Noticing life among the ruins

by Anne C. Schmitt, 2010/06/07

Since January, humedica has been sending more than 140 persons on a mission to Haiti in order to provide the victims of the earthquake with medical care. Doctor Anne C. Schmitt from Oldenburg is one of the humedica team members currently treating patients in Haiti. In her report she describes her first impressions and the need to rethink.

Doctor Anne Schmitt on her way to surrounding villages together with local nurses. Photo: humedica/Anne Schmitt

“I have been in Haiti for only one week now, but to me it seems much longer! I quickly got used to the conditions we are living in – sleeping in tents, Dixie toilets, tarantulas and eating beans and rice. I also got used to the surroundings which are marked by poverty, collapsed buildings, dirt and debris.

And also to the people who, all things considered, seem to get along quite well. They are rebuilding their lives among the ruins, and during the short time I have spent here I have already met many friendly and cheerful people. But of course I also heard of many terrible fates; but perhaps I should start telling the story from the beginning.

After a long journey we arrived in a hot and loud country on the last day of May, and the first trip to the humedica accommodation was – as far as I believe – a kind of culture shock to all of us, no matter what we have already seen and experienced before.

But I soon began to notice the life which is re-establishing itself among the ruins. Although the large building which had once housed a hairdressing salon has collapsed, there now is a small tent in front of the ruins where people meet in order to have their hair and beards cut. The same is the case for shops which have been moved to the streets.

I work in Leogane, a town which is located at only seven kilometres from the epicentre of the earthquake and had been hit severely. Together with other relief organisations, the humedica team is living there at a kind of camp site. We are running mobile hospitals here in cooperation with Johanniter-Unfall-Hilfe and one more relief organisation.

A waiting area for patients with a makeshift protection from sun and rain. Photo: humedica/Anne Schmitt

Every morning we drive to different villages or to the newly created tent cities and consult patients there. Our “treatment room” mostly consists of a table containing our pharmacy with all our drugs, a chair for me and another chair for the patient.

I work together with one or two local nurses and my interpreter. The interpreter is very important, since the people in the villages mostly speak only Creole.

As we have not yet managed to find or build roofed treatment places at all the villages, the number of patients varies and depends on the weather. If it starts raining, we unfortunately have to cancel our consultation; rain in Haiti means real tropical rain showers and you get soaked to the skin in a matter of seconds. But we are working constantly on improving this situation.

On average, we examine 100 to 150 patients per day and diagnose all kinds of different diseases. We frequently treat children suffering from helminthiasis and often from severe malnutrition. These kinds of disease are most prominent in the tent cities, since the people who found shelter there have lost everything they had – and often also the small patch of land where they had grown some crops.

Our consultations are also often attended by people who were injured during the earthquake, but have not yet had the possibility of receiving medical treatment. Many symptoms which have appeared after the earthquake, such as headaches without a clear reason, insomnia or unspecific pains, can be categorised as post-traumatic stress syndrome – such as can the fear of many people to enter closed buildings.

In order to help also people suffering from such symptoms, we are cooperating with a psychosocial project. The fact that many locals do hardly ever mention the word earthquake is another clear sign of shock. Instead, they prefer speaking of January 12 or of the event.

From Oldenburg to Haiti: for a period of four weeks the doctor is working on an honorary basis for humedica in Haiti. Photo: humedica/Anne Schmitt

On a whole, I had to rethink to a large extent. You need to be very flexible and able to adjust quickly in order to handle conditions which change on a daily basis. But there are some things which easily compensate for that: for example the laughter of the children when I first tried to speak Creole, or the cooperation with the locals who will stay here and continue the work of humedica and other relief organisation.

I would like to send greetings to my home country and to thank you, dear friends and sponsors of humedica, for your continuous interest in the work which can be done in Haiti.

Kind regards,
Anne Schmitt”

Please continue to support our work in Haiti with a targeted donation to the account below:
      humedica e.V.
      Donation reference "Earthquake Haiti"
      Account 47 47
      Bank Code 734 500 00
      Sparkasse Kaufbeuren

Please also donate online in order to support medical care in Haiti or contribute to our work by means of a text message:
send DOC to the abbreviated dialling +49 8 11 90 and support us with a one-time donation of 5 euros, with 4.83 euros of this amount being directly channelled into the humedica project work. Thank you very much.

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