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A Dose of Haitian Medicine

October 16, 2012


What would have been a restful night was interrupted several times by the aggressive rummaging and brawling of rats in my room.  This is a new problem in my current accommodations.   The mice I can tolerate; rats are over the top.

I dragged myself to the market to look for rat traps, but could find none.  I will have to get them in Saint-Marc on Monday.

My nose has cleared somewhat and my ear is unblocked.  However the body pain has intensified and I am very weak.  It is difficult to walk.  With Olivier’s help I moved a few things to my new home, but for the better part of the day I lay in bed.  That is something I almost never do.  I have no appetite and the prospect of food is nauseating.



I awoke with plenty of time to get ready for church after a night with far less rat activity.  Determined to make it to the service despite the pain I was in, I proceeded at a leisurely pace until I looked at the time on my phone and saw that it disagreed with my laptop clock by over an hour.  According to my phone and the small battery clock I have, the service had already started.  I resigned myself to not being there and decided I would still make the trip to Montrouis for my usual Sunday meal at what has become one of my favourite restaurants.

To my surprise, when I got to the restaurant, it was just opening.  The young man I spoke to told me food would not be ready until 10AM.  I looked at the time on my phone; well after 11AM.  He showed me his phone and I saw it was 9:30.  I had plenty of time to make the short walk to church.

To my disappointment, most of my close church friends were not there.  A large mission group from Georgia was taking the service.  I know everyone has personal preferences, but the style was not to mine.  The worship leader very much over-amplified his guitar, making it difficult to hear his singing.  His backup singers, without microphones, could not be heard at all.  The two hour and fifteen minute service consisted of 2 hours of singing, about 2 minutes of generalized prayer, and a 10-minute sermon.  After over an hour of constant standing, I succumbed to my pain and sat down.  I know that attending church is not about my preferences and perhaps I shouldn’t complain.  But what I have come to expect and enjoy about our regular services is much more congregational participation, and messages that always have a lot of “meat”.  But each to his own, I guess.  A time to be gracious.

After the service I went back to the restaurant.  The meals there are always very good, but tend to be quite variable in what they offer as side dishes.  My favourite is their barbequed chicken.  Along with that there is always bannan frit (fried plantains) and a small serving of pikliz, the piquant Haitian condiment I have come to love; in my opinion it’s good on anything.  This particular restaurant puts a lot of radishes in it, making it outstanding.  Most times there are also french fries and always a couple of slices of tomato and some iceberg lettuce, somewhat stronger flavoured than what we get in Canada.  Very occasionally rice and beans is included.  Today they outdid themselves.  The chicken was accompanied by an unusually large serving of bannan frit, tomatoes and lettuce, a huge serving of pikliz, a heaping side of rice and beans, and a bowl of Creole sauce to spoon over it.

By the time I got halfway through the meal, I was stuffed.  I asked the waiter to pack up the remains of the meal for me.  As soon as he brought back the package, I noticed a boy of about nine or ten who had sat beside me as I waited for a table (the restaurant was packed with a visiting mission group).  He mentioned he was hungry (totally expected here) but was not pushy.  When I saw him again I knew what I needed to do.  I gave the rest of my meal to him, and bought him a bag of water.  It was not something I thought about, but rather an instant decision to do what is right.

My only disappointment was that the Coke/Pepsi war has apparently reached Montrouis.  The restaurant now serves exclusively Pepsi products.  Those who know my taste in soft drinks will be aware this is a very big deal to me.  Coke rules!

After my meal I noted that most of my pain was gone, and that my nausea had disappeared.  I suddenly realized that I might have stumbled on the source of at least some of my discomfort since I returned.  Having been travelling under less than optimal conditions, as well as being exhausted and suffering cold symptoms, the prospect of eating had become very unattractive.

When I got home, Olivier dropped in on his way to Port-au-Prince.  He is determined to get his passport, and was going to assemble the necessary applications.  He is no longer focused on going to the United States or Canada, although he has not given up that dream entirely.  He tells me that he has a friend who is working in the Dominican Republic as a mason.  This friend told him there is a lot of relatively well-paying work available there.  I recently heard from a Canadian friend who goes on regular mission trips to the Dominican that the country now imports many Haitians to do the work that Dominicans do not wish to do.  Such a familiar story—orchard workers in the Okanagan from Mexico, so many Mexicans in California and Texas that the American government now admits that their economy would collapse without them, Haitians transported to Cuba to cut cane.  Here in Haiti the well to do consider it beneath them to do any manual labour, relegating it to the poor.  It brings to mind Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s observation, “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.”  Slavery is not gone; it has merely changed it’s clothing.

I just thought of something that might be of interest to some.  When Dr. Felix came to collect me at the airport he brought a nurse who works in a cholera clinic with him.  She told me that the incidence of cholera over the summer has been very low.  Presently she was treating only two patients.

In the evening I took the inverter for my solar panel system to a friend to have it repaired.  In my absence someone had crossed the polarity while connecting it, and fried some of the electronics.  Afterward, some of my friends came back to my house for a visit.  One minute I was sitting on the step talking to them, the next I was lying on my back looking up at some pretty concerned faces.

I was told I was unconscious for a couple of seconds.  Word spread like wildfire, as it always does here, and in a very few minutes a couple of my students arrived and checked my blood pressure.  It was very low.  I called Judy Douglas, my dear nurse friend from Vernon, and she took me to the local hospital.  There I was checked out by Dr. Petit-Frere, a physician who is one of the instructors at our nursing school.  I was admitted to hospital and put on an IV.



Earlier in the day it was expected I would be going home.  However, shutting down the IV produced a drop in my blood pressure.  Lab tests revealed other problems, not terribly serious, but calling for attention.  Therefore I will spend at least another night.

Judy was very conscientious in seeing to it that I got the best care possible.  Evens brought me supper and my laptop.  Dr. Felix was by twice to see me.  Dr. Gaudy had recommended an ECG, but there was no one here who could do that until Saturday.  Dr. Felix arranged for me to have one done tomorrow morning by a very prominent internist, and will be here at 7AM to drive me to the appointment.

I am unquestionably in good hands.



I saw the internist and he determined that there are no immediate concerns with my heart.  I returned to the Pierre Payen hospital and picked up my prescription; the hospital pharmacy had none of what I required, so I will have to pick up the meds in Saint-Marc.  I checked out of the hospital and went home for a few days of rest (at Dr. Felix’s insistence).

I found it amazing that the internist came in, saw me and then left his office, the waiting room full of patients, to attend to other things.  Dr. Felix said none of those waiting would be seen today.  There are simply nowhere near enough doctors here to meet the need.

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