Column and photos by Samantha Oester

Early Tuesday morning, we pooled our money together to see what medications we could purchase from a pharmacy before heading to St. Anthony’s Clinic in the Prolonge area of Cap Haitien. St. Anthony’s Clinic, built in 2008 under the donation of Virginia residents Bonnie and Mike DelBalzo, had been receiving an influx of patients from Port-au-Prince since the Jan. 12 earthquake. A large crowd was awaiting our arrival outside the small building, and an uproar ensued upon seeing us muddy and wet, carrying medical supplies.

Carrying medical supplies to St. Anthony's Clinic in Prolonge.

Carrying medical supplies to St. Anthony's Clinic in Prolonge.

We immediately set up and tried to instill some level of organization, but sick and injured children and adults, desperate for care to stay alive, pushed their way through, pleading and clawing at me. I and another volunteer kept the crowd away from the tiny rooms, so patients could be treated. Children clung to my legs crying, pointing at their mouths and stomachs as I fought back my own tears, arms outstretched to block the doors. Among the chaos, Nurse Paige Chamlis was trying to fight the crowd to check everyone’s temperature, blood pressure and injuries, so the sickest would be immediately seen. “This girl has to be seen now!” she shouted above the crowd, as I held out my arm, pulling the girl through the human blockade of patients. An elderly woman, who had been standing in front of me with her granddaughter, slapped me for letting the girl through. I tried to explain to no avail – the interpreters were all busy with the doctors and nurse practitioners, where they were needed most.

Nurse Practitioner Jennifer Schmidt, who helped found St. Anthony's Clinic, checks a young patient for intestinal parasites.

Nurse Practitioner Jennifer Schmidt, who helped found St. Anthony's Clinic, checks a young patient for intestinal parasites.

A teenager, Peter, came through the crowd with his niece to help. He spoke English very well, and told the women pulling at me that the girl was very sick and needed immediate attention. “They love America, I don’t want you to think they are angry,” Peter said. “But they are worried about their families. We have seen so many people die.” I told him that I understood. Wouldn’t I do the same to save my child’s life? And I’ve been made well aware of their love and respect for the U.S. – I am approached several times a day by people wanting me to know that they love the United States. They are so appreciative of the care and donations they receive, and normally very peaceful. This continued for the rest of the day – the sick and the injured pulling at my arms and legs crying while I blocked them from the medical care they needed and ran from room to room with medications. I kept telling myself this was necessary to save lives, but I couldn’t help feeling like the evil gatekeeper, holding back the ill from their medicine.

At the end of the clinic, it was estimated that the two doctors and one nurse practitioner, being aided by nurses, had seen 150 patients. The tiny “clinic” served as a hospital – many patients, had they showed up to a doctor’s office in the U.S., would have been taken straight to a hospital’s intensive care unit. But all they had was the clinic and us.

We packed up and trudged back through the mud to our transportation. Our next stop was Justinien Hospital.

Nurse Paige Chamlis takes the temperature of a young girl.

Nurse Paige Chamlis takes the temperature of a young girl.

According to Dr. Maklin Eugene, a Haitian physician who works at various clinics and hospitals throughout Cap Haitien, the hospital was also receiving a lot of patients from Port-au-Prince, some of them walking the entire 80 miles to receive care after the earthquake. Many nurses in our group, their first time on a medical trip outside the U.S., became sullen. They had put on a strong face through the chaos all day, but this hospital was too much. Injured babies in rusty cribs, limbs hanging by a thread being held together with tape and ace bandages, broken bones splinted with cardboard, surgeries being performed sometimes with little or no anesthetic. “I am trying to make it better here, but it is very hard,” Eugene explained. Just before we left the hospital, Dr. Matt Green, traveling with us from Virginia, unloaded the rest the casting supplies, splints and lidocaine he had carried with him and handed them to the nurse in the surgical center. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” she said, thrilled with glassy eyes. We left the hospital, exhausted and emotional.

A mother using a nebulizer breathing treatment on her little girl under the care of Nurse Practitioner Jennifer Schmidt at St. Anthony's Clinic.

A mother using a nebulizer breathing treatment on her little girl under the care of Nurse Practitioner Jennifer Schmidt at St. Anthony's Clinic.

A baby being treated at Justinien Hospital in Cap Haitien.

A baby being treated at Justinien Hospital in Cap Haitien.

A boy with a severely injured arm from Port-au-Prince being treated at Justinien Hospital.

A boy with a severely injured arm from Port-au-Prince being treated at Justinien Hospital.

A baby with a head injury from Port-au-Prince at Justinien Hospital.

A baby with a head injury from Port-au-Prince at Justinien Hospital.

A premature infant born at Justinien Hospital.

A premature infant born at Justinien Hospital.

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