Since my family has moved around so much, I am not attached to rigid holiday traditions. I have celebrated with lots of people in lots of places--last year I was in Vietnam. This year's Thanksgiving, though, was one I couldn't have imagined in my wildest dreams. I spent the day attempting to be a nurse in a packed cholera ward.
Wednesday morning, when I put my scrubs on for the first time, Mom told me I looked like a nurse. I said that this was a problem, because if I look like a nurse people think that I actually am a nurse--something so far from the truth that it's..well, false.
Since arriving in Limbe on Tuesday night, I have learned the proper proportions of an oral rehydration serum, how to change IV bags, and how to repeat "bwe!!" (drink) over and over again. I usually do the latter as I move from patient to patient--whether they lie on a bed, a cot, or the floor--find their bottle of oral rehydration, and help them to sit up and take a few sips. After that, I berate the patients' family members (if they have them), telling them with my vocabulary of 3 words to help the patient drink!
Most of the time I feel extremely inept and incredibly ridiculous. One of the most frustrating things is not knowing the language, so all I can give are blank stares to the people constantly telling/asking me things I can't understand. Another frustration that is not just mine, but everyone's, is the lack of supplies and infrastructure for dealing with this crisis.
If the thesaurus knew what it was talking about, it would list "chaos" as a synonym for crisis. No matter how well prepared an institution is, a situation such as the Haiti cholera crisis will push its stability over the edge. And the Ebenezer Clinic was not well prepared for this. Prior to cholera, the clinic was an outpatient clinic--it didn't have any hospital beds. Now it has close to 80 patients laid out all over the building set aside for cholera--and on the front porch and under the tarp ouside.
And they keep coming. When we came, the clinic was averaging 25 new patients a day. Yesterday, there were 47. Sometimes it seems incredibly random--a person who was almost dead when they came in gets better relatively quickly and someone who seemed to be getting better crashes and dies.
If Mom and I grow weary, it's nothing compared to the doctors and nurses who have been working like crazy for three weeks straight, since the first cholera case came in. They are tired, but show impressive endurance.
Yesterday, Nancy, wife of Steve, the doctor we are staying with, made a traditional Thanksgiving supper. She hadn't been sure whether or not to make it, in light of the crisis. But she did, and her reasoning was that it's necessary to take quiet, joyful times in the midst of the chaos to recenter. Otherwise, you start to think that cholera is all there is in the world.
So even after my unusual Thanksgiving Day activities, we sat down to share a meal, to talk, to laugh. And then we woke up in the morning and put our scrubs back on.