Four special months in Haiti – an experience for life

by Felicitas von Gaudecker,  2010/12/14

Besides the reports about ongoing riots in Haiti, Felicitas von Gaudecker tells us about the situation in the country from another perspective. She has been working in the capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince, as a physiotherapist for four months. At the “Hospital of Hope” she has been practising the use of prosthetics with her patients and has contributed to healing even the worst bone fractures. Before starting her journey back home, Felicitas wrote a report about her humedica mission, about touching, wonderful and sad moments.

One of the patients Felicitas has become particularly fond of: young Marie-Yolaine, with an external fixator applied to her lower leg. Photo: humedica

“When in July 2010 I decided to go to Haiti in order to work as a physiotherapist for humedica, I probably had only some vague ideas about what my work would be like.

Now, the four months in Haiti have passed unbelievably fast and I can hardly imagine going back to Germany in a few days and return to “normal” work there, and deal with things like for example paperwork or work according to fixed appointments.

The time I spent here, has definitely enriched my life and I have learned a lot. I am glad about all the experiences I could gain and the people I have met.

It has been a very intensive, sometimes quite exhausting, but still a very special time for me, which I would not want to miss. I would definitely do it again. And I am sure that I will come back to Haiti someday.

Of course, working with the patients has been different from my work in Germany in many aspects. For example, when do you work outdoors in Germany and treat patients under a large roof in case it is raining?

There were numerous moments that made me unbelievably happy. In particular it has always been a special moment for me, when the patients were finally recovered enough to leave hospital. Of course, for the patients this also meant that they had to take over responsibility for their lives for the first time after several months.

Some of them had to find a place to set up their tent first, and some were afraid of an uncertain future and had mixed feelings about leaving us. But when they finally were ready to depart, with radiant and proud smiles on their faces and their few belongings packed and ready, it also meant a great success for all the teams that have been here and contributed to making this dismissal possible by means of their work during the past few months.

We are going side by side with our patients on their way to recovery. Photo: humedica/Ruth Bücker

You could also see that our patients were happy to stand on their own feet once more. At this point I would also like to thank my four predecessors in the field of physiotherapy, who have set up an excellent basis for me to work on.

Those who have found a new home not too far away from our hospital, still came back to attend to our out-patients therapy; many of them were prepared to travel a long and difficult way, which is something most patients in Germany would probably not be prepared to do.

In the meantime, there are no longer as many patients as at the beginning of my mission and therefore I had the time to work more intensively with some of them.

When I arrived in Haiti at the beginning of August, we had twelve in-patients who were accommodated in tents on the hospital grounds. Now, only three of them are left, and in the meantime they no longer live in tents, but they have their own room in the “Hospital of Hope” that has been refurbished and reopened recently.

I have experienced the patients’ ups and downs and I could learn a lot of them. It is true and comprehensible that sometimes they needed motivation and support and needed to be encouraged to participate actively in the therapy which often meant some pain for them, but nevertheless, most of the time they overcame momentary setbacks and looked ahead with a positive attitude.

Immediately after my arrival, it had been hard to motivate Melicienne in particular, who had been at our hospital since the earthquake in January. She struggled substantially due to an over-knee amputation at one leg and a fixator [note: a device for fixing broken bones] at the opposite lower leg.

In many cases Felicitas had to motivate her patients, in order for them to participate actively and consistently in the partly painful exercises. Photo: humedica/Ruth Bücker

When we could finally remove the fixator, and she was allowed to put full weight on the leg after a long time of waiting and doing painful exercises, she made immense progress within only three weeks and she started to make concrete plans for her future.

She has been living with her mother and brother for two months now. After her dismissal she even thought more intensively about resuming her medical studies.

The past five weeks have been an intensive time due to the cholera epidemic, riots and the elections, and once more I realised how well-off we are in Germany and how many things there are we simply consider to be matters of fact.

Now I am going to leave Haiti soon, and it will be hard on me that I won’t be able to experience how my patients Emmelyne, Marie-Yolaine and Michelle will finally get rid of their fixators. It would have been a great closure to my work if I could have been present for this event.

But still I am happy about what the three of them have achieved during the past months and that they are fighting on. I am glad about all the experiences I have gained here and I will leave the island taking a lot of special impressions with me.

With kind regards from Port-au-Prince,
Felicitas Gaudecker”

Please continue supporting our projects in Haiti, with the objective of giving the people new hope by means of sustainable relief measures. You can support us via our online form, via sending a text message containing the reference DOC to +49 8 11 90 (you will be charged 5 euros, with 4.83 euros of this amount being directly channelled into our relief projects) or by means of making a donation to the account below:

      humedica e.V.
      Donation reference "Earthquake Haiti"
      Account 47 47
      Bank Code 734 500 00
      Sparkasse Kaufbeuren

Thank you very much, dear Felicitas, for your commitment for the people in Haiti. Photo: humedica/Ruth Bücker

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