encouragement in the face of death

Yesterday was the first time I saw someone die. And the second time. One of the people was a young boy and the other was a girl around my age.

Today was another long, tiring day at the cholera clinic. Toward the end of the day we got a double (triple? quadruple?) whammy when a little baby and her littler baby sister came in. After some lightning IV action on the part of the awesome Haitian doctor, we got these two little ones moderately stabilized and then started asking questions. Turns out, their mother was a woman who was already lying on a cot in the hallway in bad shape (Mom had put an IV in each arm when she came in) and their father was a young man who had died our first or second day at the clinic. Talk about sad stories.

But, shockingly, I came away from today feeling very encouraged. Every day, we get into a slightly more organized routine. That is to say, the clinic has progressed from the complete chaos that follows a crisis to some level of semi-organized chaos. And each baby step is a joy to see.

This morning, for example, the head doctor was waiting for us when we arrived at the clinic. He was upbeat and told us that, "Today we are going to be scientific!" He proceeded to outline a patient evaluation procedure--something that sounds basic, but which we had been improvising thus far.

I also think that we (when I say "we" I am referring to Mom and me and a Canadian doctor-nurse couple who came at the same time as us) are getting more competent and confident. We are getting used to the symptoms and Mom, Sandy, and John have all become fairly proficient at starting IVs, something they refused to do at first.

But some still die. The line outside seems never-ending sometimes. The doctors wish they could practice the level of medicine they are used to. It seems like we are constantly on the verge of running out of supplies. We get frustrated with families who don't take care of their patients.

Immersed in this crisis, it is easy to start chanting my own version of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, "Cholera, cholera, everywhere/ And all the IVs dried up;/ Cholera, cholera, everywhere/ Nor any hope for health."

But it's not true. We are sending a lot of people home. It's awesome to see people you drag in unconscious one day smiling and bright-eyed the next. It's amazing what some fluid can do for a dehydrated person.

And we continue to be impressed by the staff who have been doing this for going on a month and still remain quite up-beat. When the Ebenezer Clinic chose to treat the first little boy who came in with cholera, it was actually making a much bigger choice--the choice to open its doors to a flood of mortally sick people. And because of that choice--and even though it is not perfect--it is saving lives.

On the first night we were here, Dr. Steve said something like this: "We are trained to practice perfect in an imperfect world, but when we try to do that, we miss the good."

So when cholera is overwhelming and I feel useless, I have to look beyond cholera and myself and remember to look for the good. And it's always there. Whether it's a patient going home, the forever-calm Dr. Brinvert, the very serious looking father who wears a shirt that says, "Bad Ass Girls Drive Bad Ass Toys," or the old blind man with his neon-orange sunglasses.

**All that being said, Haiti is definitely not out of the woods as far as cholera is concerned. And the Ebenezer Clinic needs lots of help to do what it's doing. If you would like to help the clinic with cholera relief, please contact me for instructions about how you can do so!**

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