March 8, 2010

Letter from Haiti: Haitians' pride, faith amaze doctor

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Care for hungry, bleeding child

One day, after seeing children in the outpatient clinic, Dr. Janvier, pediatric chief resident, called me to see this tiny baby who had just been brought in by his similarly tiny maman et papa. Colstan was 1 month old and was bleeding profusely from the rectum.

Weighing in at 3 pounds, he had been crying constantly because his mother's milk supply had diminished greatly and he was hungry -- as were both his parents. So his maman had made some tea to soothe him. We do not know what she used to make the tea, but now the palms of his little hands were startlingly white in contrast to his glistening black skin.

Colstan needed blood immediately -- no small task in Cap Haitien. The parents were instructed to take their baby's blood sample to the Red Cross down the street, where they would both have to give blood so their child could receive blood. But they were sent back because there was no technician to type the blood.

Four hours passed and still no blood. I finally went to find them and begged the Red Cross director to please find someone to come in. The director continued to call and was finally successful. Eight hours after the baby's arrival, he received his 10 mls (2 teaspoons) of blood, which was all he needed.

His bleeding ultimately stopped and, after stabilization, he was admitted to the malnourished children's section, where he and his parents would receive nourishment. This inpatient program is sponsored by Konbit Sante in partnership with another program, Medika Manba (peanut butter), to help malnourished children and their families.

Formula for starving baby

Two days in a row, I saw a grandmother with her 3-week-old granddaughter. The baby's father was killed, and the mother is now hospitalized because of shock and her milk supply is gone. It is bad news that this older woman will have to depend on formula. It took me more than an hour to organize formula powder, water and a 2-oz. bottle that I cleaned with water, Fab and a drop of Clorox. I then showed the grandma how to use it, and she happily fed the starving baby, who ate vigorously. The baby rewarded me with peeing and pooping right through her thin cloth diaper right into my lap! She gave me the biggest smile!

Four stretchers at the airport

One afternoon, our director, Nate Nickerson, received a call from the airport saying that four patients had been dropped off by a military plane with no information as to where these patients had come from nor where they were to be delivered. Arriving at the airport with two pickup trucks, we saw that there were now six patients -- four on the tarmac and two in an ambulance.

Of the four patients on the tarmac, one young woman had a severely broken pelvis. She made no sound and never winced in pain, although I'm quite certain she was not medicated for pain. Another woman had lost the ability to move her legs. A very emaciated man had his right leg amputated above the knee, and an older man had a bad fracture of his right thigh (femur).

In the ambulance were two injured women -- a young woman with pelvic and hip fractures, and an elderly woman sitting up with a hip fracture. They all wore a piece of tape on their shirts stating "TRANSPORT" and had X-rays with them, but nothing more.

There was a reporter there from I know not where who kept placing his camera in the patients' faces, and it saddened me to see how these poor Haitians, while maintaining their dignity and suffering silently, were not even afforded privacy.

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