I like surprises. So, here I am surprising some of you that I am back in Haiti! I am here long-term again (however long the Lord sees fit, pretty much). I'm living with a friend in an apartment near our ministry, which thrills me to no end. I have a serious crush on this place- cool breezes at night, a hammock on the porch, a home to share with others who need a place to rest, and a home to invite friends and the kids from our ministry to for dinners and fellowship.
Last week my friend and fellow nurse with our ministry, Ashley, heard about a sick little girl near a tent city in our neighborhood. She walked to visit her home and found a 4 year-old with swollen and hot-to-the-touch hands, feet, and elbows, a fever lasting for 29 days, and the inability to walk. She'd been seen by multiple doctors at multiple hospitals, as well as two visiting doctors to our ministry. As things go here, we can't get a handle on what tests were done or their results or what diagnoses were made or ruled out. Last Sunday Ashley and our visiting doctor, Dr. Eddie, and I made a house call to her home. Thankfully they have a home made out of tin and cement, rather than a tent or tarp. We found her in the same condition as during Ashley's previous visit, sitting stiffly in a chair. We prayed for her and discussed possible diagnoses. Dr. Eddie pulled out a chocolate-flavored Promax (protein bar) and handed it to her. She looked like she had just been handed the whole world or tickets to Disneyland. She proudly displayed her gift to her mother and other relatives. Ashley gave her ibuprofen and she seemed to improve (less frequently feverish and the swelling in her hands and feet had diminished) in the last few days. However, last night her mother called Ashley saying that the ibuprofen bottle was finished and that she had spiked another high fever. We visited her today and she was indeed running another fever and the swelling in all extremities except one hand has returned. She did give us some smiles when offered a piece of gum. She beamed. I'll try to post pictures soon. Ashley and I are considering taking her to Medishare, a hospital started by the University of Miami, next week. Please pray that they have a bed available to admit this precious beauty (Ensa), that the finances will be provided in order for necessary tests to be run, and that the doctors who treat her will be kind, compassionate, and interested enough in her case to pursue all ways to diagnose and treat her.
During Ashley's first visit to this area, she found another person extremely sick. A 21-year-old young lady, named Mikerlange, was stooped over, only able to walk with a walker, extremely emaciated, with a severe skin infection. Immediately Ashley suspected she has AIDS. Another mission took her to a hospital earlier in the week but found that that hospital was unable to treat her. On Wednesday Ashley took her to Medishare, where she tested positive for HIV. The nurse told Ashley the test was positive, but the person who does counseling for such patients was unavailable to meet with her and asked them to return the next day. Ashley was already working at another clinic the next day, so I took her.
We now have a car just for medical purposes. And I can drive it. I'd only driven in Haiti to one close-by hospital and a close-by market before. I asked my Haitian friend, Marlval, to go with me to help me navigate the roads and actually make it to the hospital (I admit I am horrible with directions. Haiti makes this problem much worse). A visiting paramedic, Phil, accompanied us as well. Phil was here in Haiti around the same time last year and was super helpful when one of our staff members was extremely sick and other crazy medical emergencies popped up the same week. We arrived safely, with my passengers being very gracious and encouraging of my driving. Nearer to our destination though, Marlval said something along the lines of "You're being too cautious. Just go." Phil made fun of me for using my turn single because people don't do that here. They honk. Or they "just go." I had fun though and it was very freeing.
Upon arriving at the hospital we waited for about two hours then a nurse called us into a room. Very quickly she blurted out that Mikerlange is HIV positive. I almost didn't catch her saying it. I looked quickly at Mikerlange and her mom and saw no reaction on their faces or in their bodies. I inquired of her multiple times whether she understood this diagnosis. There was no interpreter and with my amount of Creole I could not explain to her in-depth what this diagnosis means. I still wonder whether both mom and daughter already suspected she has HIV or felt so hopeless or resigned to it by then. As I was questioning her, I noticed that the nurse, as she was charting, was almost to the point of laughter. WHAT? Was my persistence striking her as funny? Did she remember a funny moment from earlier in her day? Is she so hardened, so callus, that she could laugh in the midst of this woman's pain and most life-defining moment? I wanted to reach across that desk and slap her.
We moved back out to the waiting room and waited another few hours. Eventually the doctor showed up and seemed ready to start discussing Mikerlange's condition right there. I asked for us to move somewhere private, but then he ran off to get an interpreter. He eventually returned with the interpreter and the discussion began. Privacy, what? The doctor was receptive to my endless questions- "Can we admit her to the hospital today? What will they do for her if she is admitted?" It took some major rephrasing of questions over and over again, but eventually was told that they would feed her, possibly administer IV antibiotics, provide counseling, and start her on anti-retroviral drugs (standard treatment for HIV). The problem? No bed available in the hospital. Another hospital was offered but I haven't had a good experience with them and I was starting to trust this doctor- and we've had other, good experiences with them. The doctor and I exchanged phone numbers so I can find out when a bed becomes available. He prescribed the anti-retrovirals, as well as medications for her skin, which were filled at their pharmacy for no charge. Some other medications I will need to buy and find next week at a different pharmacy. As the doctor explained these medications and their administration to Mikerlange and her mother, "We Wish You A Merry Christmas" blasted from the other side of the wall. The contrast between the music and this girl receiving the worst news of her life caused Phil and I to chuckle in bewilderment.
Today Ashley and I checked on Mikerlange. She indicated that she understands how to take her medications. However, she vomited her mid-day doses because she did not eat when she took them. She must take 6 pills morning, noon and night. With food. I returned later with some food for her to eat this weekend. I am overwhelmed with thinking about how we can truly help her. Taking her to the hospital is not enough. To start that, I must follow through with the rest. Why give her meds if she cannot take them or keep them down? How long can we continue to provide her with food? How do the other thousands or millions of people with HIV in this country take their medications when they don't eat every day? I have no answers.
Please pray with us as we think through these heavy decisions. Pray that Ensa and Mikerlange will know the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Pray that we can get Ensa and Mikerlange beds at Medishare. Pray that their doctors will understand quickly how to help them. Pray that the Lord will grant them peace and healing. Pray that He will provide jobs for their families. Pray that the funds for treating them (and possibly feeding them) will be provided. Please prayerfully consider if God is calling YOU to participate in meeting their needs. Click here to donate to our medical fund and fill out the form, which will allow us to pay for their medical expenses.
Thank you for continuing to read this blog and for thinking through these tough issues with me.