My Brush With Hatian Healthcare

We were getting ready to start devotions when one of the young guys came in holding his hand and obviously in pain.  I asked what the problem was and he said his little finger had got stuck in the door of a van and had been “torn off.”  I was dubious it had been “torn off” because I could see there was a finger-like shape underneath the bandage on his little finger.  I went ahead and asked him to take the bloody wrappings off so I could look at it and clean it.

Turns out the end of his little finger was torn off on one side, but still connected on the other side.  I figured the bone was ok, though it was hard to tell.  I rinsed it out, applied some antibiotic ointment, then bandaged it tight with gauze and tape and told him it would heal on it’s own, just change the bandage daily.  He said he was going to go lay down.  He was in a lot of pain.  There were some tears shed (by him).

About an hour later he came back and the thick bandage I had tightly put on earlier was totally soaked through and blood was dripping off his hand on the floor. 

I applied another bandage over the old one, this time even tighter.  I told him we should probably have a doctor look at it.  He agreed.  I went to get my stuff ready, and when I met him by my motorcycle about 10 minutes later, the new bandage was already soaked through with blood too and dripping.  So I went and got him a rag and told him to press it on the wound while I drove him to a hospital.

Before leaving our property I asked where I could find the nearest hospital.  We live by Croix-des Bouqets, so I figured that would be where I should go.  One of the other leaders confirmed there was a hospital by the Artisan Market in Croix-des Bouqets.  I asked, “Is the hospital before the Artisan market, or after?”  “Oh, it’s IN the artisan market.”  I was skeptical, having visited that market a number of times and never seen a hospital therein. 

When we arrived at the Artisan market I started asking around.  I was directed down a side street.  Then another side street.  Then through a labyrinth of neighborhoods.  Finally we arrived at a two-story hospital building.  It didn’t look open.  I asked stander-bys when the hospital would open.  Not today, they said, because this hospital has been closed a long time.  They directed us to a St. John’s Hospital back in town.

After navigating through Croix-des Bouqets and asking more directions, we eventually found St. Johns.  It was a beehive of activity.  Long lines were everywhere.  I walked in with Kelson in tow and was told to go to the pharmacy window.  There we cut to the front of the line, seeing as we had an urgent, bloody problem.  The lady behind the bars peered out and asked Kelson to take off his bandage so she could see it.  He started by removing the rag.  That was all she needed to change her mind and say they couldn’t help us at this hospital, we needed to somewhere else.  Where?  She said try St. Damien’s in the nearby town of Tabarre.  I was annoyed, but we left.

15 minutes later we arrived at St. Damien’s.  We were directed to the emergency entrance.  At the emergency entrance we were finally ushered into an area that had a sign saying “Urgent.”  This seemed promising, there were people milling about in pain, so I figured that was a good sign we were close to help.  In the emergency room where were sheets hanging up partitioning off beds.  A lady came over and began talking with us and looking at Kelson’s hand, but not removing the bandages.  About then I got a phone call asking me if I knew any tricks to starting my pickup truck because they were having a hard time getting it going.  After I finished troubleshooting those issues, I got off the phone just in time for the nurse to usher Kelson and I out.

“What did I miss?  Why are we leaving?”  I was annoyed.  Kelson (who speaks only a little English) told me they couldn’t help us here today and he wasn’t sure why, something about they didn’t have surgeons.  I was thinking, “We don’t need a surgeon, we just need a few stitches and a band-aid, he just closed a car door on his finger.”

In any extent, we were directed to yet another hospital, St. Luc.  Unfortunately, from there we were directed to Doctors Without Borders.  You might think that Doctors Without Borders would be located somewhere on a main street, but that wouldn’t be true.  It’s hidden in some back neighborhoods where you have to go through flooded streets to reach. 

By this point I was a little annoyed.  It’s wonderful Haiti has so many hospitals, but what’s the point if they can’t fix anything? Through this entire search I had poor Kelson on the back of my motorcycle in pain with a hand covered in soppy bandages holding a rag over it which was now also soaked with blood. 

At Medicen Sans Frontiers, we were met with a less than friendly entry man.  I couldn’t figure out where to go and he wasn’t helpful, so finally I raised my voice at him and asked where we were supposed to go to check-in.  He absently pointed towards a building.  That building turned out to have an emergency room, and unbelievably Kelson was given a bed.  A pleasant nurse came in, took off his bandages, cleaned up the finger and applied new gauze.  I noticed that almost immediately the new thick gauze was already permeated with blood again.

She told us to go get a number and wait in the waiting room.  We went to get a number, but they were out of numbers.  The numbers went to 100.  We told them they didn’t have any more numbers, so they said just go wait in the waiting room without a number.  I looked in the waiting room and it was quite the menagerie of suffering people on crutches, etc.

I had other errands to do, like visit the bank, so I left.  The first bank I went to had a line of about seventy-five people.  The line was stretching outside.  All I needed to do was deposit a check, and I knew they had an expedited line inside for that, so I knocked on the door and when the guard opened it I asked if I could please go the expedited line because I just had one little thing to do.  He told me to stand back and then…. closed the door on me.  So much for that.  I left the bank and drove to another branch.

At the other bank branch the line was even longer, perhaps 100 people.  So I gave up and went back to the bakery to eat lunch.  After a few hours, I headed back to the Doctors Without Borders hospital to see how Kelson was getting along. 

Upon reaching the hospital, I was directed back to an “Observation” room.  Many patients were in that room on gurneys lined up along the walls.  I found Kelson in a gurney wearing a hosptital gown.  His finger had a temporary cast on it.  He told me they were going to operate on it in a few hours… I was thinking, “Operate!  That seems a little excessive.” 

Sometimes here in Haiti it’s either overboard or underboard.  The first hospitals wouldn’t even look at him, which seemed underboard, especially considering he was bleeding in pain when we arrived and they are a hospital so I would think they could at least do first-aid. Now this hospital wanted to put him under the knife, which seemed a little overboard for having just closed a car door on a finger.  I was thinking, “How about a few stitches?”

That evening Kelson called me to say they hadn’t yet operated so he was spending the night.  But they didn’t offer food so he was hungry.

The next morning he called and said they had done some work on his finger during the night, about 1am.  Apparently they stitched it up and put a finger cast on it.  He said he was ready to leave.

I went to pick him up.  After an argument with the guard to let me into the hospital, I finally located Kelson.  He was still in the back observation room.  He didn’t look ready to go, especially as he still had an IV in his arm.  I was told they were thinking of keeping him there a few more days.  After waiting awhile I was told they changed their minds and were releasing him now.

Then I was called back to talk with a doctor.  He said the tip of Kelson’s little finger had broken off.  He showed me the x-ray on his computer.  In order to re-attach it they would need to put a pin in the two bones, he explained.  I couldn’t believe there was actually a computer in the hospital.  He said it would be a few days before they could get Kelson in for the surgery, and they couldn’t keep him at the hospital because there wasn’t enough room.  No problems, I said, and asked how much this operation was going to cost.  The answer was about $20 US.  That seemed inexpensive.  Especially since they hadn’t charged anything for the work they’d done already: cleaning, x-ray, and overnight hospital stay.  Yah for Doctors Without Borders!  Too bad the Haitian hospitals couldn’t be a little more on the ball too.

So that’s the saga for now.  I’m getting an education in Haitian healthcare, if nothing else. 

Finger x-ray

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