Ralph, an interpreter from Cap Haitien, assists an eye exam.

Ralph, an interpreter from Cap Haitien, assists an eye exam.

Column and photos by Samantha Oester

We piled on the bus early this morning, along with Haiti Marycare and VOSH International, and started toward Jacquesyl. The clinic in the Jacquesyl countryside, frequently visited by Haiti Marycare, is a working clinic that regularly sees patients. The medical team in our group planned to set up shop there, increasing the number of patients that could be seen that day, and offering any new treatments the staff physicians may want to learn.

Optometrist Dave McPhillips, from Pennsylvania, examines ayoung girl's eyes in Jacquesyl.

Optometrist Dave McPhillips, from Pennsylvania, examines ayoung girl's eyes in Jacquesyl.

I headed to a nearby church with the VOSH team and Kris Beckman, a dental hygienist from Connecticut, along with her aid-for-the day Certified Medical Assistant Louise Ligas. As we approached the church, people swarmed to the bus. Eye and dental care are even rarer than medical care, and our presence filled the atmosphere with anticipation. Men from the crowd immediately helped carry the large bags of eye equipment and glasses inside, where we were greeted with hundreds of expectant eyes. Soon, the mini clinic was up and running, as more people rushed in.

Jennifer Schmidt, a nurse practitioner from Virginia, consults with a young patient and her mother at the clinic inJacquesyl.

Jennifer Schmidt, a nurse practitioner from Virginia,consults with a young patient and her mother at the clinic inJacquesyl.

Poor vision and eye injuries and diseases were diagnosed and treated, while infected and decayed teeth were extracted across the room. So eager to have their eyes checked, the multitude of patients gathered closer and closer, pushing and shoving, sometimes causing an uproar, as people feared they would not be seen. At several times in the day, Ralph, an interpreter from Cap Haitien, assisting the eye exams, had to break up fights over seating. “No one wants to be left out,” Ralph explained. “They don’t usually get to have something like this.”

While he was settling a group of people down, enraged over a woman cutting in line, I stopped a second to think. Something as simple as an eye exam was so precious here, it caused brawls inside the church. I couldn’t imagine going my whole life being terribly nearsighted, and waiting in line to see the world for the first time.

Certified Medical Assistant Louise Ligas, of Virginia, helpsConnecticut resident and Dental Hygienist Kris Beckman extract awoman's infected tooth in Jecquesyl.

Certified Medical Assistant Louise Ligas, of Virginia, helpsConnecticut resident and Dental Hygienist Kris Beckman extract awoman's infected tooth in Jecquesyl.

At the back of the church, Beckman was preparing a syringe of anesthetic to pull a decayed tooth from a local woman. “You know how much a toothache hurts,” Ligas lamented. “Imagine having completely decayed teeth for months, or years. It hurts to get it out, but you can tell they are so relieved when it’s done.”

I walked outside for a moment, after watching the tooth removed, and met a young man. He spoke a little English, and told me he was from Port-au-Prince. His family died in the earthquake, and he made it to Jacquesyl to stay with his grandmother. “My school in Port-au-Prince, it went down,” he said. “I really want to go to school in Cap Haitien, but I can’t.” I then learned that he had been treated at the clinic by our group, Jennifer Schmidt and Paige Chamlis. “We’ll be back tomorrow,” I said. “We’ll talk.” As the day came to an end, we announced we would be returning the next day, and made our way to the bus. We headed for a commune nearby, the Center for Formation, so we could start early the next day. As we drove off, smiling faces chased us, and people wearing their new sunglasses and glasses stood on their porches, waving.

Advertisements