Tara Wisdom, PT, and I landed in Port au Prince, Haiti, two days after the second anniversary of the devastating earthquake, exhausted from our travel. We were volunteering for eight days with Project Medishare at the Bernard Mev hospital, the only trauma center for miles. We joined about twenty-five other volunteers, mainly nurses and doctors from Cincinnati, at the small corrugated hangar for baggage claim and customs, battling our way through the chaotic crowd and even walking on the broken luggage carousel to maneuver our luggage outside to meet our drivers. We inched our way along the dusty road to the hospital, shocked by the number of people still living in tents and fascinated by tap-taps (their colorful public transportation) and people with large baskets on their heads, marveling that traffic c lanes, signals, and even traffic direction are meaningless. After a brief orientation and tour, we hit the ground running, working with Kristin, a US PT finishing a six-month stint, and two techs who do everything from evals to wound care. We would later meet Fedora, a Haitian and recent Florida PT grad who will eventually head the PT department, for her second week on the job. There were no nurses’ aides; families changed sheets, bathed, dressed, and fed their loved ones, frequently giggling at our initial efforts to help them.
Tara and I worked as a team for most of the week, settling into a routine of treating pediatric patients in the morning and adult spinal cord patients in the afternoon. The only soap to be found was brought by volunteers, in our dorm bathrooms; we relied instead on hand gel and gloves, thankfully in abundant supply. Two meals a day were stacked on table in takeout boxes, and yes, I ate my entire goat portion for lunch!
We saw many babies and toddlers with heads grossly enlarged from hydrocephalus, a result, in part, of poor or nonexistent prenatal care and well-baby checkups. We worked with preemies, a baby with a TE (transesophageal) fistula that would have been reparable in the states but not in Haiti, and a 12-year-old boy with a gaping foot wound from a tap-tap injury. We shortened an adult walker by removing the legs to give another little boy mobility while his knee healed from a debilitating infection. One of our adult patients, Myrtha, had been in the hospital since her cervical injury during the earthquake. She was able to walk slowly with a walker and will be hopefully be discharged soon once her support system is in place. Most of the equipment was old and terribly worn, but the patients and staff were grateful for what they had. Medishare’s goal is now training Haitian staff and transitioning the facility back to them. We were excited to go out one morning for home visits in preparation for two spinal cord patients’ upcoming discharges, humbled by their modest homes and gracious families. We spent our last morning enjoying watching Team Zaryean, the national amputee soccer team. The name means “Tarantula,” chosen because the spider is just as deadly when missing a leg. The players were inspiring, speeding past us on their forearm crutches, their prosthetic legs stacked against the wall.
Local boys crowded the sidelines to watch their heroes; they could have hung out at the other end of the field with the able-bodied teams, but they emulated the amputees instead. Tara and I hope you will join us for another volunteer trip to Haiti to help the beautiful, gracious people there!
Photo credit: Flickr user newbeatphoto