Saturday, February 12, 2011


Monday,  January 31, 2011

Dismal. That’s the best word to describe the living conditions I found today. Dismal. I’m not 100% sure of its meaning, but it feels 100% appropriate.

We were assigned to Afya today. Afya is an amazing foundation started by one woman that has positively affected thousands of people and their quality of life worldwide.  Afya is basically rehab.  Danielle, the founder, has gathered PT/OT supplies and educated Haitians as PT techs.  These techs are amazing and have learned an entire bachelor’s degree worth of information in a very short time.

First, we embedded ourselves in the tent city.  We traversed between sandbags and tents barely a body width apart.  We searched for residents in need of Afya’s help.  When people complained of joint aches, me made an appointment for tomorrow.  While we were scouring the tents, I occasionally put my stethoscope to use and listened to coughing kids.  Luckily all were clear, and must have been sharing some viruses.  It’s amazing that everyone isn’t sick with such close living quarters.

We returned to Afya’s makeshift clinic or rather, large tent and saw some patients that were referred to us from the day’s “cold calling” efforts.  There was a boy of about 12 who had a noticeable deformity in his leg.  His lower leg was bent at about a 30 degree angle outwards from his knee.  With the help of our translators, we found out that he had been running during the last rainy season and had fallen and hit his knee on a tree stump.  Our doctors’ examined him and showed the Haitian techs how to assess such a situation.  After assessing him, they felt that he broke his tibial plateau during the fall.  He never had it treated and now faced this deformity and handicap for the rest of his life.

To put this in perspective, let me tell you about the treatment I received when I broke my tibial plateau a few years ago.  I was ordered to keep weight off of it for 3 months and became a professional at crutches.  I also underwent MRI’s, Xrays, months of physical therapy and the discussion of a possible total knee replacement.  This child, with the same injury, has simply continued on with his life for the last 5 months.  Not to mention, his daily routine is much more strenuous than mine, with all the terrain he must conquer to get anywhere within his tent community.  It broke my heart and still brings tears to my eyes.  It seems so unfair, what gives me the right to walk unhindered while this innocent boy will likely limp for the rest of his life?

Danielle immediately decided that this child was not a lost cause and scheduled physical therapy for him 3 times a week.  She is amazing and has restored hope to so many.  She will inspire me for the rest of my life with her “nothing is impossible” attitude.

 Elaine demonstrating strength testing to the PT Techs

Attempting to dress a 3 year old surgical incision that had failed to heal properly.

Cecily instructing the techs on how to wrap a sprained ankle.

Then came the moment I will never forget.  Let me tell you about “Mami”. Mami is an 80 year old woman who was pulled from rubble two days after the earthquake.  We found her outside her tent, sitting on warped plywood. It’s very difficult for me to describe her position.  She was sitting awkwardly, somewhere between supine and side lying with her legs straight out in front of her.  She was groaning, as pain seemed to be suffocating her.  We refilled her dwindling supply of the OTC pain meds after inspecting her to rule out an acute injury.

I then went inside her tent to inspect her living conditions.  This 80 year old woman who spent two days trapped under a building was sleeping on a cot, using clothes as a mattress!  Clothes!  Just stuffed in there so maybe she wouldn’t feel the metal rods supporting her.  It was atrocious, appalling and unforgettable.  Luckily, Danielle has a fierce “get er done” attitude and sprang into action.  She quickly put together a must do list:  new mattress, a handrail, and a strap attached to the wall to help the woman pull herself up.  Danielle also made plans to build steps to replace the haphazardly stacked sandbags providing entrance to her tent.  Previously, this woman’s faithful children were carrying her in and out of her tent.  From a bed of clothes in a sweltering tent to a decrepit piece of plywood in tropical heat.  What a life.

I walked away with an immense awe for Danielle and Afya. Danielle knew that it would be impossible for Mami to go to the clinic for weekly therapy, so she set up home visits for her.  I know I sound like a broken record, but Danielle’s inspiration is never ending.

I was pleasantly surprised by the tent’s condition when I got up close.  They are very tidy and even more surprising, don’t smell.  I’m not going to lie, I was afraid to breathe, but when I did, I didn’t smell anything foul. How do they do it?

After a day like today, we all felt the need for a good wind down back at base. So Ira, a volunteer from Israel, held a belly dancing class. I was able to summon my inner Shakira and shake it.  Although, I’m sure that is not what it looked like.

I really am enjoying the diversity of the people we are staying with.  I love the accents, I love the attitude and I love the openness.  It’s humbling to say the least.  

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