By Allison Tucker
BAILLE TOURIBE, Haiti–After many months of preparation, we have arrived in Haiti. As Morehouse School of Medicine’s second student-organized trip with Project Medishare, we arrived in Thomonde from Port-Au-Prince after several hours in the car. We are full of energy and great enthusiasm. After the success of our first trip, there was no question regarding whether or not we should return.
Today was our first day of clinic in Baille Touribe. Upon arrival, we were greeted by more than 300 people, already lined up and waiting for our arrival. The crowd included some familiar faces from last year’s clinic as well as many new faces. It warms my heart to know that many of the children I saw last year have braved their harsh living conditions to see us again this year. But for every familiar face, there are at least three new faces. These faces reflect a daily struggle to meet their basic needs of providing food, clothing, and shelter for their families. Arriving in their Sunday best, they wait patiently to be seen by our physicians for illnesses ranging from stomach pains and skin infections to complications associated with HIV. They know we are here to provide them with the best medical care we can give them as medical students; but it’s easy to feel helpless here in the face of so many people with need and our limited resources—the limited access to equipment and medications and limited time to spend with each patient.
With so many people waiting to be seen, we triage the patients as efficiently as possible and send them to whichever of the three doctors is best suited to treat their primary health concern: Dr. Zuberi or Dr. Williams for pediatrics, Dr. Lee’s eye clinic, Dr. Titus for obstetrics or gynecology concerns, or Dr. Martin for general adult medicine. In their makeshift examination areas, each physician is assisted by a medical student and a Haitian Kreyol interpreter who must quickly assess the needs of the patient and to provide the highest quality care possible. The patients wait eagerly in rows and rows of church pews—sometimes for hours—for the chance to see one of ours docs. Once they have been examined by the physician and provided with basic information on their medical condition, patients receive prescriptions for any necessary medicines that are available in the pharmacy set up outside.
We saw nearly 275 patients in 4 1/2 hours. There is always one patient that is especially memorable. Towards the end of the day, we evaluated a three-year-old boy whose chief complaint was severe vomiting and a fever that began about a week ago followed by a scaly rash that now covered a large portion of his body. He was brought to clinic with another sibling by his elderly grandmother. Unlike the jovial and rambunctious three year old that we are accustomed to seeing in a pediatrics clinic in the US, this child weighed only 20 pounds, had brownish-blond hair due to severe malnourishment accompanied by a melancholy demeanor at best. I felt his body wilting in my arms as I took his vital signs. In his grandmother’s eyes, I could see her fear, sadness, and desperation for the young boy. It was apparent that this child needed to be transported to a hospital immediately but in the meantime we gave him oral replacement solution to help hydrate him.
At the end of clinic, while packing the vans to get ready to head back to the Medishare compound, I was excited when the grandmother greeted me with a smile as she sat in the back holding the young boy because they were riding back to Thomonde with us to go to the hospital. I only wished I could follow his case to the end, in the hopes that the hospital in Thomonde can offer him the treatment necessary to overcome an easily preventable illness.