Tuesday, August 3, 2010

HOPE volunteers go to work in St. Louis du Nord

The hospital was a machine, a powerhouse that hummed and cracked with the sheer amount of energy that came from the military, volunteers, and translators. Everyone worked in sync. Everyone had one very simple goal: to help the people of Saint Louis du Nord.

After the trip in by LCU and the subsequent jolting bus ride, the Med Site 2 team arrived in front of a large three-story school, the École Pierre Ridgway. Under the direction of Commander J. G. Rad and Chief Chubb, both of the Navy, we moved into the school’s courtyard and formed a human chain to carry boxes of medicine and other supplies from the truck we had loaded yesterday. The supplies were divided between the six operational branches: Medical, Pharmaceutical, Dental, Optometry, Women’s Health, and Education.

Even before we started seeing patients, the atmosphere buzzed with excitement. After days of relative idleness, we were all itching to put the full range of our respective skills to good use.

One of the largest obstacles we faced was the language barrier. Fortunately, the three chief host nation translators, Norman Belizaire, Jean-Claude Vanoa, and Vilama Esperance, communicated efficiently with the crowd massing outside the school’s gates.

Later, about fifteen Haitian students, some as young as middle-school age, entered the courtyard. These young men and women would serve as the rest of our translators, proudly wearing the yellow lanyards marking them as such.

Two of these students, Sabline and Eddlie had attended an English-language school since they were four years old.

Another, 19-year-old Angie Charlot, lives in Texas where she attends Letourneau University. She is originally from Haiti and was visiting for the summer when she heard about Continuing Promise’s need for translators.

Commander Rad, Chief Chubb, and Captain Inouye, head of the medical team, called everyone together for a few last minute directions. Then they gave the order to open the gates.

A quintet of translators thoroughly scanned the crowd to find the most serious cases, and also helped with the necessary paperwork. While they waited to see a physician, patients could listen to engaging lectures, delivered in French, on proper sanitation.

Some of the cases were easily treatable. Project HOPE team member Matya Cooksey prescribed simple honey to help one patient’s laryngitis. Others required detailed drug regimens, provided at the pharmacy.

Sometimes it was necessary to gain a patient’s trust before a diagnosis could begin.

“You must tell her my name is Doctor Michael. I’ve been a doctor for a very long time,” physician and veteran HOPE volunteer Michael Polifka instructed Mr. Vanoa in an even voice. Vanoa relayed the message to an aging patient and her anxious husband.

At 3:00, after several hours of solid work, the military gave the order to stop admitting patients so we could pack up and get back to the beach on time.

In the words of Army Specialist Mischa Stewart, “We did good work here today. Everything flowed well, and we had a good military presence here in Haiti.”

Back at the landing zone, HOPE volunteer and Creole translator Vanessa Bernard related the news from Med Site 1. They had continued their screening to select patients for surgery.

“There are a lot (of patients) on the ship now. The surgery is tomorrow,” she said.

Unfortunately, the demand for surgeries surpassed the ship’s resources, and after a point the site members had to close the waiting line. They accepted the remaining cataracts patients, but were forced to turn away the others.

Team members Stephen and Sam Casscells joined up with us after having worked with the Seabees to construct an artificial beach. Their efforts were hindered when a group of villagers laid claim to the rocks they had planned to use. The Haitians reportedly said the rocks had already been marked for reinforcing a nearby road.

However, the day brought some jubilation as Sam taught the local children how to skip rocks over the ocean waves.

Today we helped dozens of patients, and disseminated information which will reach hundreds more. But there is more to be done, more than any of us could have realized.

We’ll be out there tomorrow.

Story and photos by HOPE volunteer and PAO, Eric Campbell

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