By Minal Ahson
On our first day of clinic in Haiti’s Central Plateau all of us newbies were a bit unsure of what to expect. Driving to the clinic, we passed through a market with hundreds of people. The driver had to keep honking so we could get through. Everyone kept watching the caravan of SUVs, wondering what all the commotion was about.
We pulled up to the Ministry of Health Dispensary in Casse, which was a strong concrete building with proper rooms to conduct examinations. Little did we know that this would be the most durable building we would be in for the remainder of the week. The rest of the clinics were held in schoolhouses built of wood with large gaps, in which we used benches and whatever else we could find to separate “examination rooms.”
Patients were already lined up, waiting for us. I was told that many of them had walked miles to see us. We were thrown in right away, seeing patients with the physicians. Working through a translator was interesting. It was amazing how quickly we began to pick up bits of Creole and understand certain common symptoms.
The cases themselves were very different from what we would see in the US. We saw two children with TB (chronic cough, night sweats, occipital nodes), a Scarlet fever sandpaper rash, and lichenification of the skin caused by a fungal infection. Some of the mothers just wanted reassurance that their babies were healthy and that they were doing a good job feeding and raising them. One case that I will always remember vividly was a lady who was somehow brought to the clinic showing signs of a stroke (hemiplegia, ptosis). She could not walk without support and was unresponsive. The doctors realized that she needed to be rushed to the hospital in town where there were resources to treat her. It really makes me wonder – how many people with similar problems are not as fortunate? How much of an impact does the lack of resources have on the healthcare of the population? It’s reassuring to know that Project Medishare is in the process of creating sustainable health care infrastructure in the region.
As we were leaving the clinic after a long day of seeing about 200 patients, local village kids were standing near the vans. They were so excited to see and take pictures with us. They especially liked to see their faces on the digital camera screen. They kept staring at me and trying to speak to me in Creole. Finally I asked Project Medishare Director, Ellen Powers how to say “sing” in Creole and they started singing for me.
I can already tell that this experience is going to influence my life goals even further. I am so thankful that I had this opportunity.
Minal Ahson is a student at the Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami. She traveled with Project Medishare to Haiti in December 2006.