Dr Toni Bark; MD and Helen Gracie, CEO of Scenar Health, have volunteered on a medical mission in Haiti during April 2010.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

A Typical Day in Haiti on our Medical Mission

Each morning at 5 am, I would hear the dada's (male monks) begin to chant in their kirtan (chanting/meditation session).

I would get up and come down from the roof to make myself my one real luxury for the day; a cup of Okumidori sencha tea from leaves that I brought from my stash at home.

Once the dada's finished at 6 am, I would often head into the meditation room with my yoga block and mat and do yoga, if the room was occupied, I would head back up to the roof and do standing poses. I could see the locals getting up out of their tents in front of their homes. I would hear the vendors who would start yelling out their goods by 6 am.

At 7 am, our cook Shambu would set out the home made yoghurt, bread and granola, as well as set out the oatmeal he just prepared, and the chadique he just sliced (a type of grapefruit).

All the volunteers and the Haitian teachers who lived with us in tents would pile in the dining room to eat breakfast and to see if the internet of electricity was working. We often had one or two computers that would connect and we'd take turns skyping and checking emails. (the amount of kbytes used was controlled by the NGO, as the internet would shut off if they went over their limit).

By 8 am, our interpreters would arrive to eat breakfast and to help us pack our truck with our pharmacy and water. We often aimed to leave by 8:30, but often there were obstacles like; a broken horn, low fuel, someone needing a ride in another direction etc. So, most often, we didn't hit the road until 9:30.

We'd all pile in the vehicle, taking up all the seats, and we'd head over to the didi's (female monks), to pick up our nurse and her assistant, or another medical volunteer. Now, there were often 10 or 11 of us in a vehicle that seats 8.

It's a good thing that none of us were overweight as we were often sitting on each other and on the area between the two front seats.

The road was often unpaved and full of rubble as well as markets and tents. We'd part a sea of people that were just living their life; walking to work, buying produce, chatting with friends.

By 10:30, we'd reach our destination, and set up our clinic for the day; the area for seeing patients (often just chairs facing each other), the pharmacy (often a table placed on concrete bricks) and a tarp if there wasn't already one waiting.

People had typically already been given numbers, or they were in line, first come, first serve and then given numbers.

If there was only one physician (me), we'd only hand out 50 to 70 numbers, if we had a medical resident or another physician as we did in the first part of my stay, we'd hand out 120 numbers or so.

We always saw more than the numbers, as many adults took a number and brought 1,2, or 3 children with them.

The common complaints were pain syndromes from either crush injuries during the quake, or presumably from the emotional shock, vaginal infections that were often mistaken for STD's (sexually transmitted diseases) but were more often candidiasis,
scabies and coughs. I saw the usual asthma, migraine, diarrhea and gastritis patient.

But, occasionally, I'd see something very unusual like a patient with hundreds of growths on their skin and scoliosis (neurofibromatosis), or the 50 year old woman who had been pregnant for the past 10 years (embryolith or stone baby), a woman with a possible lepromatous growth on her foot, a young girl with bumps under her chin which turned out to be tuberculosis.

Again, the most common complaint was pain. Often, "full body pain" or FBP as we all coined it.
These patients would get treated by me and Helen, once she arrived, with the SCENAR reflex biofeedback device.

We helped everyone who complained of pain. They would leave our clinic with a smile on their face and without medications.

By 3:30 or 4 pm, we would pack up our pharmacy and clinic and all pile back in the car for our ride back home.

We would all be hungry, tired and hot, but this did not stop us from chatting and laughing the whole way.

On my first few days, we would listen to the music that was in the cd player; versions of "baba nam, kivalam", AMURT's chanted mantra. every cd had the same few words repeated over and over and over.

After the first three days, I could not listen to the same words and I told the driver he could put the radio on. He picked a station with rap. I rapped "baba nam kivalam" to the music, which put the whole group into hysterics.

We would arrive back at the compound hungry and needing bucket showers.

There were left overs saved from lunch for us; curried lentils or stewed beans, brown or basmati rice or polenta, freshly stewed vegetables with spices. I occasionally made seaweed salad to go with this as our raw greens. The food tasted excellent and Shambu's cooking was always appreciated.

The evenings consisted of bucket showers, popcorn and the few nights we had access to electricity, I hooked up my IPOD to
an amplifier and either taught a Haitian dance class to the surprise of the Haitians, or we all would salsa dance.

Most of us were in our tents by 9 pm.

I thoroughly enjoyed lying in my tent, listening to the pouring rain hitting my rain tarp and reading the steamy novel my sister Marla shoved in to my hand before I left. My other sister, Caryn also handed me a book for the trip, but I didn't really get to that one until the last few days. I was often too tired to read by the time I lied down and would just take in the surrounding noises for a while, once I had enough, I'd stuff ear plugs in my ears and roll over.

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