The little girl who was so sick last night appeared at breakfast and sat on her mother’s lap, eating a banana. Remarkable. She’ll get her second shot today and they’ll be on their way.
This morning, I saw a goiter the size of a softball, polydactyly, and epididymitis. Yoella saw a child so wasted he looked like an old man, and whose mom was not much better. I saw the boy waiting outside the examining room and wondered how he got the strength to breathe. She had four other children at home, and five others had already died. When someone asked why she had had so many children, she said, “The devil told me to have twelve.” She accepted an injection of contraception, and a supply of infant formula as a temporary supplement.
I had been wondering what was going to break me. All week long it’s been a horrifying blur of malnutrition and poverty and illness. But with so much flying by every day, and being unable to speak directly to anyone, nothing has really been sticking, no individual stories. But today, just before lunch, when we’d finished morning clinic early for the first time, when it was cool and we were in high spirits, Steve asked me if I’d see Mwele’s friend – he had no registration card, but he’d come a long well, and well… He was 27 years old, and had been having a runny nose for two years. No headaches, no changes with the seasons. I looked up the right side of his nose – nothing. But even before I could put my otoscope in the left side of his nose, I saw a white, gristly looking thing. I asked him to try to breathe through that nare, but no air passed. I went to get Tiffany, and she pointed out that his left eye was noticeably more bulging than his right.
On the spot, Tiffany diagnosed him with a brain tumour. Cap Haitien has a CT scanner, but no neurosurgeon; his only option would be to go to the U.S. Which was a bit like telling him to go to Mars. We sent him away with some nose spray and three months worth of pain medicine for when the pain started.
After, as I closed up my examining room and was walking over for lunch, I broke. Haiti is a nation of freed slaves – a heritage based on having to been bought to work as animals. Now that they’re free (or least have democratically elective president), they’re left to die like animals. Many things have horrified me here, but this one cut my heart to tiny bits. Why this more than the wasted child or the man with no nose? No reason at all. But while this work had made sense to me before in an intellectual way, now I knew it in my gut.
186 people today. After supper, Eunnie, Yoella, Karen and I watched the ThinkFilm documentary Ghosts of Cite Soleil on Jo’s laptop. It’s a film about armed gangs in a part of Port Au Prince the UN has declared “the most dangerous place on earth.” Incredible footage – candid, raw, heartbreaking. Afterwards, Karen said she’d watched part of the film last night with some of the translators and was surprised to hear then say they weren’t very impressed by it, that things weren’t really like that in Haiti. We got into a discussion then, and I suggested it is human nature to not take things that go on at home as seriously as things that are packaged from afar – otherwise, why weren’t all of us doing this work in Labrador working with troubled Innu communities, say? Karen said she wasn’t in Labrador because as unfortunate as things are there, at least Canada has resources for people to better themselves; here in Haiti it is hopeless for so many of even the most driven people. I told her I thought there must also be some element the rural-urban divide. As a small-town kid who grew up on the prairies, I hadn’t a clue what went on in Calgary or Vancouver, and we had television and cars, so maybe our translators felt a few steps removed from the politics of Port Au Prince. She told me about how disgusted she was, in a store the moment news broke of the attacks of September 11th, 2001 – she checked with the cashier to make sure she’d heard correctly, and the cashier said, “I think so. Hey, that shirt comes in blue, too.” But don’t we all do that to a certain extent? It’s the same process that allows me to walk by a seriously malnourished child, think, “That’s a shame,” and keep on walking, chewing my gum.