This morning was something special here in Pignon. We finished breakfast and walked over to the elementary school to witness their opening exercises which includes a ceremonial flag raising and a rousing rendition of the Haitian national anthem. Just before we arrived, we took a slight detour to Kristie and JeanJean’s house – they’re the incredible couple who founded the school and the university. They live right on campus and throw themselves into the management of these impressive institutions and the welfare of the students everyday from dawn until dusk. At 7:30, a special group of young children, who, due to their families’ economic circumstances, are least likely to have a good breakfast each morning, made their way quietly and respectfully over to Kristie and JeanJean’s home where they received additional food, in this case, bags of Raisin Bran that Speroway contributed expressly for this purpose.
Fifteen minutes later we were all gathered in the school yard where all 850 students lined up quietly, ready to start the day. A few young girls, in their school uniforms stood on the school steps and lead their fellow students through a song, the recitation of their commitment to the school (with right hands raised) and the singing of the national anthem. It was an impressive sight to be sure.
As the kids filed into their classrooms to start their day, we headed over to our clinic building to start ours. But for some of us, this wasn’t going to be just another day seeing and treating patients. A few of us had been assigned to take donated toothbrushes and toothpaste over to the school and take nine of the youngest classes through a lesson on dental hygiene, including, quite simply – how to brush your teeth! In Third World countries, dental health is rarely high on the family agenda. Soft drinks are usually cheaper than water and that, coupled with a lack of focus on brushing here, leads to severe decay at a young age. So the plan was to educate the kids on proper brushing technique and quickly check their teeth while we’re at it. So Michelle and Sheila, both veteran dental assistants and Jane, one of our other key volunteers returned to the school loaded down with brushes and toothpaste. I tagged along to take pics. And what an experience it was.
We met nine classes ranging in age from 3 to 7. These children, in their blue and white school uniforms, we’re incredible – happy, attentive, interested and grateful. Needless to say, the four of us count ourselves lucky to have met these kids today. We loved every minute of it – and so did the children. As the team checked their teeth, they were surprised that the youngest classes had relatively little decay. But as we moved into the older classrooms, the cavities appeared in a big way and we started taking names and, later, took the worst kids directly to the clinic for fillings. Not surprisingly, decay takes time but ultimately, in places like this, it rears its head and ruins young children’s teeth. We’re doing what we can to help those here but it’s a daunting problem.
After an inspiring morning at the school, we all had a sobering afternoon at the clinic. We saw some tough cases and did all we could which, in at least one instance, won’t be enough. First, Abanel, 26, arrived with a badly broken arm and a serious infection and open wound in his hand. The surprise was learning that he’d broken his arm when his motorcycle was hit by a car over a month ago! Abanel had lived with a painful fracture and growing infection without medical attention for several weeks. His hand was so swollen that pus was forced out his fingertips. Channy called on the wound care and trauma expertise of Nurse Deb and Paramedic Ross to put Abanel back on the road to recovery. Deb carefully cleaned the infection site using saline in a large clear plastic bag before expertly dressing it while Ross fashioned a splint out of a cylindrical container – MacGyver’s got nothing on Ross! The patient left with his arm in a sling along with pain killers and antibiotics. We also made arrangements for him to be seen in hospital for follow-up in the coming days. This was a fantastic example of the difference our Medics can make, especially in cases like this. Thanks to Channy, Deb and Ross – you did it again.
Towards the end of the day, we were all reminded that, regardless of the experience, expertise and treatments at our disposal, we sometimes encounter cases that are hopeless. The team was introduced to a 35 year old woman who was clearly very ill. Soon, the medics learned she was in the final stages of Aids and they found large related masses in two other locations. The team, taking all the necessary precautions, treated her with care and kindness making her comfortable with an IV and other medications but in reality, there’s little that can be done. In the end, we arranged transportation home for her but felt pretty helpless.
Here are a few more pics from today.