Sunday, August 19, 2012
During my two weeks in Haiti, there were so many patients who touched my heart, but two who have found a permanent space in it. My first day in the clinic I met a beautiful woman named Madame Bleck. She had suffered a recent stroke and was very affected on her right side. I am an OT who specializes in Pediatric acute care so to assess, treat and communicate
directions to an adult post stroke took some grad school recall and some trial and error. I’m so grateful to Pascal and Andrew who sat patiently as I thought out loud waiting to translate my instructions. Madame Bleck also sat patiently with a smile and always carried out everything with 100% effort, wanting to do more than what was asked of her. She never showed frustration and had a great sense of humor. I was moved by the two things she really wanted to be able to do. First, to safely transition in and out of kneeling to pray and second, to return to her position as a greeter at church. She was so determined and sharp that many times I’d tell her what I wanted to try and before the translation was complete she would be showing me a very similar task she had come up with at home. I can say with certainty that she is the hardest working patient I have ever worked with and under all her strength was an even more impressive humility and softness. I will not soon forget all that made her beautiful especially her laugh. At the end of 2 weeks Pascal, Madame Bleck and I would be laughing as if I spoke Creole and she spoke English. Her happiness was contagious and
I will miss her.
The second was a young boy named Woodly. Not only did he get into my heart, his story broke it. When we arrived at the clinic Monday morning, there was a line of patients all
familiar, with the exception of a father holding a school aged boy like a baby with so much sadness on his face it broke my heart. I soon learned that Woodly was 8 yrs old
with a newly diagnosed seizure disorder. He had a seizure that lasted 4 hours Friday and he hadn’t walked, talked or performed any functional tasks since. This was very
different than the seizures he had experienced before. My head was spinning and I couldn't believe that a child who had a catastrophic seizure 2 days ago was not in a hospital. I
did a very gentle, basic evaluation and with the help of Pascal and talked with Woodly’s father about what I was seeing that was hopeful and the things that were concerning. I got
a splint for his hand and sent them away with a very simple plan for the evening and told them to come back tomorrow. I cried my eyes out that afternoon. I have seen how
devastating and difficult seizure disorders can be when you have all the resources in the world. I felt so inadequate. Woodly came back, and over the next two days was showing a lot of Improvements. He was sitting with minimal help and walking with help from his father. I knew that there was still a mountain to climb because he had very poor motor control
and no safety awareness. He also showed obvious visual deficits, but he had a smile on his face and a new energy in him and everyone, even the other patients that had seen
him change in a week felt like smiling. But it was a short celebration. During therapy that last day Woodly had another seizure. It didn’t last long but he quickly returned to the
quiet state that we first saw a week earlier. It was at this point that his father expressed his despair. This is his last living child and he can't do anything to save him.
He asked me to take him home with me so he could have a better chance. I saw so much love and pain coming from him and it took everything I had not to break down right there.
I promised that I would look into the available local resources and that’s when I saw how important this kind of
clinic is in Haiti.
Seven days later, I was sitting in a restaurant in St. Louis as Jo Ann, the executive director and co-founder of Global Therapy Group took down Woodly’s name and said there is help available and that she will get the process started. Alone in the clinic that day I felt inadequate because I was thinking I wish "I" could do more. That night at dinner Jo Ann said, "It takes a village" and she is right. As if working at the clinic was not enough of a gift, it is impossible to talk about this life changing trip without including the Hudicourt/Theodore family and the amazing experience of being a guest in their home for two weeks. From the moment I first spotted Anel my driver at the airport, until he hugged me and dropped me off two weeks later, I was surrounded by smiles, laughter , warmth and care from Henri, Caroline, Pascal, Vincent, Anais and Jessica. It’s amazing how well you can get to know people in a short time when you turn off the distractions and tune in to each other. We told jokes, played games I hadn’t played in years, and some that were new to me. I laughed harder on my trip to Haiti than I had in a long time. I feel blessed to know them all and look
forward to seeing them again. I wasn’t ready to leave Haiti. My heart was so full and I was
just getting really comfortable in the clinic and wanted more time. Haiti is a special place. There is so much need and so much work still to be done, but it is a reality that
co-exists equally with a sense of hope and great love for country. And more importantly, for family and each other. It is a magic I have not felt in any other place. I will miss
it all, but I can take the lessons I have learned back home
and start creating some joy where I wasn't finding or creating any before. It wasn’t goodbye for me. It was “See you real soon and until then I say thank you!” to Haiti and the amazing friends I have made there. You sent me home a better version of myself and I am so very grateful.
Saturday, August 18, 2012
My trip to Haiti felt like an old dream realized and the
beginning of a beautiful new journey...... It was through art and music that I developed a curiosity and connection to Haiti as a young girl and when I was 16 I begged my father to let me go to there for a school service project. I was the only girl of 5 kids, he shook his head
no and said he just wasn’t ready to let me go so far away on my own. I went off to college, life happened, my responsibilities increased and Haiti became a distant dream. This year I woke up and realized I was stuck, I was living my life with my head and I was not going for what
was in my heart. I made a list of my hearts desires and going to Haiti was #2. I sat at the computer and googled “Occupational Therapy in Haiti”. The first hit was Global Therapy Group. I watched Donna’s video, emailed her the next day and on July 14 I landed in Port au Prince.
I knew very soon that I had landed right where I was meant to be. From the amazing welcome by Caroline at the guest house to Andrew’s big smile first thing Monday morning, I felt the fear of the unknown fade away, being replaced by the warmth of the smiles coming from the people waiting patiently for therapy in the morning sun. I sat on the patio that first Monday night and was overwhelmed with gratitude that I was there and I was so excited to go back to the clinic in the morning.
The first thing that became obvious in the clinic was my dependence on equipment and resources. I would look at the child I was working with and my head would go,"I wish I
had a ...” Or, “I really need a ...." The limited amount of equipment available in the clinic forced me to clear my head and just think. I problem solved and talked to Andrew or Pascal about what I wanted the child to do so they could translate and direct them, and I soon realized the clinic didn’t have what I was used to but it had enough. This process was anxiety producing the first few days not because I needed things I didn’t have, but because I was
used to having so much 'stuff'. I had stopped using one of my greatest tools as a therapist...my mind! This realization made me mad and I was all of the sudden motivated by the challenges, humored by some of the less than stellar ideas I had, and inspired by the gratification that comes with successful problem solving. I am a natural communicator. It has been a strength I have relied on clinically and I was curious how the language barrier would impact my connection to the patients. It took a little getting used to, I struggled with knowing, who do I look at. How much do i say at one time? And things of that nature, but I also realized that the process creates this beautiful moment of complete silence. I would sit and listen as Andrew or Pascal relayed information to a patient and as the patient was responding, I wasn’t already thinking about my own response or asking a question that may change or interrupt their thoughts. Because I didn’t understand the words they were saying, I was just sitting and listening, watching the faces and body language of the patients waiting for the translation. I learned again that my eyes & ears are also very powerful pieces of equipment that I may be under utilizing at home. I am not suggesting that the equipment & resources we have in the US are not beneficial and often needed for success,
and I wish the clinic had more of them, but it was important for me to be reminded that tools like watching, listening, problem solving and creativity combined with motivation, determination and laughter, can not only bring hope and healing to patients, but can remind a therapist why they chose and love what they do.