Friday, March 6, 2015

My First Rural Medical Clinic

Below is an examining room for a rural mobile medical clinic conducted near Cange. Normally this space is a classroom for a primary school, but for about 5 hours the space served as a site to examine patients for high blood pressure, diabetes, lesions, colds, and other ailments.
From January 31-February 7, a team of medical care providers from South Carolina visited Cange for a series of mobile clinics in 4 rural communities nearby. I served as one of the translators for the team, and it was my first experience with rural medical care in Haiti. It was truly transformative. For the bulk of this post, I want to simply share what I found so motivating about the clinics.

First, the experience created a sense of anger within me. Many of the ailments we saw can be cured with over-the-counter drugs or relatively accessible prescriptions in the U.S. But in rural Haiti, “simple” sicknesses are incapacitating and life threatening not just to the one who is sick, but to all children, family members and others who are dependent on the life of that individual. 

Given the general excess in the United States and other areas of the developed world, the fact that people are dying who could otherwise live with medicine I could pick up at any drug, grocery or convenience store in the U.S. makes me angry. Given that billions and billions of dollars over the course of decades have poured into Haiti in the form of aid, the fact that this type of death still goes on makes me angry.
But this anger motivates me to seek change for this injustice. This anger must turn into motivation. Because this change isn't as simple as tipping a scale into another direction, or passing blame on someone else. The injustice is more systemic, and every one of us plays a role. So instead, I have to look inward and question what exactly should be my priorities in life, and what I can do, with God’s guidance and the support of those around me, to contribute to the relief of the suffering and the end of injustice.
Another reason the anger must turn into motivation is because otherwise, sadness and despair may become too consuming. Cynicism may prevail, and guilt just confines us to a selfish position. But when the anger turns into motivation, then there is an understanding that something can be done, even if we don’t know exactly what that is. I find that in that realization, I notice more people who believe something can be done too. From that comes reinforcement that this is a group effort, a reminder to always be humble, and clarity for my own individual role in the fight.
The second motivating item on my list is the team of care providers and their support who worked so well together—surpassing unfamiliarity, cultural differences, language barriers, and the physical environment where the clinics were held. I am particularly humbled by the poise and leadership exhibited by the Haitians who planned the clinics, together with various others who supported the trips through transportation, food and water, and logistics. The Zanmi Lasante staff and networks did an incredible job. The team of Americans, many visiting Haiti for their first time, rolled with the expected and unexpected punches with poise and patience. Given the fact that this type of task was so far outside of what they knew, I’m impressed with their perseverance and their composure.

Finally, I find motivation in the Episcopal Church. “The church” as an institution so often, and justifiably so, receives scathing criticism for being disconnected or involved in injustice itself, among other errors. The Episcopal Church is not immune to this behavior or criticism. But this week was a wonderful example of the effect of the institution of the Episcopal Church. This week was an example of Episcopalians bringing love and light into the world through individual vocation. This week was an example of Episcopal churches in the U.S. connecting with Episcopal churches in Haiti within the context of a 35-year-old ministry between Cange and EDUSC.
Many of these thoughts and feelings aren't new for me, but participating in this medical trip brought much clarity and organization to my mind. Also, as I’m living in a Zanmi Lasante complex, I am aware of the significance and intricacy of building medical care networks in Haiti or ZL’s accomplishments and goals to that end. But actively participating in that medical care, even if only for several days, brings a sense of tangible reality to it all.
A flattering, sweaty picture of my dad and me in Cange
As a final, somewhat tangential thought, while I was translating for these patients, I couldn't help but think about my dad’s work as a physician. Being in a position to contribute to someone’s relief from pain, physical or mental, and having to break through barriers of modesty and privacy to gain necessary information to enhance quality of treatment, is an immensely emotional and intricate task of great responsibility. It requires integrity, respect, vulnerability, and compassion. Even though I was only a translator, experiencing what it’s like to see a patient, diagnose them and attempt to treat them enhanced my respect and appreciation for what my dad does. Being a doctor (or any medical care provider) is a beautiful thing.

May God bless the work of Zanmi Lasante, the Episcopal Church, and all health care providers around the world. May God bless each person involved in the fight for justice, each in their own vocation, such that we all can realize that we have power, that we have hope, and that we are not alone.

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