Friday, June 24, 2011

Haiti Health Clinic: A New View of Health Care

Part of our work here this summer is listening, observing and telling the stories of the people and parts of Christian Friendship Ministries. Our dream is to find ways to improve the good work that has already been started and to provide funds for more resources. The following is a sketch of a recent visit to the clinic in St. Raphael with Pastor and Madame Louis.

When I walk toward the clinic a crowd of people – maybe 20 – are waiting outside. The clinic is located on the far side of the school building on the property in St. Raphael. It consists of three rooms. The first is a kind of waiting room set up with rustic wood benches with backs. These are lined with people – young and old – who have come today seeking help for their ailments.

I ask one woman with sun-weathered face how she is today and she matter-of-factly explains that she’s not too good and that’s why she is visiting the clinic today. I’m really not sure what to say to her.  I try my most sincere Kreyol words, “I will pray for you.” And I did immediately.

Continuing through the clinic there is another small room which contains a front desk like in the U.S. People check in here and are given numbers. Then they are called into the patient’s room one by one. One of the faithful older ladies from the church helps out at the desk. I recognize her right away and she greets me with a cheek kiss and a broad toothless smile. She exudes a warmth, a hospitality toward me and these sickly patients. I’m grateful she is there.

One young mother waits with her sick baby. The little girl is dressed in Sunday best with ribbons in her hair and scuffed white shoes.  She is beautiful with her sad eyes and it takes everything within me not to grab the sick child and rock her to myself. It’s a mother moment, I suppose.

Suddenly, I am back in downtown Fresno in a MediCal doctor’s office. This waiting room is perhaps twice the size but in the same way packed with mothers, concerned looks fixed on their faces as they clutch their crying children with sniffly noses and swelling fevers.

I am a foreigner in this place as I timidly walk in with my two healthy children gripping my hands. We sign on our names on a dirty spiral notebook list. We are number 26. I ask about our 10 o’clock appointment. The nurse grins at me, “We don’t really do appointments here,” she says. You have to wait your turn.” I explain that I really am only here for a prescription for a summer trip to Haiti. She nods as if to say, “Sit down.”

I am humbled.

I don’t know why I think I’m special or I should be given the right to skip ahead in line. I can only think about all these sick kids packed into this room breathing the same air and what my girls might pick up if we stay too long. It’s selfish, I know.

I muster up a few Spanish words and the kind mother next to me explains that the wait is on average two hours in this place. I cringe. Other friends have told me this is what public health care entails. I know I should be grateful but it’s hard. I miss our comfortable Peachwood doctor's office in north Fresno from a few years back. Let's just say it's not on the MediCal list. I am acutely aware of how different the haves and have-nots experience health care.

Soon I am back in St. Raphael, Haiti, peeking in the door of the clinic’s third room where patients are seen. Madame and Pastor Louis are seeing patients today. They wear white lab coats, dress the part. The people are so trusting and grateful toward this couple. They administer the clinic here twice a week and then twice a week in Pignon in between running just about everything else in this ministry.

The clinics were started by Grandma and Grandpa Bell (my husband's grandparents) when they first moved to Haiti in the late '40s. Grandma Arshaloos writes that the clinic happened by accident. "A lady came to our door with a deep sore on her forehead asking us to give her something to heal it. We brought out our family medical kit prepared for us by Peter, my pharmacist brother, and through trial and error we discovered the cure for it....We threw ourselves upon God and made our meager medical supplies available to them. The Lord worked miracles in the selection and application of the medicines for the different diseases."

Through the years, Grandma and Grandpa gained more experience and eventually a Haitian doctor came to help them with the clinics. Louis was also trained through the years and in turn trained his wife to help the people. 

Today, the medical supplies are piled on a table in the corner. All of these are bought with Louis’ own money. Pills, ointments, bandages for all occasions – tools for healing in this place and covered with a host of prayers.
An older man sits before Madame Louis. She takes his blood pressure and then listens to his story about an ailing foot. He pulls back a pant leg to reveal a crusty foot with white bumps. I look away.

I can't help but think about how Pastor Louis and his wife are the real heroes. They sacrifice their time and funds out of giving hearts. This clinic is simple.  They give out over-the-counter medicine. They might bandage wounds or pull teeth. They dole out sound advice and comfort young mothers. The true miracle is that neither Louis nor his wife have ever been seriously sick.

I will remember this scene, this place, when I return home. I will remember when I’m tempted to complain about long spells in crowded waiting rooms. I will remember when I show my insurance card and see a doctor for no extra cost. I will remember.

For more details about the Health Clinics that are part of Christian Friendship Ministries or a chance to donate, see

No comments: