In her latest instalment from the front line of the Haiti relief effort, Fi Stephenson is delighted with the family atmosphere at her new hospital unit
The environment at our hospital unit in Haiti really is one big family. If one person has shampoo, they will share with someone who does not. The able women, especially Milta (who is a friend of one of the male paraplegics and does everything she can for him) and Janine (adopted 15 yr old daughter of another patient - who was a nurse in Port au Prince), plait and preen the female patients’ hair.
The patients’ families help turn the patients, and have been shown how to do passive limb exercises and stretches by our physio. If the nurses are busy, the families will help. When we moved from our temporary building to our posh, air conditioned, new unit (which was meant to have been the postnatal ward), Pastor Lesley (husband of one of the patients) and Samuel were the chief stretcher bearers. If I was on my own and we had admissions via helicopter, they were there to help with crowd control and the stretcher again. Everyone mucks in together and are all vital cogs in the wheel.
Yesterday, one of the young women returned by helicopter from Sacre Couer Hospital, in Milo, following in an operation to stabilize her spine. It was so lovely to have her back and to see her beautiful smiling face. Once settled back in among her friends, her mother called me over. Lynda kept nodding and smiling and pointing at her mother, who held up the reddest, rosiest two apples that I have seen in a long time.
They wanted me to have them. I could not accept both of them, but knew that I would offend them if I said no thank you. What was really strange was how guilty I felt about having this one apple. I must admit that I do feel uncomfortable eating in front of the people here and endeavour not to unless in the comfort of the Children’s home where I live.
We foreigners must stay strong to be able to help as best we can. For that to happen we need to have our safe food and safe water to give us energy to carry on. I have been told that relief workers in extremely impoverished places around the world will lock themselves away to eat and drink. I can understand why.
The Medical and Nursing professions across the world have been, and continue to be, amazingly generous with their time and their skills. We have had Americans, Germans, Israelis, Koreans, English, French, Canadians and other countries here in Haiti. Some of the teams volunteer to come alone (crazy and not safe), others have paid time off with flights included. Others come with voluntary organizations and pay their own way.
However they get here, their skilled generosity is so appreciated by everyone. But a word of caution is needed. With medical teams coming in and out for a week at a time, new teams can bring confusion and miscommunication. Different people have different ways of doing things. The people who are here long term (and especially the Haitian nurses and doctors) have to be so flexible and adaptable to the needs of these ever changing teams.
It is not surprising that the Haitians may just ‘switch off’ and carry on doing things the way they know how to, even though it may be ‘very haitian’ and to a westerner unsafe, old school, against health and safety regulations etc, etc. Some surgeons ‘do it this way’, some things are ‘done that way’ or not done at all.
To make things safe and effective, there needs to be an organized overlap period so patients can be ‘handed over’ to the next team and continuity of care preserved. The Haitian nurses and doctors need to be involved in this process so they understand why things are done. Simple communication with education along the way – how basic is that?
I know that all donations from the UK to the Haiti Hospital Appeal are being used directly for the people in here in Haiti. The generosity of the folks back home has been absolutely incredible. I can definitely say that our patients and their families would not be here and being treated, and the Spinal & Rehabilitation Unit would not have opened if it was not for the donations from the UK. I must admit that the two teeny short words “thank you” just don’t seem enough.
A friend of mine shared these words with me;
For attractive lips, speak words of kindness.
For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people.
For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry.
For poise, have the knowledge that you will never walk alone.
If you have health, you probably will be happy, and if you have health and happiness, you have all the wealth you need, even if it is not all you want.