Ugh… I’m doing it again. I’m already overthinking what it is I want to share with you. There’s just so much going on; I have no idea how to start tying all of this together.
I want to share two stories with you. I don’t know the ending to either one – I don’t even know if I will be here when they end – but they are stories that need to be told.
The first is of a young man in town who is being treated for a severe skin infection. I should say that now he is being treated. His family sought treatment for nearly a full year at a local hospital. Each time he saw the doctor, he was given antibiotics, his condition improved, and when the medicine was gone, the problem returned. I first met him in late January, but the story began long before then.
When we moved here in 2012, I tried hard to learn who was on staff and greet each person by name and with a smile. One of my favorites was Celondieu. He guarded the outer gate until he got sick in early 2016 and could no longer work. He was friendly, loved to talk, and had a great smile. That’s my kind of guy! Sadly, he passed away from prostate cancer in October 2016. We see a lot of death here; his made me cry.
Fast forward to January 2017. Water Project for Haiti wanted to hire someone to make cement block with the excess sand we had; sand that couldn’t be used in the filters. One of our technicians introduced us to a block boss who we agreed to hire. It wasn’t until later that we learned he is the oldest son of Celondieu. Oh, how it made my heart happy to know that we could provide a job to help this family. We had seen the financial hardship they endured during Celondieu’s illness and felt helpless to change it.
After a few days on the job, the boss told me that he could work faster if he had better molds. I sent him and his brother off to Port-au-Prince with money to pay for transportation, two new molds, and lunch. When they returned, they told me that the molds were more expensive than anticipated and they had used all of their money for bus fare. Not only had they skipped eating, but they were forced to pay 100 gourdes out of their own pocket just to get back to Borel.
I gave them lunch money and sent them on their way. After all, it was noon and they had already put in an eight hour day. Later that day, I realized that I still owed the 100 gourdes and set out to repay the debt.
When I arrived, I saw a young man, about 15-years old, sitting naked on a chair, his back to me. His skin was covered with sores, and his grandmother was in the process of washing him and putting some type of homemade salve on his back. The family explained to me that E had been dealing with the sores for months – they itched and bled and spread like crazy. They told me that antibiotics would work for a little while, but the sores always returned. He had missed an entire school year because of the illness.
With the family’s permission, I took pictures and posted them to an online group that focuses on medical concerns in Haiti. Several people responded with treatment options which we explained to the family. We provided medication and antiseptic wash before leaving for a scheduled trip to the U.S. It was early February.
When we returned to Haiti in mid-March, I went to visit E. Like before, the medicine was gone and the condition had returned. I tried to get him in to see a group of visiting doctors in April, but their schedule was full. I asked the family to sit tight until late April. Water Project for Haiti would be hosting a team from the Rotary Club of Harrisburg at that time and one of the members was a retired surgeon. Perfect.
The visiting team arrived on a Tuesday evening. By Wednesday afternoon, Dr. J. and I were at E’s house. Thanks to some of Dr. J’s connections, we had an appointment with an internist at the hospital on Thursday morning. The doctor was not amused when she saw how many times E had come for treatment, only to be given antibiotics and sent home again.
She ordered several tests, and as we waited for the various lab techs, E developed a fever and started to tremble. His health rapidly deteriorated. The doctor noticed it too, admitted him, and started him on IV antibiotics. By the time he was in a bed in a room, I was scared; I had never seen someone go downhill so fast. All I could do at that moment was pray that help hadn’t come too late for this young man. Sepsis was a very real concern given how long he’d been battling this condition.
When we visited with E the next day, he was noticeably better. And as we visited with him, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed at the experiences that brought us to that moment.
You see, in 1993, I started working for an organization in Harrisburg. A few years later, we started going to church. At church, we made friends with a woman who ultimately wound up in the same job that I first landed in ’93. Shortly before moving to Haiti, I had a lunch meeting with our friend and her boss to discuss Water Project for Haiti. As a follow-up to our lunch meeting, my friend’s boss sent an email to introduce key players at WPH and the Rotary Club of Harrisburg. One of the Rotarian recipients was a retired surgeon who had a great deal of experience in Haiti. His experience included working as Director of Surgery at the same hospital that had been seeing E for nearly a year. And now, he was in Borel with a group from the Rotary Club of Harrisburg to work with Water Project for Haiti.
And that is how Dr. J. and Bim wound up at the same place at the same time trying to help this young man who turned out to be the grandson of a friend.
It’s still mind boggling… the connections that were needed to help E get treatment for whatever he is battling started long before Haiti was on our radar screen. They started before I ever even heard of Dr. J. They started before Celondieu got sick. They started eight years before E was even born.
We do not yet know how E’s story will end, but we are moving in a direction that is hopefully helpful. Dr. J. arranged for E to have a skin biopsy which will be examined in the US. Hopefully, we will be able to find out once and for all what is causing this malady. After a week in the hospital, E was released to the care of his family. He still has the sores, but he is stronger and much more comfortable now. It is our hope that we will have a course of treatment within a few weeks, under the care of a dermatologist and an internist. Hope for a solution is on the horizon.
The second story is a direct result from the guest blog post a few days ago. If you haven’t yet read it, please take a few minutes to do so. It is powerful.
Diana wrote about going with a young man to his house to pray for his family. While she was there, she noticed a woman with a large mass where one of her breasts should have been. She prayed for mercy. Over and over again, she prayed for mercy. After posting the blog, I knew I needed to visit the family. In all honesty and for a lot of reasons, I did not want to go, but I’ve been around long enough to know what conviction feels like.
The blog posted on a Wednesday, and by Thursday afternoon, I was at the family’s home. Initially, I wasn’t all that shocked by what I saw. I suppose I had prepared myself for it to be bad – and it is very bad – but I was in “what can we do to help this woman” mode.
Once again, I took pictures – concealing the woman’s face in an effort to protect her dignity – and posted to the medical group online. Because of the severity, responses started pouring in immediately. By Friday morning, I had a lead on a cancer program in Port-au-Prince who would be willing to see the patient. They would biopsy the mass and if nothing could be done, they could provide palliative care. Surely, that would be better than the few Aleve or ibuprofen pills that we gave out when asked.
As much as I had prepared for Thursday afternoon, I was not at all prepared for Friday morning’s visit.
I returned to the house to share our good news with the family – we could go to Port-au-Prince on Monday. We could use our truck and Tim would drive. Another missionary would be there to help us navigate the cancer center. The hospital would not turn her away and the services are provided free of charge. Finally, she could maybe, hopefully, possibly get some help and relief from her pain.
But the woman and her family said no.
They had been through enough.
They explained to me that since last November, M had been to many different hospitals including the big ones in Port-au-Prince and Mirebalais. Doctors performed biopsies and she’d had a mammogram. She saw a white doctor at one point, which is important to point out because it implies a higher level of care. He told her that it was not cancer. He didn’t know what it was – a mystery according to the family – but not cancer.
Unlike E’s story, it appears that we are too late for M. She feels that she is too weak to travel to Port-au-Prince to see another doctor. They told me over and over again that her body is falling apart, and she can no longer walk. The entire time we spoke, the intense pain she was feeling was evident on her face, in her breathing, and as she changed positions to try to get comfortable.
I lacked the words in Creole to adequately describe palliative care. As I told her, “The doctors have medicine to take the pain; they help you die,” I realized it probably sounded more like assisted suicide than comfort.
M’s father, who is aging and blind, told me over and over that they continue to pray that God will bring a “gwo mirak” – a big miracle. The entire time, I could not take my eyes off of this woman. Oh, me of little faith. While I believe that a gwo mirak is possible, I do not believe that one will happen inside that room unless I’m willing to change my definition of the word miracle. At this point, getting access to pain killers to help this woman die with comfort and dignity would be a miracle. I reached out to a Haitian friend to see if he could help me explain the idea of palliative care, but I can already see that for the family to choose this option means that they are choosing to believe that God can’t or won’t bring healing.
M’s story is most definitely near the top of the list of difficult things I have seen in our time here. For my own sanity/survival, I have to remember that this is not a first for the people who are of this world. On the contrary, it is a defense mechanism for surviving life in Haiti. We are only visitors here; they have to find a way to cope. And they cope better with difficult circumstances because they truly believe that everything happens because of God’s will.
Si Bondye vle. If God wants. In all things, if God wants.
Tim reminded me that those of us who come from the developed world have a utopian view of how life should be. Even as believers, we still fall victim to this way of thinking. We want sick people to have access to what can heal them, but what if earthly healing is not God’s will? We want people to be treated fairly, but who gets to decide what fairness looks like? We have a tendency to look at those near us and make those judgment calls ourselves, but we are only able to see a very small part of a very big picture.
I do not know what God’s will is in E’s life, M’s life, my life, or yours. What I do know is that His will is good and perfect and that our job is to be receptive and obedient to whatever He sends our way. In doing so, that is where we find His mercy.
“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
Update: M passed away on Sunday afternoon, May 8. I feel that God was merciful in her death since now she knows no pain. God gives and God takes.