Part 4: The Final Chapter of Our Voyage to Haiti and Our Return To Petit-Goave

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Petit-Goave, Haiti–Almost a Year To The Day We First Arrived Here In 2010 

This is the overdue final chapter of our voyage from Honduras to Haiti, bringing supplies for the cholera relief and personnel for a string of clinics and villages along the north coast.

Sky clerking in our first patients

After our repairs in Kingston were complete, all that remained was to chomp on the bit while only 40 miles away on the north side of Jamaica’s Blue Mountains a series of storms swept down the Windward Passage and collided with a SE swell across our path.  At the first day when the swells and wind subsided, we left Kingston at first light and made all speed for the Windward Passage.  Once we got out of the shadow of Jamaica, we encountered the most disorganized sea I’ve ever seen—in the space of five minutes we would encounter  NE, SE, W, and N swell…thank god the wind had died or it would have been a horrible bathtub; as it was it was merely uncomfortable until we ghosted into the protection of the Bay of Haiti and at last dropped anchor in Petit-Goave, the first place we ever went for a mission…almost a year to the day that we first arrived in Haiti.

An hour after we dropped anchor, in the dead of night, our first friend from Petit-Goave,

Carrying our clinic bags back to the shore from our Fort Liberte clinic

 Aniel, came out in a canoe…the next day, we saw dozens of people we knew; we went back to the DesGranges clinic and saw Meomene and ‘Cheeks’ and the kids who were there when we left.  The two schools we built are now surrounded by larger concrete structures in mid construction; a larger future school sponsored by Korea, I think…but when we walked up to our little schools, each one was packed with kids and classes were in session as they have been since we built them.  That was a great feeling…the pharmacy we cleaned and reorganized, and the day patient treatment room and the minor ops room were all organized and cleaned as when we left, and more rebuilding and expansion was still going on.  We left a box of supplies for Dr. Cutler, an MD from L.A. who we arranged to go out ahead of us last year and who is returning to Petit-Goave to volunteer again this year—I think he actually arrived yesterday, as a matter of fact.

A scene from the past...on our way to our first shore clinic 18 hours after arriving in Petit-Goave

It was so different arriving here this time…amazingly, most of the rubble had been cleared, and most of the tents crowding every street were nowhere in sight.  Some houses had been rebuilt (in concrete block without much rebar and suspect cement), but we saw hundreds of wood frame and tin roof one-room structures, on new poured concrete foundations from (apparently) a Swiss-led European consortium.  More commerce was happening, some small businesses had reopened, and the central park was clear of tents and refugees. 

I admit, when we left Petit-Goave after witnessing both the massive problems the

The only catch we made trolling in Haitian waters...a bag of used maxi pads

 Haitians wake up to every morning and the effects of much of the relief efforts after the earthquake, I was not expecting the level of improvement that we saw. My journey to Port-Au-Prince to drop a volunteer off at the airport, however, was much more depressing…a city imploding on itself, with little visible progress over the past year of funds and relief being poured into it.  Petit-Goave’s determination to pull itself out of its downward spiral it gave me a renewed hope for Haiti, a hope that I could see in the faces of all of our friends and the new people we saw.

Ultrasound revealed cholecystitis (gall bladder); antibiotics and analgesia given

The best moments for me came during the mobile clinics we ran, on the beach at Fort Liberte and in the ruins of an old French fort back from the coast a mile or so.  I saw babies that I had ultrasounded 8 months ago and were born while we were away, patients showed me their thin scars where large machete wounds used to be…when I pulled onto the beach in the first load (two trips in the skiff from the boat to our clinic), the kids in the village saw us coming and ran down the beach yelling ‘Sky?!  Rachel?!’ and we were surrounded by everyone we knew and treated in the mobile clinics last year.  We wormed everyone again, handed out thousands of vitamins, and saw the usual litany of problems great and small—but we saw one patient in our first mobile clinic–less than 18 hors after we arrived–that made the whole 38 days of struggle and travel to get to Haiti worthwhile. 

In the little enclave of cactus on the shore west of Petit-Goave, sitting in the same spot

There are worse waiting rooms

 that we did our very first ever mobile clinic as Floating Doctors, we saw a 6-day old baby with an eye infection from Chlamydia or gonorrhea (or both) acquired during birth.  This is a very serious, time sensitive problem–a few more days untreated and scarring develops, blinding the child forever (and cross infection and blinding in the originally uninfected eye are very common).  We treated the mom and dad and used several days of rigorous cleaning and washing, and antibiotic eye ointment, and the greatest moment of our return for me was watching the pus-filled swollen eye lose its swelling and turn clear—just a few more days and the baby would probably have been blind forever. 

Crew shot at the dock in Kingston 3/17/11

It’s not about saving the day, or being a hero…it’s about timing.  It’s about being there, and being available as a resource to people who have no other options.  A single patient treated at just the right place and just the right time to prevent a lifetime’s worth of suffering for a baby already born into a hard existence.  If we had not been delayed by bad weather and bad fuel on the way from Honduras to Haiti, we would have arrived and departed Petit-Goave for Cap Haitian weeks before the baby was born…and when we finished working around Cap Haitian and returned to Petit-Goave, we would have found a blind 1 month old baby.

Life tends to unfold on schedule…not always the schedule I want, and most of the time I never get to know why things happen just the way they do.  But sometimes we get a glimpse of a purpose…sometimes what we endure in life makes sense after the fact, and every moment of struggle and frustration and discomfort and fear during the voyage here suddenly became a price I would pay a hundred times over if it meant being able to be there at that exact moment with everything necessary so that baby will get the chance to grow up with both its eyes working.  

Dr. Holly saw the baby and when I wandered over to investigate and the problem became

We strip excess packaging from what we bring aboard; this is the total trash generated from a clinic with 80 patients (including ultrasound and two small surgeries)

 clear, I though “Ahhhhh….so THAT was why we had to go through that crossing.”  If we saw not a single other patient there are people who would say the journey was wasted…the old numbers game; people always want to know how many patients seen (over 5,000 so far), how many vitamins (over a million given away so far), etc…and those numbers are important in making sure the investment of resources is not ‘wasted’…but when I get a patient like that baby, the numbers become meaningless and that one patient becomes, for a moment, your whole reason for existing at all. 

To that baby and her parents and to me, it seemed pretty worthwhile that we were there and equipped to help…and we see hundreds of people like this, whose paths cross ours at crucial moments when only a small intervention is necessary to change a life forever.

And with each such patient, our lives are also changed forever and a memory is created that I know I will playback to myself many years from now when my adventuring days have ended and smile and wonder how that little intervention in time played out on the world’s stage ove the years.  I’ll likely never know–the years-later effects of what we do aren’t ultimately up to me, but I’ll always remember that we were able to help give people a chance at better lives and futures, and no one will ever be able to take that away from us.

Sunset behind us as we ghost east in the bay of Haiti on our final leg to Petit-Goave

All patient photos used with patients’ consent.  Please click on any image below to activate the slide show viewer.