Sun this morning. And finally, the birds. Yoella has been looking for them the whole time. It’s her birthday tomorrow – they came for her.
A woman came to me today and described a darkening of the vision, followed by a fainting spell that lasted eight days. She was not hungry, dehydrated, upset. Others in the family get it, too. Tiffany smiled a little. “People will describe lots of things when they feel someone has done Voodou on them.” Voodou remains a dominant religion in Haiti.
I also saw my first patient with tuberculosis today. He said he’d been coughing blood for two years. Leon worked him up in the lab, and came to give me the results decked out in a blue paper gown and duckbill mask. We asked the man to come back tomorrow, when we will give him money to be seen at a tuberculosis clinic.
And this: a woman came and my translator said she was pregnant. According to her chart, she had been four months pregnant in April. Since it’s now October, she should have had the baby a month ago. “Did she have her baby?” “No.” “Did she have a miscarriage?” “No.” “Well, she can’t still be pregnant,” I said, looking at her flat belly. “Yes, she is.” “If the information on her chart was correct, she’d be ten months pregnant.” “Yes.” “Women are only pregnant for nine months.” “She had the baby.” “Okay, when did she have the baby?” “In May.” “And the baby lived?” “Yes.” “Okay, the information on her chart must have been wrong. Where is the baby?” “It’s in her belly.” Fifteen minutes passed as my translator and I got increasingly frustrated with each other. I sent the woman for a pregnancy test. It was negative. I have no idea what happened to her. I gave her antacid and vitamins and sent her on her way.
We saw 166 patients today. Optometry worked more smoothly. Two armed police officers showed up in the morning to help with crowd control, but I never saw them again. The ladies outside had candy to sell today, in addition to their cassava. Dana saw a massive tumour in a woman’s abdomen, and many more cataracts.
The language barrier became intensely frustrating for me today. There was that thing with the maybe pregnant/maybe not woman, and I can’t ask people how they spend their days or how they make ends meet because for whatever reason the translators often will not translate these questions. I can barely muster niceties with my patients, and it is deflating asking about symptoms of headaches and stomach aches only to get irrelevant answers. That combined with the constant suggestion of danger beyond the walls of the compound leaves me feeling very isolated from the people I came here to learn about. I’d love to come back, but not without some language ability – Creole or French.
(I am getting eaten alive. Excuse me while I crawl under my net.)
So, after seeing 166 patients, we still managed to finish up at four, then Steve suggested we go to the island for a swim. He arranged for Mwele and Berthany to row us over in the La Mizekoz (“The Cause of Misery”). The boat defies description. It is made from hand-hewn lumber, about eighteen feet long and three feet deep and wide, with oarlocks made from wooden pegs and soles from old sandals for padding. In the bottom is a hole plugged with a plastic champagne cork for drainage. Ten or so of us hauled the boat down the beach with the aid of a small log underneath for rolling, and while holding the boat in the not insignificant breakers, we each jumped from the waist-deep water over the gunwales, timing the waves. Mwele and Berthany manned the oars, ten feet long if they were an inch. We crept over the breakers and toward the island.
White sand, handsome trees hanging low with nuts of some kind, drifts of sea grass. We hung our towels in the trees and splashed around in the water, feeling warm and clean and salty, looking out over green mountainsides and a new cell phone tower. When darkness began to gather, we piled back in the boat and made for shore. When we landed, we were mobbed by small children in various forms of undress. One small boy, naked from the waist down, strode in front of me and took his place at the gunwale, heaving along with the rest of us to the call of Allez! Allez! Allez! The boy scrambled up over the sharp rocks in bare feet. On shore, we congratulated ourselves for our adventure, and on the way back to Sunflower House, an even larger group of kids gathered around and started to sing in their small voices, Gei pei! Gei pei! (I have no idea how to spell this.) Gei pei is a hilarious little shaking dance kids do en masse that imitates a chicken. After we all jiggled for a bit, the kids formed a circle. One boy took centre stage, while another took his place at an overturned bucket and began pounding out a beat. The boy in the centre began shaking and dancing like a seasoned hip hop artist – he was truly talented. He couldn’t have been more than seven years old.
Showers all around then, followed by supper – rice, chicken, and a dish of chick peas in mashed avocado. Leon broke out a deck of cards and taught us all how to play Pass the Ace, and dead-pan Eunnie began cursing in creole. Jo produced a bottle of Haitian rum and when that was drained, another magically appeared. I cut out at eight thirty or so, and walked Blackstone back over to the clinic – he claimed he was afraid of the dark – and he proceeded to tell me about his family trouble and that he hoped he might get some money for his birthday in two days to be able to head off to mechanic school so he can “make something” of himself.
Many stars out tonight. Happy Hallowe’en.