Wednesday, April 07, 2010

How to put a week on a page: A physician reflects on the Church of the Brethren medical delegation in Haiti.

Lori Zimmerman, a physician from North Manchester, Ind., who took part in the Church of the Brethren medical delegation to Haiti on March 21-26, has written the following reflection on the week:

Many have asked about my experience in Haiti last week. How do I put a week on a page?

The week turned out to be a blessing in my life. I had some anxiety about being away from my family for the first time and traveling with strangers, but neither of these concerns ended up as issues at all. In fact thanks to technology, I could e-mail back and forth with my kids and call anytime. I met 8 total strangers and left with eight new friends.

We overcame some early challenges as two of the physicians from New York did not come. So we found three Haitian physicians who were hired to work with us all week. It was wonderful to work with them and they were even able to provide some needed follow up and resources for us. Paul Ullom-Minnich from Kansas was the other physician from the US.

For the week, I believe we saw over 1,300 patients. We would set up and tear down in new location each day. The locations were at or near the Brethren churches or preaching points in or near Port-au-Prince, but the facilities were vastly different. One day we would be in a school with cement floors, and another day in a thatched building, cramped quarters with mud floors.

We saw a variety of complaints with many being stress related, and nutritional deficiencies. Many complained of headaches, dizziness, insomnia, and upset stomach. About everyone I saw was anemic. I treated a lot of people for parasites, and some for symptoms of malaria (which I have never treated before). Many children had fungal skin infections, parasites, and colds.

I took 150 toothbrushes, 70 tennis balls, and 60 beanie babies to give away to children and could have used more.

Almost everyone I saw lived in a tent due to their homes being destroyed by the earthquake.

I worked with a delightful nurse from Miami, Kelent Pierre, who is of Haitian descent. She also served as my trusty translator. We became good friends as she spent the week in the top bunk above me.

Our sleeping quarters were very nice by Haitian standards. We stayed in a guest house run by a woman originally from Ohio. There was running water and we had cold showers and flush toilets as well as screens on the windows--something to be thankful for. But it was hot at night and the fan just didn't seem to do enough. We had breakfast and supper there and I ate protein bars for lunch, which kept me healthy.

I have several stories I could share: A women who is an insulin-dependent diabetic, who hasn't been able to get insulin since the earthquake because her doctor like many other affluent Haitians has fled the country. I sent a church member with money to go to the pharmacy and get her enough insulin for three months. But then what? Many people had high blood pressure and couldn't get medicine for the same reason.

There was also a one year old whose mother died in the earthquake. I guessed he weighed about 10 pounds. His grandmother brought him in to see me, like a limp dish rag in her arms. I saw them in the waiting area and hoped I wouldn't be the doctor to have to see him. He was previously breastfed and now doesn't want to eat. He was having diarrhea 10 times a day and fevers every night. He was clinically dehydrated. I treated him formalaria, parasites, and dehydration. More importantly, I got him plugged in for follow up, with one of the Haitian doctors to see his care through.

The most touching story is about a two-month-old baby who was at birthweight (about six pounds) and was throwing up every time he ate. He was very weak, dehydrated, and his eyes would roll back in his head. He didn't have long to live in that state. I listened to his chest and he also had pneumonia. I got him some oral rehydration and antibiotics. I was concerned about pyloric stenosis which is a narrowed portion of the lower stomach which requires surgery.

As luck would have it, one of the Haitian physicians who joined us was a surgeon. He gave him a "pass" to the hospital and did surgery two days later. The surgeon told me the baby had a tumor blocking his esophagus (leading to the stomach) which was removed. He is going to make it.

It was heart warming to work with the Haitian Brethren all week. Several members and pastors traveled to the different clinic sites with us all week. They did the planning, opened the morning with a short service, and organized the crowds. We then set up shop and went to work.

The Haitian Brethren shared with our group that the subsidies from the Church of the Brethren and Brethren Disaster Ministries are the first they have seen from any agency. There is an active feeding program going on. There have been 20 temporary houses built in a community in the past six weeks. Many there feel this is an amazing accomplishment in a short amount of time. These homes have plywood walls, cement floor and a tin roof. Also built by Brethren Disaster Relief was a group sanitation area.

After being in Haiti and seeing what is going on, I feel Brethren Disaster Ministries is the best place to put money. They were organized before the earthquake, building 100 homes in the north for hurricane relief from 2008, so they have a system in place already. That is why I think they have been so effective for this disaster.

Many people have asked, "so are things getting better now?" My answer is clearly, no. Just because Haiti is no longer headline news, things are not better. There are tremendous amounts of rubble around and no bulldozers in sight. Tents are still lining streets and crowded in parks just inches apart. Lines are still formed for basic necessities like drinking water and food. Doctors have not returned to their offices. School has not reopened. And the rainy season had yet to begin when we left Haiti.

That is why I have left Haiti in body, but have not left it in my mind. I continue to think about ways that we can be helpful for more than a week. How we can create real and lasting improvement? I look forward to continuing these discussions with my church's witness commission and again in July at Annual Conference in Pittsburgh.

I know that God intended for me to spend my week in Haiti and I am thankful that I followed the call.

-- A note from the editor: The Church of the Brethren medical delegation also included two nurses from Florida, Neslin Augustin and Kelent Pierre; Jeff Boshart, the Brethren Disaster Ministries coordinator for Haiti; Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of News Services for the Church of the Brethren; Jonathan Dieusauve Cadette, a signal employee for the railroad CSX Transportation in Florida; Evelyn Dick, a Church of the Brethren member living in Georgia who with her late husband, LeRoy, founded Vine Ministries in Haiti and who has lived there for some 29 years; Jerry Eller, serving on the medical delegation as a crisis counselor, who has a private practice in Florida and also is an elementary school counselor and part of the critical incident response team for NASA; Paul Ullom-Minnich, a family physician from Kansas; and Verel Montauban, pastor of Haitian First Church of New York.

A number of Haitian physicians, nurses, and medical students joined the group in Haiti, among them Beulah Alexandre, a Haitian medical student and a member of the church at Vine Ministries; physicians Luc Guerlentz and Jacson Luxamar; Serge Hyacinthe, a leading Haitian psychiatrist and head of the departments of psychiatry and sociology in the Faculte d'Ethnologie at the Universite d'Etat d'Haiti, and a group of his graduate students in psychology led by student Alain Fleurimond; surgeon Gauthier Noisete.

Several of the leaders and members in Eglise des Freres Haitiens (Haitian Church of the Brethren) organized the clinics and served as translators and general helpers, among them pastor Joseph Erimer Remy of Delmas 24 Church; Sister Marie A. Ridore, in whose house the Croix des Bouquets church meets; Jean Bily Telfort, general secretary of Eglise des Freres Haitiens, and pastor at Croix des Bouquets; and Klebert Exceus, Haiti consultant for Brethren Disaster Ministries and a leader of the Baptist church and school where the first clinic was held, who oversees construction work on the temporary shelters.

The delegation's work was funded by grants from the church's Emergency Disaster Fund. For more about the delegation and the situation of the Brethren in Haiti, a blog and online photo album are linked at

Source: 4/7/2010 Newsline Special

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