It was another proud day for our Lamp community.
Yesterday I worked with our medical staff in Port-au-Prince at our newly refurbished, freshly painted, ancillary health center in a zone just outside Cité Soleil, an area called Klèsin (CLARE-seen).
On our way to clinic, the normally ebullient and cheerful commute with our Lamp staff, a commute that often finds me laughing after just a few short blocks, one marked by nurses ribbing doctors for this or that, people scrunching together to see the latest Tik-Tok video, or bragging about their children and sharing photos on their phone – that commute was instead subdued, anxious even. As our driver pulled out into the street, I saw two young men on the sidewalk ahead of us look in our direction, then head into an alley. I was sure that they were going to jump on a motorcycle, and pull up alongside us to force a ransom. In my brain, truck drivers and taxi drivers became stooges for street gangs. Women selling clothing or vegetables or soap or phone chargers, or anything else, were surely spies for gangs, phoning them of our whereabouts.
But such was not the case. Despite traffic patterns that make Grand Central Station at rush hour look calm and orderly, thanks to our driver Anglanès, a sturdy brick wall of a man with great street knowledge and some of the fastest reflexes I’ve ever seen, and who has never had an accident with our van in his more than 10 years of navigating the daily commute, we arrived without any incident.
I inspected our spruced-up spaces, and chatted with Damas, a community health worker whose smile never leaves his face for long, save times for serious talking. This was such a time. Damas thanked me for coming, and said that he was grateful that Henry and I had made it there, despite what he knows are particularly risky times for foreigners and nationals alike. He knew that the other staff were grateful too, and that they were aware of the risk. He said that they understood why we choose to continue with this work.
Too, Damas said that we needed to pay attention to outside friends, who would warn us if we needed to pack up and leave abruptly.
Patients, already lined up to be seen, were from Cité Soleil, and another area known as “Maïs Gaté”, a very densely populated (think not quite, but approaching, Tokyo subway cars at rush hour) area not far away. Uniformly the patients were effusive in telling us how glad they were to have a place to go for care. And provide care we did. Three doctors working in sync, our nurse midwife seeing pregnant patients, nutrition counseling and treatment underway, and our pharmacy and labs running smoothly. One such woman, 69 years old with a bad heart condition, reported that it had been a year since she was able to access any care at all. I treated another very thin and ill appearing young man for
pneumonia, who told me that he had no money and nowhere else to go.
With the hot sun just past its peak in the sky, Dr. Metellus came into my exam room to announce that we needed to leave, quickly. “The streets aren’t safe anymore today” he said. I finished with the patient I was seeing, and along with the others, helped to shutter our clinic in a matter of minutes.
Riding in the van was a replay of our earlier trip. Anglanès, his eyes darting everywhere, his mind anticipating, his brow furrowed pensively, skillfully navigated the streets, always leaving space to maneuver the van, somehow avoiding traffic jams, and depositing each of us safely home. The day, a single day for me, but a way of life for our patients and staff, has left me on edge.
“This place has blessed me” the young man with pneumonia, looking weak but bolstered, told me as he was leaving our site, a week’s supply of medication in hand and a cure for his malady in clear sight.
I know how he feels.
And I hope that you do too. Despite these ongoing and often immense challenges, we continue to walk alongside, and we ourselves feel bolstered. We continue to ride in the van with, and somehow feel calmer through that community that rides beside us. We continue to care for, to talk with, to share cellphone photos with, to smile with those whom we see as our extended family, and gradually that vision of extended family becomes real.
Thanks as always, for joining us on this journey.