West Tennessee Haiti Partnership

Reflections on Last Week at St Vincent’s and our Amazing Team

Refreshed after a shower, I am sitting in the guest house listening to the nightly rainstorm.  Haiti rain is like no other rain I have experienced.  It comes suddenly and loudly, with crashing thunder and torrents of water.  Sort of like a summer storm in Memphis, except every night it’s the same.  Thunder, then the power goes out, then we listen to the downpour. The fans stop spinning, but the wind from the storm blows through the windows and keeps us “mostly” cooled off.

We work so hard and exhaust ourselves during the week at St Vincents, that I often dont get to say to my team members how much I value their time and sacrifice.  At the end of the day its all we can do to eat dinner, take a (cold)shower and withdraw into our selves or our Ipads to regroup for the next day. Not to mention the thousand items we want to remember to get done the next day.
Now that I am vacationing in this beautiful place, I have time to reflect on the many members of our team and what they did for our ministry and the children of St Vincents.

Mimi and Tim, thank you for your dear hearts and willingness to do anything and everything I asked you to do.  Mimi, you asked me before the trip what a retired first grade teacher could do on a medical mission trip.  I think you learned quickly that it takes an entire team to get kids lined up, weigh them, help get their correct names and keep them calm and entertained while waiting to see the doctor.  You blessed us all with your gentle manner and somehow always looked clean and stylish in the Haitian heat!  Tim, what can I say except thank you for being a willing dental assistant to our incredible dental team.  And your first aid skills on the overheated bus were very important! A fellow Texan, you made yourself invaluable.

Brittany brought another pharmacist, Katie, and together they counted, among other things,  about 1500 ibuprofen, reminded me not to prescribe two similar BP meds, wrote out each and every label in Kreyol and explained medication directions carefully to about 50 people.  In Kreyol. And sign language, with Sheryes help. What a gift for me to have confidence in the careful dispensing of medication and know that we did our absolute best to make sure each patient understood their medication

Minda, Sarah and Sonya worked with the children painting and drawing.  This is a treat for the children as well as some of the adults, to create something beautiful.  Thank you for bringing all the supplies and your creative encouragement.  Thank you for working in that hot little classroom all day.  None of you ever complained, not even once.

Sonya and Hana, her daughter, also helped me in the clinic. Hana, thank you for being willing to help anyone and everyone and not complaining when you were sent three different places at once. Thank you for accepting my teaching of a few ” medical tricks”. I enjoy teaching, and its fun to have a student who listens and learns quickly!

Sonya, I always enjoy being on a team with you. Your quick wit and astute observations always make me laugh!  Teams are much more fun when youre around.

Ashley quietly and cheerfully did the least favorite job of all, pricking the kids’ fingers to check their iron count.  John has managed to teach Ashley this important skill, so he doesnt have to do it anymore!  That leaves him “free time” to find the keys, open the clinic room and pharmacy, unpack all the supplies for the clinic, find the kids when its time to leave their classroom and come down for clinic, find a working power supply, locate clean water or send someone to buy some so he can refill our water bottles all day, and take blood pressures on 180 patients.  Surrounded by  screaming children. Oh, and find me when Frenel comes around, or another of my favorite students.

At the start of this parade is Vickie Baselski, “Mama Vickie” who to my great delight has made it her mission in life to keep us organized.  Thanks be to God.  When asked if she has any tape, for example, she responds, “scotch tape, masking tape or duct tape?”. How does she DO that?
She produces a manila envelope when asked for something to keep loose papers in.  She has medications for every emergency.  She’s like the porter in those old Hollywood movies that carries the silver tea service into the jungle so the British Captain can have his morning tea.  It gets to be a team game, to see if we can ask for something Vickie doesnt have.

My partner in the clinic was Dr Judy, retired from St Judes but not from offering her medical skills in the service of others.  Brittany and John agreed she is the best provider we’ve ever had on a trip.  She was not overwhelmed by the difficult working conditions (occasional fan, no light, deaf kids with no interpreter, no lab available other than hemoglobin, and 10 people in the same room speaking in different languages all at once).  She could quiet a screaming kid with a word or two, she found three new kids with heart murmurs who will be referred to a local cardiologist.  Thank you thank you thank you for helping me serve these children and keeping a smile on your face.

Sherye splits herself into 3 people on these trips.  This time she was not only interpreter for the medical clinic, she spent one day with the dentists and the entire week helping organize which classroom came next and avoiding duplication, or trying to.  This is her second of three trips to Haiti this summer so she has gone above and beyond by all measures.

My daughter Sienna is now one of our interpreters for Kreyol. I had hoped to show her some medical exam skills, but she was so busy interpreting for the children I couldnt pull her away.  To her credit, when I sent for her to come examine a patient with an interesting heart murmur, she declined because she didnt want to stop the flow of the clinic or interfere with what other people were doing.  I was proud of her for supporting the team above her own interests.

Phil Caldwell was our intrepid dentist, who braved sweltering heat and exasperating inconsistent transportation for the children to declare victory on Saturday after seeing 16 kids at the dental school.  Organizing anything in Haiti is a challenge, but he managed to enlist private dentists, and dental students, as well as the dean of the dental school, to provide much needed care for the St Vincents kids.  I still dont know how he pulled it off.  He told me it was all because of Phil Cloutier, the dental hygienist who came on our November 2014 team.  Phil “Junior” was the first person to bring dental care of any kind to the children since the earthquake of 2010.  I remember him telling me about the “sixty kids” who needed urgent dental care and that I wasnt sure at the time if that would happen.  But, convincing Dr Phil Caldwell to join our team, I now had two dental personnel, and together with Tim, the jeweler cum dental assistant, they did magical things this week.  Phil “Junior” is very persuasive and energetic, and supported “Dr Phil” so they could accomplish their work.  I believe they saw  50  or more patients this week all counted, filling cavities, extracting abscessed teeth and other things we doctors dont even like to think about!  Now that dental care is off and running, I hope we can keep bringing dental teams down in the future.

Lastly I must thank Drew, our deacon.  Drew first inspired (begged, pleaded, cajoled) me to come to Haiti in 2008.  He sits quietly with the children or holds them in his lap when they are frightened by the doctor.  His beaming grin begins at the airport in Memphis and continues through our exhausting week at St Vincents.  He provides spiritual support for our team members and a steady hand when one is needed.  Thank you Deacon Drew for your love in abundance and your example to us all of selfless service.

To all my team members, forgive me for unintended sharp remarks when I was tired and hot.  Thank you for the offers of a cooling face wipe or granola bar when I needed it   Thank you for coming with me to this heartbreaking place Drew calls “the Cathedral for children”, and for giving up air conditioning, water pressure, comfortable beds, soft towels and knowing when things are supposed to happen.  I hope to see you all back in Haiti again.

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