goodbye and said a prayer for safety as we made our way down the mountain. We were almost there when we lost power and couldn’t make it up the last few hills on our way into town. This time, the problem appeared to be a lack of transmission fluid. So, off went Jimmy and Ernest again on the motorcycle to go wake up someone to sell them some transmission fluid at 4:30 in the morning. A few cat naps later and they reappeared beside us. By this time the sun was up and people and other vehicles started to appear on the road. The addition of the transmission fluid allowed us to climb the last remaining hills to town, but gas was leaking profusely from the broken pipes by then and we could only inch along the rest of the way. We made it to another mechanic’s shop in the middle of town and stopped along the side of the road. By now, it was 6:30am, so we called a friend and he towed us the rest of the way home. Ernest, bless him heart, stayed on to fix the car, taking the fuel pump and pipes into town to get them soldered. By noon, the car was fixed and we were all tired, but grateful – grateful for safety throughout the night, the companionship and concern of neighbors up in Gatineau, the competence and dedication of a mechanic we had never met, the loyalty of our employees, Ti Jean and Annous, who stayed with us during the whole episode, and the faithfulness of the Lord, who’s hand was in it all. Praise Him!

Our overarching goal at Friends for Health in Haiti is to improve the health and change the lives and hearts of the people of Haiti. We desire to do this by providing integrated health care to patients of all ages, in a nurturing, Christian environment. We feel that it is important to maintain dignity while providing charitable care, instill a sense of responsibility, rather than contribute to dependency and strive for long-term sustainability by keeping our administrative processes simple and making wise use of limited resources.

Our developing model of care involves the following key concepts:

  • Care for patients of all ages each day
  • Point of care education using “teachable moments” during acute illness
  • Services directed to areas of greatest need (epidemiologically directed services)
  • Best practices incorporated into clinical guidelines for care
  • Empowerment of communities through participation in decision-making and responsibility for some of the costs of care
  • Nurturing, respectful, compassionate environment
  • Development of relationships as a priority: clinic staff relationships with the surrounding communities, local churches and religious leaders and the government sector, community members’ relationships with one another, especially the vulnerable, malnourished, elderly, and homeless
  • Teaching and mentoring of Haitian counterparts
  • Collaboration with and integration into the public health care system, including provision of immunizations, tuberculosis treatment, HIV testing and treatment, community education activities, and capacity building at the local government hospital in Jeremie
  • Integration of Christian witness with demonstration of strong moral and ethical principles in daily life and practice
  • Integration of traditional healers into the formal health sector

We invite you to share your ideas with us as we continue to develop this innovative model of care.

One of the most gratifying aspects of our work here in Haiti is when we see positive results of our medical treatment.  Each patient presents a challenge to the physician, both in terms of diagnosing their illness and in deciding the proper treatment for that illness or condition.  Obviously, the more experience and knowledge a physician has, the better they’ll be at making a diagnosis.  But, physicians also rely on laboratory tests and x-rays to help them determine the cause of an illness.  In a country where there are few diagnostic tests available, diagnosis is an even greater challenge.  So, when we “guess” correctly, there’s even greater joy here than when we’re in the US, with all the diagnostic resources at our disposal.  We like to think of these positive results as evidence of God working out his miracles through us.

Several months ago, an elderly woman came to the clinic with a rash on her lips and upper chest.  It had been there for months and had been getting worse.  Her lower lip was swollen and had some open areas and the chest rash was red and sore.  A visiting physician saw her initially and prescribed a steroid cream, and when she came back to see me a month later, there was very slight improvement in the appearance of the chest rash.  Her lip, however, was still sore and swollen.  I felt that she very likely had what is called a vasculitis, which is inflammation of the blood vessels and can occur in various parts of the body.  There are many different types of vasculitis, but they are generally treated with steroids, such as prednisone, given by mouth.  So, I decided to put her on prednisone for a month and see what would happen.

She came back to clinic last week, and I noticed her immediately as I spoke to the patients at the start of clinic.  There she was, sitting on a bench listening, and I was pleased to see that her lip looked much improved.  Later in the morning, when it was her turn for consultation, she was beaming.  “I’m talking to people about this clinic, you know,” she said.  “The medication you gave me has made me much better.”  She had obvious improvement in the rash on her lip and on her chest, with much less inflammation and swelling and healing of the open, ulcerated areas.  She was so pleased with the results of her treatment that she was telling everyone in her community about our clinic.  In fact, she had even brought her husband that day.  When I saw him next in consultation, I said to him, “What do you think of your wife now?  Isn’t she more beautiful?” he lowered his head and shyly grinned.  I could tell he was pleased with her appearance.  Later, his wife told Cherlie “I used to be embarrassed to talk with people, so I always covered my mouth as I spoke.  Now, I no longer feel ashamed and am able to hold my head up high.”

Positive results, small miracles!