By Woon Cho Kim
BATILLE, ,CASSE DISTRICT, Haiti—Three whole days of rural outreach clinics and couple of hundreds of patients later, my mind is absolutely overwhelmed with too many thoughts, reflections, and emotions. Coming to Haiti as a young medical student in training may just be one of the best decisions I have made in my academic career so far.
As soon as we set up the clinics this morning, an 80-year-old woman stumbled into the OB/Gyn clinic, moaning in pain. Sameer had spotted her from the crowd in the waiting area and quickly referred her to the clinic. She was in so much pain that she could not walk on her own. After getting her trembling body on the bed and going through the translators, we learned that she hasn’t urinated in the past three days. This is how the next hour panned out: after a quick pelvic exam, the attending diagnoses her with final stage of cervical cancer.
She only has a few days to live.
Through a translator, the attending delivers the grim news to the family members. While the family listens to the doctor, I feel a weak squeeze on my hand. The old lady, too exhausted to move, had reached out to hold my hand.
I will never know why she did that. Perhaps she needed to communicate, or maybe she wanted a human touch at the moment. I have never been so appreciative of the scorching heat—I think my sweat masked my tears pretty well.
In the end, she is sent back home with a packet of Tylenol to relieve her pain. I watch her leave the dusty compound with her family, transported on a horse.
Not that modern medicine could have cured her cancer; plan for treatment and care would have been very different for someone in her situation back home. Extreme poverty, lack of access to medical care, and inequality in health resources are all scary realities here in Haiti. And many other parts of the world, U.S. included. The amount of injustice is an unsettling feeling for me. It is even more disturbing to be reminded how easy it is to forget what it is like for the majority of the people in this world.
I am grateful for the opportunity to be here, to be part of the reality of the people. The reality that we should face as medical professionals is a grim one, but it is a noble task. My trip to Haiti is making me realize just that.
Woon Cho Kim is a first year student at Emory Medical School.