By Amanda Persaud
It was only one week in December 2014: one week in the poorest nation in the world, bringing medical care to children and adults. It felt longer than that, and being back in Buffalo, almost seems like it was a dream, a different world altogether. The roosters crow in the morning, signaling that the sun will rise soon—as will we, the team of medical doctors and students, pharmacist, nurses, volunteers. Thank you, God, that one of the students brought ear plugs. I will make good use of them this week. We will awaken from our beds to use the crude bathroom, which is a luxury in our area.
The village has no running water. Children and adults come and go, drawing water to drink from a well nearby, maybe even to bathe or wash their clothes. They balance large buckets of water on their heads as they make their way home. So I dare not complain about the trickle of water from the tap, which I cannot use for fear of waterborne illnesses; nor do I spend much time under the single stream of cold water from the shower. “In everything give thanks.” Thank you, God, for indoor plumbing.
The patients begin lining up early, even before we ourselves are assembled. Breakfast is at 7:30am, the Haitian cooks preparing eggs, even pancakes to welcome their visitors. At lunch and dinner we indulge in roasted goat, rice and peas, potato salad, pumpkin soup with dumplings and local vegetables. While we eat three meals a day, most of the people around us eat once or twice a day, whenever food is available. I struggle with that realization.
We must remember to take our malaria pills. The mosquito nets around our beds remind us to protect ourselves from the mosquito-borne illness that can inhabit the liver and infect the blood. I think about previous missionaries to lands unknown who did not have this available to protect themselves. Thank you, God, for the discovery of and cure for malaria.
The patients enter the triage room first, where their information is recorded on a small sheet of paper, which may include blood pressure, temperature, weight, hemoglobin measurement, and urine test results. They wait on a bench, many for hours, with no food or water, waiting patiently to be seen. We are not greeted by frowns, only smiling, curious faces. They do not complain, but thank us for coming to take care of them.
They tell us about their headaches, stomach aches, joint pains, and chest pain. They show us their wounds, and we find the right bandages to bind them. Are they up-to-date with their vaccines? I do not know. They want a cure for their rashes, and we do our best to find it. They are, most of them, anemic, with little nutrition. Some have great teeth, others very poor. They have vision problems, and some have cataracts. They desire better health. And yet they live contentedly. Why do I meet with unhappiness back at home?
We give them a few months of medications for their ailments. What will become of them? Is it worth it, after all? Yes. If only to improve their lives for a moment, to heal their pain, to let them know they are loved and cared-for. Yes.
A psychiatrist is part of our team. Who would have guessed that a psychiatrist would be delivering much-needed care to the people of Fontaine? But it is true. God, You work in amazing ways. “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard.” People who have lost loved ones, who have been abandoned, who feel suicidal—all hearing that they have worth in the eyes of God, reaffirming their identity as His children, and leaving with hearts of praise. And hope. Lord, why did I ever doubt this?
We see 50 to 115 patients per day, but it flows extremely well. God has blessed our team, and our leader, Dr. Lucy Holmes. We are thorough with our patients, and teach our medical students and volunteers how to triage, examine and treat. At the end of the day, there is exhaustion—but a happy one, if one can imagine that. Each patient is so interesting. And we are thrilled to have the opportunity to help them, so it really does not feel like work. At the end of the day, we gather for small meetings, a few of us staying behind to pray together. As the week goes on, the prayer group grows.
There were patients who were beyond our capacity to treat—who had to be referred to nearby clinics or hospitals in PortAu-Prince, about a four-hour drive from where we are; patients with heart murmurs, possible cancer, tuberculosis, swollen abdomens, suspected malaria. Travel is not easy in a town with few cars. There is no ambulance to transport patients, even those with emergency medical needs. But there are motorcycles. One night we are forced to assist a young soccer player with a broken ankle onto the back of a motorcycle, someone sitting behind him to hold his leg upright, while he is transported to a local hospital for further evaluation (X-rays) and treatment (likely a cast). Yes, three people on a motorcycle. No helmets. They need money for medical treatment as the private hospital is not affordable for them. Arrangements are made.
On New Year’s Day we attend a church service—scheduled at 7:00am, but held at 7:30, while awaiting their international visitors. Voices are lifted up in praise; there is clapping, rhythmic drum beats, and a reverence for God and His word. We have communion and pray for God’s intervention in our lives, our community, our world. Then comes the time for offering. I sit and see the pennies dropped in by elderly women and can’t help thinking about the widow in the Bible story who put her last two coins in the treasury. Give and it will be given to you, a measure, pressed down…
Before we know it, our time has come to a close. We travel for the majority of the day—four hours down dirt roads that are hilly, rocky, dusty, and sometimes require us to drive through standing water and deep pot holes. The race against time to clear customs and catch the connecting flight is a stressful one, but one that God has already undertaken for us in advance.
I return to the winter chill of western New York, observing with new eyes the paved roads, feeling warm water from the faucet, grateful for indoor plumbing and clean water, knowing an abundance of food awaits me when I am ready to go to the grocery store, reassured that if I become ill I can see my doctor readily. I live in another world. And yet I do not. It is the same world, with great disparity. I wish I could change that. Maybe, with God’s help, I did. A little. God bless the people of Haiti, the mission teams that continue to travel there to provide medical care and ministry, and the people of Fontaine. God bless you for your support of our mission. I am grateful, and though I looked through eyes of perplexity before my trip, worried about the details, I was reminded again that God is always in control, that my feelings are not reality, and that I must pray, and trust, and allow the peace of God to rule my heart and mind. To God be the glory.