No time to proofread.
Before I go into the details of the last couple of days, I think its important to clarify our role in this whole situation, and by extension, our role in the world. And by “our” I mean the American invaders. None of us fancy ourselves white heroes coming to the aid of the downtrodden. Quite the opposite actually. We come here with a meager offering of whatever skills we have and we leave with far more than we could ever give. On the last day, exhausted, yet somehow renewed, we board the plane for the US different people than when we came to Haiti. It is not through any individual effort that this whole thing works. Again, quite the opposite. It is a distinctly collaborative international effort. Without our translators nothing would get done. If it weren’t for our hosts, we wouldn’t have a building to work in, a place to sleep, or food to eat. There isn’t exactly a hotel or a Taco Bell where we are. Without the Haitians that support us, we would have a hard time surviving, let alone contributing anything. There are many Haitians who work around the clock making sure that this operation is successful. I’m not speaking figuratively. From before the sun rises until after midnight, they are often doing what they do. Not for themselves. But for us and for their community. They work tirelessly and selflessly. And without them, we are nothing. Cooperation is essential. And if I were to try and quantify it, I would say they are more integral than we are. That being said, things have started to get interesting around the clinic…
Historically, the first day is always a little slow. This trip was no different. Not slow in the sense that there aren’t many patients. There seemed to be an endless supply. But slow in terms of the acuity of their illnesses. It’s a parade of vague headaches and abdominal pain. Because people here think that 3 cups of water is enough each day. People here, almost without exception, perform manual labor in the tropical sun until about the day they die. Which is often at a time in their lives after they have stopped counting birthdays. 3 cups of water is not enough. So we give them a comprehensive exam, trying to find serious maladies they don’t even know they should complain about. They get educated about cholera and how important water is and get some multivitamins. It’s the name of the game. And the first day is as important as the last. Because the real reason we’re here is education and to help the community develop a sense of dignity in association with our Haitian counterparts.
By the second or third day, word gets out that there are “blan” in town running a clinic. People start making an effort to bring us the sick. And things get more interesting. This is a double edged sword. Anyone who works in healthcare exists in this zone of paradox. We all wish for interesting cases and dramatic circumstances and blood and guts and gore and medical mysteries. But none of us, touching a patient, are happy that they are ill. But if they had to be ill, we’re glad to be there. Especially if there’s something we can do to help.
Again, without the collective efforts of a lot of people, we wouldn’t be here. But a lot of people did put forth a collective effort and we were here. And this was a nice little coincidence when a 15 year old girl crutched her way into the clinic and sat down at triage with a knee swollen to a circumference of 22 inches. Her other knee had a circumference of about 11 inches. A lot of people have forearms bigger than her good knee and thighs skinnier than her bad knee. In a way, she embodied the plight of Haiti as a nation in that things happen, but around they often turn to shit. Think earthquake. Anyway, she bumped it on a bench about a year ago. Bumped it. It didn’t even break the skin. No break that we know of. Just a bump. Through some mechanism that would be impossible to elucidate without a time machine, it got infected. If she had been in the US or any other nation in the western hemisphere other than Haiti, it would have been taken care of quickly. But she was in Haiti. And so a small, easily fixable problem became an incredibly complicated one. We can’t know yet whether or not she might has a more serious underlying problem that is being masked by the trauma she described. But we do know for sure that she has a bad infection. A gigantic, hot to the touch infection. The kind of infection that will result in amputation or death if untreated. And because the Haitians were kind enough to take us in and make it possible for us to have a clinic in Ranquitte, we were there. And we had the antibiotics she needed. For whatever reason, the hospitals she went to before could not or would not treat her. We’re not completely out of the woods yet. But we’re optimistic. And we won’t quit until there’s nothing left we can do.
The primary missions of this team are to stop cholera and build dignity in the community. The secondary mission is to make a difference in the lives of individuals, wherever we can. We’re not going to save the entire world from our temporary base in this little village in rural Haiti. But we’re going to try our damndest to save this girl’s life and limb. And maybe when she grows up, she’ll save the world from her little village in rural Haiti. Never know. When I was 15 I never imagined I would be part of a team in Haiti doing what we’re doing. But I do know that if you told me I was going to lose my right leg… fuck… it would seem like the world was ending.
Check out the eBay store. Buy some new stuff. This may seem like a shameless plug at the end of a very real story. But I hope by now you can see that the shit you were gonna buy at the mall anyway is making a difference in a big way. And if you’re wondering if you should donate to ropa or buy something, just ask yourself what a leg is worth to you. Ask yourself what your leg is worth. I know it seems dramatic. The only way I could have made this story have a bigger impact is if I had a Sarah McLachlan song playing in the background.