Wednesday, May 30, 2012

First day in Milot, Haiti!  It's been a long, very very hot day but I could not be more excited.  Thank you for MIT VPN.  Otherwise I wouldn't be allowed on blogger!

Yesterday I flew in from Newark (good ol' NJ) to Fort Lauderdale for the night.  I had my "last" meals of everything - burger and fries for lunch, salad for dinner.  Dinner was interesting to say the least, I felt like I should've been wearing a smoking jacket and puffing a cigar in this seafood restaurant also attached to an outdoors store.  Plus, there was the Fishing Hall of Fame which Julian was unusually excited about, as well as the fact that they offered birthday parties and adult programs, whatever that means.  On the menu included fried alligator (top left) and conch fritters (bottom) which my colleagues chose to try:
 I can't vouch for the alligator but the conch fritters were actually not too bad, but they had a weird, squishy texture to them.  They kind of tasted like the ocean, but not like the way oysters do (and now this is making me crave Neptune Oyster.... so far away).  There was also dolphin on the menu, hoping that was mahi-mahi (Florida people, confirm for me so that I'm not sad people eat dolphin)!

After savoring the last American meal, we headed off to bed to wake up at 4:00 AM to make it to our 6:30 AM flight to Cap-Haitien, Haiti.  We hit a snag in the very first leg of our journey... the pilot was trying to pile in the luggage, hit his head, and got a concussion.  He insisted on flying the plane but thankfully someone had the sense to tell him no.  So, we ended up being delayed 2 hours to look for another pilot.  Surprisingly, the flight wasn't too bad for being a 30 seater plane with luggage stored on the same plane.

Under 3 hours, we made it to Cap-Haitien!  From the plane, the country was beautiful with mountains and greenery that you just don't see in the US.  I'm pumped to do some hiking with the other people in my group.  We're seeing this building called the Citadel on Friday which I think is 1000 feet above sea level and the only thing Milot really has to offer (in the words of our coordinator), 6 AM hike!

 All of us, around 12 or so, squished into this van which was air-conditioned.  I basically savored every moment of that.  Even in the heat, we were all really excited to have actually made it.  We've been planning for Haiti for so long, so it's just hitting us that we're here.
 There's me and my giant hat of course.  This may be the best that we will look for the next 7 weeks.

We arrived at the medical compound, where I'm staying with one of my classmates, Amelia.  We'll be shuffling around the compound as other rotating medical teams come in.  We're the ones staying the longest (7 weeks), whereas most volunteering American physicians come for 1-2 weeks.  For a 3rd world country, I was so surprised at our facilities.  They're really amazing, and something I hope I don't take for granted.   I'll post more pictures later as the weeks progress of our compound, but we have cold/hot showers, filtered water, beverages (Coke, Sprite, Prestige -- the only Haitian beer).  I am sparing my liver and not drinking any Prestige for now.  As a Diet Coke addict, the Coke is slightly unfortunate but really, who am I to complain?  The meals here are surprisingly very delicious but somewhat heavy so I try to limit my food intake.  Plus, it rotates every 4 days so in 2 weeks, expect me to complain about the food!  My power bars and peanut butter will only last me so long.  Wifi is great, fades in and out sometimes but I wasn't really expecting much access so this is amazing.

We then got a tour of Hopital-Sacre-Coeur, the center of Milot essentially.  All the markets are basically situated outside the hospital because so many people are there, and they know American volunteers come.  But, from the short interactions I have, they seem friendly and somewhat used to the constant influx of American physicians and medical volunteers.  Above is the lab facility where they do blood tests, etc. which was astounding to me.  They can do so many different types of tests.  I'll be in this room a lot since I have to incubate my water samples in the lab's incubator.  I have no complaints because... IT'S AIR CONDITIONED!  Hallelujah!

Above is the NICU.  About 8 babies were in the NICU which was really sad, especially one premature baby struggling.  But, I would say it's fairly well equipped and something else that really impressed me.

They changed one of the rooms to be completely devoted to deliveries so they wouldn't take up room in the ER.   Even though all these things were amazing, there's this dichotomy.  There is some incredible technology from donations, but at the same time a lot of it is underdeveloped.  I haven't even scrubbed in on surgeries or shadowed here yet, but I was shocked that people come to the hospitals at 7 in the morning to see a nurse or doctor, wait the entire day until the afternoon which is devoted primarily to lab and radiology results.   It's an all day excursion for them, and some people will walk for days to get to the hospital.  It's absolutely remarkable.  The staff can all speak French, some English.  It'll be a challenge but I'm hoping I'll adapt and pick up words here and there.

I'm excited to rotate through the hospital and get started on my project.  My project seems to be morphing a little, but essentially it's two-fold: First, I'll be taking water samples from wells, dugwells, etc. that people take for water and assess them for E. coli and other bacteria.  Diarrheal illnesses, as a lot of you know, are really devastating for people in developing nations.  We're hoping that by getting an idea of where the contamination is, we can make recommendations to an NGO that my PI works with on where to build new wells.  Second, I'll be doing an assessment on how local Haitians (both in Milot and the rural villages) feel about safe drinking water - how much water they drink, if they treat their water in any way, if they think it's important etc.  Then we'll hopefully be educating the community health agents in little workshops how to use chlorination and solar disinfection to make their drinking water safe so that they can educate their communities.  We're unsure how this will work since we don't have all the supplies for this and will need to find a local supplier of things like clean plastic bottles.  Finally, there is a cholera ward in the hospital, usually about 3-5 patients a day.  We're hoping that after they are discharged from the hospital, we can follow up with them and ask where they get their water and if they sanitize it, kind of like before.  Cholera's expected to worsen as the rainy season comes, so the health officials here really want to know if there's a trend in contracting cholera.

Celtics-Heat game on in 5 minutes!  Probably can't stream it, but even all the way in Haiti, I'm rooting for my boys to BEAT THE HEAT.

And for those who have reached the bottom, thanks for reading this ridiculously long post.  I miss everyone back in the States so much, so please please please email me with updates on your lives!