Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Medical Care

During my mission trip to Haiti in 2008, we had the options of helping with construction, working in the orphanage, assisting women in labor at the birthing center, or helping in the clinic. Most of us quickly found our niche, though the experience wasn't always what we expected.

My friend Heather, a nurse here in the U.S., offered her skills in the clinic. They were desperate for help. The outdoor waiting area was packed with people suffering all types of maladies. They'd come from miles around, usually on foot, though a few were able to get rides. Heather walked into the one-room clinic intending to help for a few hours, finally emerging half a day later badly shaken. She'd done things in there that she'd never be expected to do in the States. She stitched up machete casualties. She lanced infectious boils. She tended to infected wounds. And she did it all without the benefit of adequate supplies. The volunteer doctor finally released her from duty, though he would continue for hours.

Heather described the horror of it all. The sink was clogged and filled with germy, dirty, bloody, infectious water. She only had one pair of rubber gloves to wear. They protected her from exposure to germs, but didn't offer any sanitary protection from patient to patient. That bothered her tremendously, and rightly so. Sometimes it's the small things that get us, and this was the breaking point for her. She thought of all the rubber gloves worn for a few seconds and then tossed back in the U.S.. We all made a conscious decision to send medical supplies to the mission compound when we got home.

One day in the clinic was enough for Heather. The following day we set out for the countryside only to find that her reputation preceded her. When we got to the small rural village, there was already a demand for her services. Our host asked if she could attend to some of the people too sick to leave their homes. Heather graciously agreed and looked through the medical supplies available to her before setting off on foot with our host.

She treated infections and very sick babies. Her examining room consisted of nothing more than a baby held by his mother outside, or poking her head into the tiny hut that was someone's home. By the end of the day, Heather was shell-shocked, but serene. She knew she'd made a difference. Her medical skills had been tested and she'd discovered that she was more capable than she'd ever had the chance to be back home. We all admired her for bringing such valuable skills to an area that needed them so badly.  I know she planned to go back to Haiti and help again. I know they needed her.

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