Friday, March 19, 2010

Coming Back to Life

This week's good moments...

The kids out in the slum of Pele are still calling me Angelina Jolie. This is my fault. In a weak moment, while doing wound care last week, unable to stand one more poke to my back by little fingers through the metal mesh wall of the truck accompanied by the stereo "heybarbieheybarbiebarbiebarbieheybarbieIloveyoubarbiegivemewaterbarbie", I turned around and declared in a pseudo-huff, "My name is not Barbie. It's Angelina Jolie!" Little did I realize, they were paying such attention. Now, days later, as I am poked, I can do nothing but smile with bemusement. "AngelinaAngelinaIloveyougivemewaterAngelina..." My own little Pele paparrazi.

Dr. Jenn, our fabulous pediatrician, came out with us on the truck, and now the kids are calling her Jennifer Lopez. Hmmmm....I wonder how that happenned.

A little boy of about 8 years old flashed me an obscene finger gesture as he stared at me through the bars on the truck. "No," I yelled at him, flashing back the peace sign. "La pe! La pe!" (Peace. Peace.) He looked taken aback for a moment, then lifted his index finger to join his middle finger. "La pe..?" he said tentatively to me. "La pe!" I gestured back, encouragingly, fingers raised in the universally recognized vee of peace. Suddenly a smile lit up his face, and he waved his peace sign vigorously shouting, "La pe!! La pe!" His buddies quickly followed suit. If only all peace talks were so simple.

Riding around the city on the top of the truck in a refreshing warm rain, pedestrians called out mockingly, "Hey you, you're getting wet!" "Yeah," we called back, " So are you."

Antoinette, with the most perfect, fragile, angelic face and soft, musical voice. Crushed under a wall inside of her house while pregnant, with one leg amputated and another crushed, was told this week we could remove the metal external fixator holding together her shattered tibia. And that she is now allowed to walk. She is our last patient finally cleared to walk. When told, she immediately stared off into space, rocking back and forth and chanting something repetitive. Concerned she was fearing the upcoming procedure, I asked our translator what she was saying. "She's saying, 'Thank you God, thank you God...' he said, matter of factly. Lying in the caring arms of Dr. Jenn, with eyes closed, softly singing, the stabilizing metal rods were one by one removed.

Baby Kenny, the three pound near-death septic baby, for whom we artificially breathed every three seconds in the back seat of our truck on my first day in Haiti...fighting for his life...whose mother wailed in fear of his imminent now back in our care. And through the patient education of Beth our midwife, is now breastfed by his teenage mother. And this week, hit a whopping five pounds.

Patrick, a 13 year old boy who presented to our clinic a few days after the earthquake with his tibia bone broken and jutting out through his skin, will get his metal external fixator device off next week as well. He's had a long, challenging course, complicated by recurrent infection and skin grafting. A young man with great grit and courage. He currently walks around with crutches that he's decorated with small sayings in English written in Sharpie pen. My favorite is a spelling error, where he mistook an "n" for an "m". It reads, "I BELIEVE IM GOD"

Rony, 11 year old boy with a crushed, scarred right face and bot fly larvae removed from his eye orbit, who wandered the street for 6 weeks without care before finding treatment, picked up a pen today. And drew a self portrait. Of a beautiful symmetrical boy.

I was gifted t-shirt this week. In big white letters on dark blue cotton it reads "MALARIA SUCKS." Indeed.

We tracked down "goat poop girl", who'd shunned our western medical method for treatment of a large hand burn -- scraping off our silvadine burn cream and replacing it the next day with a thick layer of brown goat poop. Her hand looked great. So much for my anti-fecal medical practices.

Jameson, a young boy we found in the slum of Twa Bebe, near the plastic bottle and pig filled river, went home this week. We'd found him in a bright green, dirty cast extending from his abdomen to his foot -- treatment for an unstable femur fracture. He'd been released to the streets with no follow-up...destined to outgrow his restrictive green prison. We were able to scoop him up, get follow-up orthopedic care, ultimately remove his cast, and provide him with physical therapy. A beautiful moment, as he walked with us down the cement path to his home, assisted by his crutches. He paused at the door to his single room cinder block home and a woman came out -- his mother. She cradled his face gently in her hands, staring into his eyes. And kissed him on the forehead as tears welled in her eyes. She then folded her hands across her heart, turned to look at us, and bowed her head, saying "Merci...merci...." Jameson, in typical preteen boy fashion, shrugged away his mom's attention with a grimace, and wandered over to sit on the stoop -- apparently his favorite spot. The spot from which we'd plucked him.

Coming back to life.

Yeah, it's been a good week.


  1. Dear Barbie, Found you from the Livesay blog. I have been so anxious and eager to hear news from Haiti, and blogs are really the voice of those who are on the ground. Glad you have these rewarding stories, and so glad you write them down for all of us to share.
    These are stories to cherish indeed. I pray for the people of Haiti and for all of you at Heartline daily, although I have never met any of you. I've traveled enough in the developing world to appreciate what you are saying. I wish I had medical skills so I could come and help. Alas, I am only a journalist and you seem to have that well-covered. Blessings, Terri Urban

  2. Your blog is amazing. Thank you!

  3. Barbie,
    Thank you for sharing these amazing stories! They make me laugh and cry. So much in them. I wish I were there.
    Lisa Sonneman

  4. Barbie,
    I agree with all above.
    I don't know you, but feel I would like you very much in the way that you write and look at the world. Tackling problems with gusto, and a little dry humor. (Angelina Jolie, good one) I also find myself smiling and crying at the stories. I was in Haiti for only 2 weeks when adopting a son from John and Beth in 1997. I had never been out of the US and Beth will tell culture shock was sadly naive. But changed the way I look at things.
    Good luck with those peace efforts..... you are making progress, one at a time.

  5. I'm catching up on several of my favorite Haiti bloggers posts this afternoon. Your comment about the little girl and the goat poop on her burned hand cracked me up. I had actually wondered if you had heard from her. It amazes me when some of their culteral things they do that seem so extremely off base to us actually appear to work. I'm sure any patient in a developed country would try to run of you attempted to treat their burn with goat poop. Thanks for the updates.