Friday, August 03, 2007

Mountains, Medicine, Moving & Other Muddled Musings

By Britt:
Yesterday was a crazy busy day for Paige and me. We started out our day at 5:45am and were out the door by 6:30 to head up the mountain to Petit-bwa. It's about a 5 mile hike, there and back. This was Paige's 4th time, but this pic pretty much describes how we both felt after the first 45 minutes, which oddly enough is the hardest part of the hike:
But then we started following a path on the left side of the mountain, which was completely shaded. The rest of the way up wasn't so bad - we took our sweet time, taking pictures and chatting along the way. Once we got to the top - which really isn't the top at all because deye mon gen mon (Haitian proverb: "behind the mountains, there are more mountains") - we laid out a blanket and sat in the soccer field that is on the outskirts of Petit-bwa. The new header on the blog was taken on top of the mountain from a January Petit-bwa trip, in the same soccer field where Paige and I attempted to rest/lay out yesterday.
Yesterday's scene in the soccer field was very similar to the blog header, except about twice as many kids and this time adults. They were sort of surrounding us and trying to speak multiple languages (we heard broken Spanish & English ... which was weird.) We were not amused by the flash mob-like situation. But this is their country after all and we reasoned that if we were them, we would come stare at the white girls too. :) So we just tried to ignore their gawking, bought a coke from the mountain vendor, and eventually set out on our way back down the mountain. We also called and talked to Dad; that was weird - talking on a cell phone on top of a mountain. Digicel has really changed the communication capacity of this country - it's awesome, but very surreal.
After the soccer field, we headed to our favorite mountaintop hang-out, this huge mango tree that is used as a shady resting point. We climbed up in the tree - probably higher than my mom would care to know - and chatted and giggled like only sisters can. The funniest part was when we heard a couple of innocent gardeners approaching the tree. We decided to be really quiet and see if they would notice the white monkeys. Right when we thought they'd passed unknowingly, one of the men saw us out of the corner of his eye and then proceeded to look closer, tripping and falling at the sight of the silly blan girls. It was so funny - cruel, I suppose, but laughable none the less! Here are a few pictures from our morning hiking outing:

When we got home, a teenage girl was sitting at the gate waiting to see me. I took one look at her hand and the mini-high that I had from climbing the mountain disappeared. Sigh. Her name is Jislun and she is seventeen. She lives in a village that is four hours away, up in the mountains past Petit bwa. About two weeks ago, she fell in a cooking fire, burning her knee, right hand, and part of her forearm. She had been treating the burns with a home-remedy; the knee had healed completely but there was no change in the burn on her hand. There is kind of a 'duh' to this -- the burn on her hand is probably the worst burn I've ever seen as far as severity goes. It is a full-thickness burn, but one that I don't see healing without months and months of dressings and several skin grafts. It is so bad that I can't bring myself to back-post the picture and put a link to it.
After figuring out the story and realizing that there was nothing I could do for her, we sent her and her sister with Pastor Rony into Port to try to find help. Before they left, I had to explain that I couldn't even attempt to clean/bandage the burn because if she had a bandage, the hospitals in Port would definitely refuse her. The concept is, if you have a bandage, then you must have someone ki prann swen or who is taking care of you. I also had to ask them to basically lie about when it happened - or at least try to be vague. But I guess it was to no avail .... MSF or Doctors Without Borders refused to take her because they said it had been too long since the burn occurred.
This is so frustrating. I understand that everyone has to have their limits and that that particular MSF clinic is more for trauma patients. (Isn't a severe burn a trauma though?!) But it is SO disheartening how quickly people just clean their hands of problems .... they didn't offer any other ideas for Jislun and didn't refer her to another hospital - they just out and out turned her away. People want things to change here, but it seems like most are unwilling to put very much effort into what it will take for the change to occur but rather wait for someone to do it for them or figure out a way to cheat their way towards change. I'm not saying MSF doesn't do some great, life-saving things - they do; it's just that lots of times it seems like people are turned away because of sheer laziness. Of course there are other possibilities: they don't have the supplies to handle burns, they don't have the knowledge or personnel, blah blah blah. But why couldn't they have given her a referral or some sort of hope? Please pray for Jislun; we sent her to a small burn clinic in Titayen that hopefully will be able to help her.
I feel ultra-sensitive to all of Haiti's/the world's injustices this week. On Tuesday, I stitched a boy's split lip. Throughout the procedure, little bugs kept flying around he and I and sometimes even into his open mouth. I was really angry that I didn't have a better option to offer him - he deserved better than that - a clean, sterile, closed room where bugs would be out of the picture.
This morning I saw fourteen patients. I don't know why so many people came today, but I was still feeling kind of put-off by the inability to do things differently or offer better care or options. Two different people came with a gaglionic cyst. Most of these eventually go away on their own, but that isn't what a patient wants to hear after having had it for over a year. Blah. I also had to turn away a mountain woman and her eleven month old malnourished son. He has ringworm on his head, so I gave some antifungal cream for that but it just didn't feel like enough.
A little boy from Barbancourt came with his dad who I'm currently treating for an infected foot sore. I had to explain to him that I don't have amoxicillin for his son's ear infection but that most ear infections go away on their own. Blah again. I think the American in me hates this explanation -- because I've had a "quick fix" option available to me my whole life, I think this should be available to everyone. I feel like such a loser saying, it will get better on its own, he'll just have to deal with the pain a little longer. I realize most doctors in the states aren't even prescribing amoxicillin for ear infections anymore for this exact reason (and so that the pt doesn't build up resistance to the antibiotic for future, more imminent uses) but still.
Mikenlove, a 6 year old boy that's in the feeding program and lives here in La Digue came again today for the third or fourth time. He has a persisting rash on his scalp - I've seen rashes like this before, it's not ringworm but basically just caused by Haiti living environment - being a boy who probably doesn't bathe enough, sweating and playing in the dirt every day. I've given antibacterial soap, triple antibiotic ointment, and other supplies to treat it. But I don't think he's ever getting any of the stuff I give - his mom or somebody must be using it on themselves instead.
The reason I haven't done it myself is because I truly believe that at every opportunity possible, I should help others help themselves. So over the year and a half, I have gradually released more and more of what I do/give (supplies) ... if it's something that I think the person can treat well on their own and I have the supplies to give them and they feel comfortable doing it on their own - then that's what we do. I'm going to start seeing him daily.
The best part of my morning was with Franchesca. Her burns are completely healed and today was her last appointment. I took pictures, gave her a sucker and finally asked "Eske ou bien ave'm?" Or "Are we friends?" She gave me the sweetest smile and loudly said "WI!" Ahhh, silly silly girl. But I'm happy for her.

Aren't these two cute? They are three year old twins. They have a really bad case of heat rash (so do I ... feelin' their pain) - hopefully hydrocortisone will help them.

As I was sweating under the tin roof, seeing patients, a thought occurred to me. I had overslept and was late starting; I definitely woke up on the wrong side of the bed. In evaluating my bad attitude, I realized that a month from now I'm probably going to be spending my mornings working some job, making coffee or answering phones or stocking shelves - I don't know yet. But I most likely won't be sweating my buns off or swatting away bugs. Nor will I get to feel like the work I am doing is directly beneficial to another person and/or myself. I realized that heat, bugs, and sometimes discouraging situations are such a huge blessing. (wait wait wait, of course I viewed what I am so privileged to be able to do here as a blessing before today ... just hang on) I just mean that I am so blessed to feel fulfilled in my "job" - even when I feel inadequate or discouraged about the lack of options - I feel still fulfilled.

I don't really view it as a job, but more a service that I get to offer; I don't think I'll be able to say the same working at a typical-teen job in the states. I'm thankful for the time that I had here. But I have a feeling that wherever I work, it is going to be a huge adjustment. Instead of dealing with people that really have no choices - yet few complaints, I'll have to be patient with a customer who freaks about only seventeen flavors of coffee syrup instead of the normal eighteen.

That being said, I know I am pretty much doomed to feel annoyed with America and the unfairness of it all. My feelings about moving are increasingly conflicting. At first, I was super pumped to go back to Minnesota, get rid of my heat rash, swim a final season, finish up high school and move to college and towards my goals in January. But now I find myself wanting to white-out the countdown I put on my calendar.

I can't really put into words the conflicting jumble of emotions I feel towards leaving in just nineteen short days. I completely love and don't love this island all at the same time. I want to leave, I am ready to leave, but then again I don't like the idea that I'm not coming back for a long while.

I will miss my Haiti friends, I will miss my roles in this community - but part of me is starting to back away from them, distancing myself from my love of the morning medical "clinic." I hate that - why can't I just enjoy it up until the end? Why do I defend myself by pushing things/people that I love away from me? Is it really going to make it easier to leave or me any less in-love with what I was blessed to do and my life in Haiti? I don't really think so.

On a lighter note ... I'd like to address some of my re-entering worries and annoyances. My mom thought I should share this .... people who know me will appreciate this more, knowing that I used to be 100% type A. Friends and family have written, asking about dates and plans. I find myself becoming quite indifferent towards and maybe even irritated with the whole plan-making process. Who cares? My initial response is to write back and say that I'll figure it out the week of the proposed activity/event. (For example, Paige & I decided we'd climb up the mountain about 8 hours before we actually did) Ahhh! How am I ever going to switch back to the "cold climate culture"? Maybe I need to read this book, but for the opposite effect - to learn how to relate to and understand the ways of the cold culture.

I haven't adopted the "hot culture" as my own entirely. I am still not "relationally oriented" and still appreciate to-do lists and completing tasks. But I really do have very little concern for time or the future past a week from now (at least with small, optional plans - of course not big, scary plans like deciding where to go to college.

I also don't care about choices. My thoughts mirror what my mom said in the post below. Gol! I wish that they sold Haitian sugar (un-refined, straight from the cane), Haitian Pepsi, FRAC cookies (which actually are from Chile) and Famosa ketchup in America ... I'm really gonna be ticked about not having those choices at the grocery store. But otherwise, I don't care.

Actually, truthfully - going out to eat and or shopping is overwhelming to me. Overwhelming is not an understatement. I've actually gotten headaches from leisurely shopping with friends. Maybe that is why I don't want to make plans, because planning in and of itself is a choice. And if we're planning to go out to eat, then I will have to decide what to order at some point. I think I have a phobia of choices. Or decision-making anxiety. There's too many of them! And America demands that I make one after another ... I like it better when I only have two brands of food to choose from, knowing that both will probably be a little expired and/or stale. It's so much simpler this way.

I know from visiting the states, that time for me is a really hard thing to control. I do not know how to walk into a Target with a list of the things I need and walk out without sitting at each selection of products, contemplating which brand of shampoo or which of the 5 white shirts to get. It is seriously a challenge for this usually task-oriented person. I've come to the conclusion that shopping is like a hobbie in America. I strongly dislike shopping! Even like fun shopping, for clothes and stuff, is really not all that enjoyable for me anymore. I tire SO much of not only the over-abundance of choices, but of the materialisticness of it all. I hate name-brands; I just do. I don't judge others for loving/wearing them ... I just realize - that a year from now their once-trendiness will be goodwill rejects, being shipped down here.

Another thing that has changed is being late versus early. I used to get so mad when my mom would make us late for stuff (she can attest to this.) Tardiness really doesn't concern me now - I like to live by the "We'll get there when we get there" mentality. I'm probably going to have to change that - if I plan on finding and keeping a job. But if we make plans to go out to eat, just tell me to show up 15 minutes prior to when you're going to be there. That way, we'll show up at the same time. :) Also, please don't ask me my opinion on which mall we shop at or who should drive ... please please please just decide it all for me and let me follow along like the puppy that I want to be. If we follow this arrangement, things will be just fine.

This post makes me feel really strange. I am kind of a fool .... who would have thought that the planner, time-concerned Britt would be dreading returning to the culture and "system" she once so willingly embraced. I used to scoff at TCK (Third Culture Kids) concepts ... That wasn't going to happen to ME. And I've only been here a year and a half - no wonder people hold stereotypes about cross-cultural people who have lived their whole lives this way.

But you know what, I'll be okay. I have a wonderful support team that is going to be going through all of the same stuff and together we can stand in the aisles of the MEGA store trying to decide which brand of low-fat-calorie-reduced delicious (not) Ranch dressing to buy.

We might not have it all together, but together we have it all.