By Sam Oester

Registered Nurse Paige Chamlis, of Virginia, performs a malaria test on a man in Pillette.

Registered Nurse Paige Chamlis, of Virginia, performs a malaria test on a man in Pillette.

We awoke early to start our journey, unsure of what the day would bring. Many in our group had not done medical volunteer work outside the U.S. before, and the morning was filled with expectant conversations. Our first stop was at the Haiti Hospital Appeal in Cap Haitien. Started in 2006 by a couple from the U.K., the hospital was originally set up as an OBGYN and pediatric facility. Since the earthquake, however, the area has been receiving a lot of refugees from Port-Au-Prince, and the hospital opened its doors to anyone in need.

Carrying supplies on the journey to the makeshift clinic in Pillette

Carrying supplies on the journey to the makeshift clinic in Pillette

As we arrived, the clinic building was about to start its day, as a crowd pushed its way to the front door, hoping to be lucky enough to get a ticket to be seen today. As heartbreaking as it is, the reality is that not everyone can be seen. “We see about 250 to 350 people a day,” said one of the nurses, volunteering at the clinic through FaithCare. “Because of supplies and staff and everything, we just can’t see everyone. I try not to think about it, so I can help the ones I can.”

Doctors and nurses in our group were taken around to see patients, only to observe the kind of care needed in the area, many with them returning with sullen faces. “If we weren’t ready before, we are now. These people need us,” said Paige Chamlis, a nurse travelling with us from Virginia.  Our destination today was Pillette, a remote area in Cap Haitien. The area does not have a medical facility, and many people there need care. We travelled through mud rooms into a jungle-like countryside until our transportation could no longer make it through. We carried backpacks and suitcases filled with medical supplies through the mud, rivers and streams, listening to baby screams from tiny broken houses, and occasionally being greeted by hopeful faces. “Does anyone even know to come here?” asked Chamlis, concerning our plan to set up a makeshift clinic in a small empty building at the end of the path. “If we can save the lives of a few people, it will be worth it,” commented Kristen Rumcik, another nurse travelling with our group from Virginia.

Nurse Practicioner Jennifer Schmidt, of Virginia, examines a young girl in Pillette.

Nurse Practicioner Jennifer Schmidt, of Virginia, examines a young girl in Pillette.

Worries were soon replaced with a sense of urgency as we approached the building, greeted by hundreds of people who needed medical care. Some had walked several miles and waited for hours for our arrival with the now muddy suitcases. We immediately ran in and set up shop. Some locals brought in a few benches and chairs from a nearby church, and we got to work. Doctors and nurses separated into different areas of the building, as I helped set up the “pharmacy” and “lab” – medications and testing supplies laid out on two benches. This room also served as the dentist – a small broken chair and a tiny table where a dental hygienist from Connecticut, Kris Beckman, had set up shop for the day. Hot hours flew by as patient after patient was seen by one of the eight doctors and nurse practitioners, while nurses ran back and forth, getting baggies of antibiotics and first aid supplies. The day seemed filled with infected tooth extractions, intestinal parasites and malaria. “You just have to focus on work, and not let yourself think about what happens when we leave,” Chamlis said.

Dr. Matt Green, of Virginia, consults with a patient in Pillette.

Dr. Matt Green, of Virginia, consults with a patient in Pillette.

Dental Hygenist Kris Beckman, of Connecticut, scrapes bacteria out of a man's dentures in Pillette.

Dental Hygenist Kris Beckman, of Connecticut, scrapes bacteria out of a man's dentures in Pillette.

Near the end of the day, the small amount of order that had existed vanished. Children and adults desperate to be seen began pushing through and appealing to me in Creole. Keeping the tears back, I had an interpreter explain the situation. We would see as many as possible before it was time to leave, but some people, who didn’t seem to have serious injuries or illnesses, would have to be turned away. Even as we walked away from the “clinic,” back down the mud path, medications were being pulled from backpacks and people outside quickly treated. This building would hopefully soon become an operating clinic, we were told on the trek back to our transportation, and I held on to that, trying to be comforted.

Certified Nursing Assistant Louise Ligas, of Virginia, takes a woman's blood pressure in Pillette.

Certified Nursing Assistant Louise Ligas, of Virginia, takes a woman's blood pressure in Pillette.

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