cholera.

Friday, November 19, 2010
Last Friday night I got a call from Big Paul late in the evening. We have only met one time face to face, but he and his partner Little Paul call me often trading around supplies and sick patients. They were recently featured in Men's Health magazine and have become known at Port-au-Prince's Cowboy EMT's. When these guys ask for help you know they really need it.

Paul told me that he had recently (as in two days before) returned from St Louis de Nord, a small town in Northern Haiti that was being taken over by the cholera epidemic. He said he was leaving tomorrow, possibly at 7am on a UN chopper to get a medical team up there. We need nurses, he'd said. Can you help?

Having come off of a particularly difficult week and really wanting to get out of the hospital I told him I'd try. A few hours and couple phone calls later Elinor and I were committed and leaving at 3pm the next day. I was excited to do some hands on nursing and not have to be in charge of anything for a week. Although I confess I was extremely nervous, knowing very little about cholera.

Our team of six nurses, three EMT's, two logistics people, and one fresh graduate from med school arrived in the dark to St Louis. It didn't take me long to figure out that no one had any clue what they were doing. We created our own work schedule and some of the team went straight to the clinic. I was on at 4 am.

I can hardly express the anger, frustration, desperation, and sorrow of the five days following. What an unbelivable disease. Everything you read about cholera says it's all in the fluid resusitation...but no one seemed to know how much. For five days we played a guessing game. We won a lot. But always felt like we were losing. I have never seen death come so quickly and so unexpectedly.

Old people and children were obviously the most vulnerable. Although we were all taken aback when an 18 year old boy died rather unexpectedly. Trying to get patients who weren't vomiting to drink was maybe the biggest challenge. Everyone wanted an IV but there were times when we were down to five liters of fluid and it was impossible to give everyone what they needed. A sweet old man I was caring for asked me for soup and a cola with salt in it (craving salt showing his dehydration). I managed to track down and feed him some soup for lunch, only to have him die not five hours later. I left for a bathroom break and a woman I'd more or less admitted who had been talking to me on my way out the door died while I was gone. We lost 19 people in four days/five nights. I can't decide if that's sounds like a lot or not. But when you remember every face it's hard to brush off.

I don't understand where the world is. The Red Cross, WHO, and even MSF are absent in St Louis. There are no protocols or plans. Patients come in on their linen covered in feces and after they die their family takes it back home. Little old ladies were mopping up their husbands waste without gloves on, and children were eating from bowls next to their poop buckets.

There is no education, no pamphlets, no structure. A group of five or so English speaking (educated) teens stopped Melissa in the street and told her they didn't understand. Where is it coming from? I heard one say. How did this start and how do we stop it? They were clueless to the fact that it's in their water.

I was perhaps most angered by the fact that the Northwest Christian Mission where we were staying houses a old people's home and an orphanage. Over eight of the elderly from their home were our patients. At least five of them died. No one has yet to test their water! I won't be surprised if they are all taken by cholera in the next month.

When we left today there were two new paramedics to take our place. TWO people to care for over sixty dying patients for a twelve hour shift. Where is everyone?

Are people just tired of hearing about Haiti's problems? Do they think that since they helped with that whole earthquake thing they've done their good deed for the year? Cholera is wiping out the regions the earthquake didn't touch and it seems that there is a whole lot of talk and no action.

I do not think the clinic we worked in should be functioning. It's completely unsafe and ill run. I have no doubt that it's spreading as much cholera as it's treating. But that being said, those people would be dead if it wasn't there. I don't believe the rumors that the UN started this mess, but regardless of the source they need to be doing something about it. This disease is here to stay and unless drastic measures are taken to educate and treat the Haitian people tales of the earthquake will die out as the stories of cholera flow through the streets.

3 comments:

timneet said...

Hi Jessica, God put you on my heart last week while I was in Cambodia with a team from North Point. We prayed for you unknowingly in the middle of your week. I will share this last blog with them and ask them to pray again. We saw much poverty and desperation in Cambodia, but nothing as catastrophic as you are seeing in Haiti. I think we all need to be yelling into our churches, relief agencies, and governments to ramp up Haiti in the midst of this plague. We need prayer ministries lifting up their plight to God for those who are currently working there and those who still need to come. Maybe as you return home you can continue to be a light for this cause.
I know it is hard to see this devastation of life - especially when it is so young and needless. We don't know why God allows such grief, as he has over the centuries in many different places. It is hard when you see real time individuals who are so impacted by what is often centuries of ignorance and rebellion by ancestors. In Cambodia my team was taken back by the continued impact on their society of the Khmer Rouge and the Killing Fields. We wonder when God will sweep his Spirit across the land to bring Blessing.
I hear you are coming home soon and hope that I will get to see you. It is my prayer that you will know the peace of God as you do what you can do and knowingly leave God to do what only he can do -- and the wisdom to know the difference. I know He is pleased with His child Jessica.

In Christ
Tim Neet

lynn said...

Hi Jessica, I work at a church in Massachusetts with Tim Neet's daughter, Julie, and that is how I found out about your blog. I was in Carrefour last January, about half-way through a week-long mission trip when the earthquake struck. Half of our team - which consisted of a few people with medical experience, but many of us with none - provided emergency care the morning after the earthquake near a small UN building on the main street of Carrefou. (We were staying at the Villa Ormiso guest house in Carrefou.) That experience had a profound impact on me, as you can imagine. The remainder of our time in Haiti was spent providing medical care and other support at the orphanage in Leogane that the mission I was with oversees. Since then, I have been to Haiti three times, the last being for a month in October when the cholera outbreak began. Although we did not personally witness the disease where we were, I can vividly picture scenes like what you are seeing. All that being said, I want you to know that I am praying for you and for those helping throughout Haiti, but most especially, of course, for the Haitian people themselves. I know how complicated the situation is there, and that there are no simple solutions, but how much more can they take? I am pausing as I write this, because I don't even know how to pray - but even in these dark places, we can trust in God's goodness, in His mercy and grace, and in His perfect plan. Lord Jesus, reveal Yourself to us in the midst of these seemingly impossible places as You draw people to Yourself and are glorified. Flood the nation of Haiti with shalom so that it might be a sign to the rest of the world that You are God. Jessica, may He be with you as you do your work in very tangible ways. Lynn Duquette

Ashley Snow said...

Hi Jessica,
I was with Tim Neet's team in Cambodia. He forwarded us your blog. I am so thankful that you are a voice for these people, and are trying to provide for their medical needs. What can we do to help? Can we send over bottled water? I will be praying for you, your team, and the people of Haiti. Living over in Haiti to help them shows you have a wonderful heart and I pray for many blessings for you.

Ashley Snow