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Communiqué #103


to the PEOPLE of HAITI

May 11, 2013

S A V O R     L I F E !

Cinco de Mayo has come and gone.  For those of Mexican heritage it holds one meaning.  This year for me, it held another.  It was on this day, less than two weeks after my return from the USA, that I discovered a lump in my breast.  Quickly, one can start looking at life in a whole different light!  I weighed the best-case scenario and the worst-case scenario and started thinking about how this could suddenly change my immediate future.  Knowing that both sides of my family have a breast cancer history and knowing the health care system in Haiti is not equipped to treat cancer, I started formulating some plans.   Restless sleep that night found me at my computer sending out emails to start the wheels in motion.  My first step was to see if my Haitian doctor was in the country and if he could see me in the upcoming week for an initial exam.  His reply was “yes, he could” and “no, there is not a mammogram facility in LesCayes”.  My next email was to the Betty Ford Center in Grand Rapids MI to connect with the nurse, who has so compassionately cared for me for the last several years, to see what kind of time frame there would be for state-of-the-art technology to best evaluate what was going on.

Knowing that my first step was to have an initial exam by my doctor here, Léon and I left for our scheduled trip to Ile-a-Vache the next day, where we would remain for the next three days.  I welcomed this time away to reflect and pray.

I marveled on the boat ride over how quickly I started to see everything in a new and different way.  Suddenly, I was looking through eyes that may be seeing these sights for the very last time or not for a very long at the least.  I savored the various moments, reflecting on how this is really how I should have viewed life all along …. Savoring it! Drinking it in! The glassy, smooth sea seemed especially calming to my soul.  The craggy stone cliffs and cliff-side caves seemed to be even a more beautiful work of God’s hands!  The pale aqua island water and the yellow-white sand of the beaches seemed even more majestic.  The welcome of the school and orphanage children seemed even more precious.  The feelings of what a privilege it has been to have worked in this “back in time” community for a number of years resurfaced. The awe of the simplicity of life displayed itself when I walked past grass homes and when I visited a home where a one month old baby lay on the floor on a grass woven mat in a room that’s only other “furnishings” were a couple of sticks, a broom and a machete. The evening sky jam-packed with a myriad of stars shining in through the open doorway of my guesthouse bedroom held even more awe than before.  The brisk ocean breeze whisking through the guesthouse gave an even more refreshing result.  I thanked God for yet another chance to experience all of this!  I bottled up these memories in case I needed to pull them out on an especially difficult day in the future.

Home on Ile-a-Vache

Home on Ile-a-Vache

1 month old baby girl

1 month old baby girl

I had time on Ile-a-Vache to have leisurely devotions and to pray.  I did not pray for the final results to be negative, but rather I prayed that whatever the results were that God would give me the ability to deal with the results gracefully and to bring praise to Him through it all.   I so admire people of faith who have been able to do this and I wanted to be able to mirror that amazing attitude!

The time on Ile-a-Vache went quickly, but it had given me time to call my daughter to discuss the different steps that needed to take place.  It also gave me time to think about what things needed to be put into place here in Haiti if I were to be absent for several months.  The work here would need to continue, with or without me.

We returned to LesCayes midweek and on the first morning after my return, I went in to see my doctor here.  He recommended that I go for a sonogram at the General Hospital right here in LesCayes.  Haiti does have some perks to offer in the medical field.  As it happens here, one can see the doctor, get a sonogram, receive the results in one’s own hand and return to the doctor for a final diagnosis all in the matter of less than three hours.

When I arrived at the General Hospital, I had to first appear at the cashier’s office to pay the fee for the sonogram.  I then walked to the building where I would be seen and was directed to the location of the office, but was told that I would need to have a seat until the technician arrived for the day.  As I sat in the open air waiting area, I had to chuckle when a chicken flew (Yes! Flew!) through the middle of a section of chairs where I was sitting.  Certainly this is not something I would see back home in Michigan!   After a bit of time passed, a woman appeared, she unlocked the heavy metal door and went in.  Another patient who was waiting moved from the seat behind me to the seat in front of me.  I have learned in Haiti, waiting your turn is not protocol, so I immediately got up and went right into the office to assure that I would be seen first since I had been waiting the longest.  Alas! The woman explained to me that I had the wrong office and the woman I needed to see would be in shortly, a few doors down from where I had been waiting.  I repositioned myself in the waiting area before I noticed that the office door where I was supposed to go was ever so slightly ajar.  Hmmm!  I decided to check it out.  To my surprise the technician was there and I had no idea how long she had been there.  I was pleased to find that the room was actually air-conditioned.  The beautiful young Cuban woman greeted me with a smile.  We would soon discover that our conversation was going to be very interesting.  She spoke a little Kreyol, even less English and lots of Spanish.  I speak some Kreyol, even less Spanish and lots of English.  We laughed and muddled our way through our conversation.   I could figure out that she wanted me to get undressed and to lie down on the table.  I learned a bit about her training in Haiti and her upcoming return to Cuba and a little about her family.   The exam table was covered with a clean, but stained cloth drape.  No tear-away disposable tissue covers here.  The technician fiddled with the machine when the paper recording tape jammed and ended up needing to be re-filled.  A short time later, a small black and white photo printed onto the paper tape.  She tore it off and handed me part of a scrub gown to remove the exam gel from my body.  While I stood next to her to get dressed, she hand wrote the results on a piece of paper and neatly folded it.  She searched for a larger paper to “make an envelope” out of and inserted both the tiny photo and the report into it and handed it to me.

Sonogram photo

Sonogram photo

With the report in hand, I returned to my doctor for his diagnosis.  He stated that he believed that I had an inflammation of the tissue and a possible infection.  I was given a prescription for two medications and an appointment to return to him in 10 days.  He was quite certain that I was not dealing with cancer, but would do a repeat sonogram if he still had reason for concern.

I proceeded to the pharmacy where my prescription was amazingly filled at the first place that I tried.  So often, one has to visit two or more pharmacies to find either the medicine or the quantity of medicine that one needs.

I ran two more errands while I was in the city before returning home to tell Léon the good news.  It came as a relief to both of us.  It was only then, that Léon tugged on the tag of my blouse.  It seems that ever since getting re-dressed at the hospital, I had been running around town with my blouse inside out!  Oh brother!  I guess I needed another laugh for the day!

Haiti definitely has its health care challenges.  The USA definitely has an array of technologies far beyond the comprehension of those living in third world countries.  But again, I need to chuckle when I relay to you the cost of my “day at the doctor”.  Doctor Visit $14.   Sonogram $12.  Two Medications $8.

A few days have passed, as now I reflect back on the fragileness of life and how quickly one’s life can take a turn.  I pray for those whose challenge with cancer is reality!  I pray that I can savor each of life’s moments more than I have in the past … for I am truly blessed!

Nora Léon                    

Missionary to Haiti & the Dominican Republic            Until next time, God willing …………

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