Community health in Haiti
By Julie Megler
Thomonde, Haiti–The seventh evening of our adventure and we’re indulging in our nightly ritual of counting pills as we listen to music off of Gaby’s Ipod. There are thousands of them by the bottle. The whole process is meditatively monotonous, and we spend about two hours each evening preparing medications and separating them into individual baggies for the next day’s set of patients.
Today we separated ourselves into the same groups we were in yesterday, but flipped jobs. Those of us who performed house visits spent the day at one of the local schools and vice versa. The school visited today was full of about 50 or so first through fifth graders dressed in yellow and white-checkered shirts and khaki jumpers or shorts. We systematically went into each classroom recording each child’s weight and height. Being that we weren’t suspending the children in harnesses floating off of the ground, they were much more cooperative than our last group at the rally post as we placed them on the electric scale. After visiting each classroom we then stationed ourselves in the main room of the school. Half of the room was used to administer medications, the other to assess the students with Dr. Pentro.
Dr. Pentro has been a beautiful mysterious presence in our lives for the last week. He stands about six feet tall with a Santa Claus-like belly, a clean-shaven face, and a white closely cut head of hair with a defined widow’s peak. He spends his evenings pacing the front courtyard with Marie Chery as they discuss issues that we fantasize have tremendous wisdom. Today we had the opportunity to work with him closely. As he called a child’s name out they would first visit one of us students. We would assess their bodies in the typical head to toe fashion. Specifically we looked at their skin, their scalp, felt their lymph nodes, checked their eyelids and conjunctiva for signs of anemia, palpated their stomachs for signs of parasites, and then checked their teeth for rotting. After our initial assessment we’d pass the child on to Dr. Petro who looked specifically at what we had found, listen to their heart, write down a list of medications on a scrap piece of paper, and then pass them on to the makeshift pharmacy side of the room. Each child was given vitamin A, an iron supplement, medication for worms, and anything needed for infections.
Working with Dr. Petro allowed us find understanding in an observation we had all made early on in our trip. The children we have been seeing in Thomonde, as angelically beautiful as they all are, lacked something we were all used to seeing amongst youth, a smile. It felt as though it took a tremendous amount of coaxing, teasing, and playfulness before you could get a child to exchange a smile with you. The school children were much healthier than many of the children we had been seeing, but as we ran through our assessments almost every child had one ailment or another. They ranged from skin infections such as scabies to distended bellies, from malnourishment or parasites to teeth that were rotting down into the gums, and infected tonsils. The hardship of life seemed to meet them at an unimaginably young age. In between assessing the students we would play games with the school children in the neighboring classroom. Thin overlaying planks separated the classrooms, and those in the neighboring class were always fascinated by the “blans” (the white people) they could peer at through the cracks. As we waited we’d play a quick game by sticking our fingers through the holes and quickly pull back until one lucky student was able to grab it bringing a roar of laughter. Finally we had seen our last little patient, school was dismissed, and we loaded our supplies to head back to Project Medishare.
*Photos by Gabrielle Denis