After almost a day and a half of air travel, Mandy and I finally made it to Haiti to meet up with Dr. Annette Bosworth and her crew. During the flights, I could not help but wonder how useful we would be for the medical aspects of this trip or if we would actually use all the medications we packed earlier. Packing up the medications was truly a journey in itself because I have never encountered such a massive order all at once. It was a slow but steady process because we had to unpack the bulk shipments, assort the medicine by type, and pack everything in buckets, army bags, and boxes. As we sorted through the various medications, we saw many variations on a theme: basic health care. We mainly saw medicines for cholesterol, diabetes, and heart health as well as vitamins and a huge amount of various antibiotics. From here, we wondered what other serious health issues were problematic for Haitians. This was when Taylor, who has been in Haiti for over a month now, created the idea of fundraising for a worms vaccine because it affects numerous children and adults alike in varying degrees of severity. Before we left South Dakota, we were able to raise $1,830 which will enable us to provide 183 vaccines. We are hopeful that we can treat all 183 of those people before we leave at the end of the week and even more hopeful that we can continue to fundraiser and provide more medical help for Haiti in the future.
Upon arrival to Haiti, we were both exhausted but relieved to see a few familiar faces at the airport, Chad and Taylor, to help us load up the four 50-lb bags of medications into the tap-tap. A tap-tap is basically our version of a taxi except you pile as many people, bags, or even animals as you can into the back (and on top) of this pick-up truck. Seeing these tap-taps and other vehicles driving around Haiti is unreal. I thought driving in rush hour around Sioux Falls was hectic, but it cannot even compare to the close-proximity, fast-paced driving down here. It feels like every driver is going 80 mph and coming within 2 inches of other vehicles and people.
While driving through Port-au-Prince, Taylor and Chad told us to look around and ask questions about anything and everything we saw. Something they pointed out right away were the pharmacies which are bright green buildings – I’ll talk more about my first visit to a Haitian pharmacy a little later in this post. Besides the assortment of colored buildings and street vendors, another thing I noticed was the drainage system which, right now, is basically cement ditches filled with garbage. When there is a tropical storm of some sort, these ditches fill up and carry the water away from the buildings into a drainage river—filled with garbage, sewages, and who knows what else.
My “shining” moment in taking blood pressure readings
After all of our travels and a full night of rest last night, we were able to go to a school today and connect with the teachers’ and other staff members’ basic health needs in hopes that we will be able to return later in the week to treat the children. Mandy and I helped check each person’s vitals—their blood pressure and temperature—so that Dr. Bosworth could have a general idea of where to start with every person’s treatment. This was a really neat experience because I had never actually taken a blood pressure reading before Mandy taught me how to use the stethoscope this morning. Mandy even joked around with me asking if I ever considered being a doctor instead of a pharmacist because I was pretty lucky in finding people’s pulses right away.
A typical Haitian pharmacy
Another awesome experience from today was when I got to go with Chad to a pharmacy to pick up some basic pain medications and worms vaccines. Chad said that this particular pharmacy was very impressive—it was one of the nicest ones he has ever been to. This pharmacy was probably no bigger than my living room back home. After working at Hy-Vee for the last two summers as a pharmacy technician, it was fun for me to see how this Haitian pharmacy was set up. Like many U.S. drug stores, this pharmacy had essentially everything you needed whether it was toothbrushes and mouthwash or ibuprofen and Tylenol. One thing Chad told me was that going to pharmacies in Haiti was like playing a guessing game because you never knew if they would have what you were looking for or even if they had enough of what you wanted. After picking out half of what we came looking for, we had to figure out prices. The Haiti economy is interesting because they use both U.S. dollars and Haitian dollars. This is where a translator comes in handy because, right now, the only words I understand in Creole (basically a French derivative) is “merci” which means thank you. While I am here, I hope that I can pick up on a few more words and be able to perhaps have a small, broken-Creole conversation at a pharmacy.
I look forward to the rest of my stay here in Haiti and cannot wait to step outside the box even more in these hands-on medical experiences.