Emma is a senior in high school in Denver. She traveled to Haiti this fall with International Medical Relief, a program for medical professionals and students, after the hurricane. She had to raise $2,000 to participate.
After 30 hours of travel in a car, a bus, two planes, and a van, we arrived at our home for the next week. With 22 full grown adults being stuffed in a van that was supposed to seat 15, our team quickly learned that the Haitian way was not the same way as the American way. We arrived with a burning desire to jump in with both feet and get straight to work, which is exactly what we did. Hundreds of patients were already lined up outside the house before we had even unloaded the gear, so we skipped putting on our scrubs and began triage, which was both physically and mentally exhausting.
Among other things, there was a serious language gap, our group only knowing English and Haitians only speaking French Creole. So we picked out a few guys from the crowd who could maybe help translate. It would have been impossible without them, but having them added another logistic on our list of things to be sorted out and there was already a very long list.
The next week was spent waking up early, shoving down some plain oatmeal and an egg and driving out to the community. Did I mention that we were sleeping in tents? I’ll come back to that later. Every day, we set up clinic in a different place, one day in a local church or school, another in an abandoned house filled with cockroaches and trash. We set up rooms and areas for the care we provided. First Registration, where every man, woman and child got filled out a sheet. Then Triage, where blood pressure and temperature was taken, and the height and weight of anyone under the age of 18. We administered Vitamin A and Albendazole to the kids whose digestion tracts were filled with worms and diets that weren’t filling their basic physical needs. Finally, the patients each were given the chance to announce their chief complaint. Depending on the information received from Triage, they were either sent to well-care, or sick-care where they would be seen by our PA’s and doctor. Then if needed, sent to Pharmacy to pick up the medications they were prescribed. Day in and day out, we saw, treated and sent away patients, and in 6 days, our team of 15 saw over 1,500 people.
My responsibility changed day to day, sometimes working in Triage, and other times working at Pharmacy or Procedures. I saw the devastating effects of not having any medical care for a lifetime. Kids with swollen bellies, and maggots in their eyes, elderly with chronic illnesses that never had been treated, cholera, young men and woman growing up without knowledge of their basic anatomy, horrible lesions and skin infections and infected injuries – it was truly shocking. It was an experience that made it hard to go back to my daily life and school. I had seen a place that seemed to be on another planet than ours, but in reality just a few hundred miles from Florida. I saw the things we take for granted in the United States, but in many other places in the world, people go to bed hungry and without a roof over their heads. For one week, we lived in our own personal tents that we had brought with us, and we had to pitch them on the roof of one of the few houses that hadn’t been destroyed in the hurricane. I have to thank my parents who deeply ingrained traveling in to me, and allowed me to go all over the world, participating in different cultures and lifestyles, and I am more fortunate than most. Being a middle-class white kid, white privilege has been the norm in my life and I don’t deny it, but because of my lucky fortune in life, I got to go to a place where I had the opportunity to feel truly part of humanity and the people of Haiti gave me something that I will treasure forever.