Return From Haiti
We just returned from Port-Au-Prince last night flying into JFK airport and getting picked up by our parish for the 2.5 hour drive back to Orefield, PA. The trip was a remarkable success with over 1100 patients seen by 3 doctors and a nurse practitioner. We sailed through customs with no bribe needed to get the meds into the country, which is an answer to much prayer. All our bags safely got to the parish rectory and no medications were damaged or lost! Father Andrew provided safe and comfortable accommodations for the team at his rectory and we all felt extremely thankful for his pampering. His cook, Jaquelis, could easily get a position at a 5 Star Haitian restaurant if such a thing exists, and we all ate more than we should have. Sleeping in Haiti is still something one must get used to because of the 24/7 street preachers with bull-horns, roosters that have no sense of timing and the dogs.... Yes, the dogs of Port-Au-Prince who prowl and growl and bark through the nite. Occasionally the noise settles down, but then it's almost time to get up for breakfast, devotions and clinic. It has been said "that all Haiti needs to overcome its many problems is if the Haitians could just get one good night's sleep!"
It has been over a year since my last trip to PAP and things look a bit better. Much of the rubble has finally been removed from the main streets but there are still many collapsed buildings and houses that appear to be abandoned now. The most unfortunate thing I saw was that many of the tent cities have become permanent dwellings for the Haitians. It will be two years this January 12th and many people still refuse to move back to the squalid concrete shacks with leaky tin roofs and unreasonably high rent payments. Squatting on land in tents made of tarps from USAID is much cheaper than the rent they were being charged for their former dwellings. Still, the tent cities are a horrible trade-off for what they had before. Security is a problem and rape and abuse are still an issue in the tent cities. One of my patients this week told me that a group of men came in the middle of the night to set the tents on fire to evict the squatters. The wealthy landowners want their land back and have resorted to thug-like tactics to obtain it. This 23 year old mother calmly explained her situation to me through the translator and wanted to know if I could do something for the "shaking loose" feeling she has in her head since the earthquake! God have mercy on the Haitians. All I had was some benadryl to offer her to sleep better, but than worried, if she would be sleeping too soundly when the next group of thugs came in the night to attempt the incinerate her dwelling.
We saw no cholera, thank God, and the children did not seem as sick with infections and skin issues as we have seen in the past few trips. The Haitian government has aggressively been promoting better hygiene and hand-washing since the epidemic. One thing we noted is that the hypertension is severe and fairly prevalent in pretty much most of the patients over 25 years old. I even noticed thin young men in their late teens having diastolic BP's over 90. We had to decide a cut-off point to treat and decided to medicate only those with systolic blood pressure over 160 and diastolic over 100 ; a very difficult reality considering that morbidity and mortality from hypertension significantly increases for each point over normal. I still question whether there is even a point in treating hypertension in this population if the causes of death are from trauma, infection and nutritional issues. That being said, however, many of the patients know they have hypertension and are extremely thankful to receive a three month supply of meds until the next team hopefully arrives to replenish their supply.
One of the highlights of our trip was our daily devotions that centered around Saint Faustina's message of Divine Mercy. One of the members of our team had worked with our priest for weeks before to develop a meaningful devotion to use for the team when in Haiti. We had morning and night prayer that was based on readings from the writings of Saint Faustina, in particular regarding the poor and needy. With each devotion was a challenge to let God's grace work in us and through us as we experienced Jesus in the the least of these.
Another highlight was worshiping with the Haitians at Mass on Sunday in the new sanctuary of Saint Jude's. The walls are up and there is a temporary roof and the altar is completed. The joy and peace we sensed in the congregation was more than palpable. Despite the language barrier, the mass is the same throughout the world and we were able to easily find our place in the liturgy and take part in the worship. (Yet another example of why Christ wanted one Church, with one central set of beliefs and practices) One thing that is very different in Haiti than in America is the way in which even the most impoverished Haitians come dressed beautifully for worship.
Finally, we ended our trip by celebrating mass with the sisters of the Missionaries of Charity, Blessed Mother Theresa's orphanage which is just a few miles from the rectory. To receive Christ in the Eucharist along with these beautiful nuns on the very same ground that Blessed Mother Theresa walked was a beautiful gift from God to the team and a fitting end to our trip.
Thank you all for your prayers during this week, and especially Saint Joseph the Worker Parish in Orefield for having 24 hour adoration for us this past week. The Lord heard and answered your prayers!