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Communiqué #058


to the PEOPLE of HAITI

January 21, 2009

The harshness of life in Haiti is evidenced everyday. In the last few days alone, two tragedies were brought to my attention. The first involved a young mother who lives near the boys’ orphanage. She strangled to death her 3 day old infant. The neighborhood rumor mill reports the young mother killed the child because her current boyfriend was not the father of the child and he did not want the child of another man. Similar scenarios happen throughout the country to children of peasant people. Many times a woman here must depend on a man to provide her a home to sleep in and food to eat. If the man threatens to walk out on her, the woman will take drastic measures hoping to insure that she will still be provided for. Sadly, this way of thinking many times backfires because the man eventually moves on to another woman anyway and leaves his old girlfriend with one or more of his babies. Now, rather than having just herself to think about, she needs to find a way for her AND her children to survive. It usually means she gives herself to yet another man who will repeat the cycle.

The second case was brought to my attention when I was touring the general hospital with some of the members of a mission team. The father of the baby spoke enough English to strike up a conversation with one of the Americans. He proceeded to follow the group throughout their tour, until we stopped long enough for him to engage me in a conversation. With him he carried a set of xrays. The xrays showed that his 2 month old son had a broken leg – not a slight fracture, but a complete break. He was distressed because no doctor was available to see his son. Upon questioning about when and how the break happened, he was very evasive and could not recall the date that the injury occurred. Already a picture was forming in my mind, that the break was a result of abuse by the mother. When I learned that no one was attending to this child, I called a local doctor, hoping that he would see the child. The doctor was out of town and referred me to an orthopedic doctor at a private hospital. Our little group had arrived at the hospital on foot, thus taking the baby to another location meant walking there. I asked one of the missionaries to carry the baby, as the father was awkward in his handling of the broken leg. I wanted the broken leg well supported as we traveled over uneven and rocky roads. Upon arriving at the second hospital, we learned that the orthopedic doctor only comes to the hospital one day a week on his work rotation throughout the country. He had been there earlier in the day, but had already departed for the next village. It would be one week before he would return. No one else at the hospital had any expertise in the setting of a broken bone. We were, however, given the address and telephone number of a Cuban orthopedic doctor who lives in town and is usually on duty at the general hospital. I then had to make arrangements for a vehicle to transport the baby, the father and me to the home of the doctor. An old beaten up white pickup truck arrived, with only fumes in its gas tank. No gas was available at the gas station, due to our continuing saga of lack of fuel. I handed the driver the equivalent of $25 US. He was able to find a gallon of fuel being sold on the side of the street in a plastic jug. He returned to the hospital to pick us up. The baby and father sat in the cab of the truck, after first offering me that seat. Refusing, I rode in the bed of the pickup that chugged and sputtered and stopped more than once on our search for the house of the Cuban doctor. After a failed attempt of locating the correct house, we were given directions to the home where the doctor resided. Barking, growling dogs met us at the gate, along with a Down’s Syndrome child who was being whipped by an elderly man for being disobedient. We filed down a narrow passageway to a home located in the back of the property behind other homes. A rock was used to rap on the metal door to get the attention of people inside. A large Hispanic man answered the door. So here we have a Creole-speaking man, an English-speaking white woman and yet another man speaking Spanish! Quite the combination! We were offered chairs to sit in on the small porch of the home. As the fussing child teetered on the lap of the father, we used the combination of the three languages to try to explain why we had come. The xrays were given to the man at the door and he asked us in a rude manner who had told us the location of this home and why did we come to bother him at his home. After we explained that we were desperate for the baby to be seen, he closed the door and went to talk with others in the house. A second man returned with him and they explained that the doctor we wanted to see indeed did live at this home but that he was very, very sick. Could we not understand that he was too sick to see patients? He demanded that we return to the first hospital and find someone there to put the baby’s leg in traction until the doctor could return to work in a day or two or three or four! We reiterated that there was NO ONE at the hospital that would even touch the baby, as they had no expertise as to what should be done. He did not care. He essentially sent us away telling us to seek help at the emergency room of the hospital. With no alternatives, we left the home and once again carried the baby who had not eaten or drank anything during this whole event into the emergency room of the first hospital where the complete saga was retold to the nurse on duty. She was sympathetic to our story, but told us that realistically it could be up to a week before the baby would be treated. The mother made an appearance, but held the baby indifferently, never offering to breastfeed the hungry child. The father was offered the choice of remaining at the hospital with the baby or returning home with the baby and coming back on a future day. The only other hope would be for the nurse to contact another orthopedic doctor from a far away hospital to see if he would see the child. This would mean the father would need to hire a driver to take him and his baby to this faraway location to the hospital that is known to be a better hospital, but also a much more expensive one. Even the transportation was more than the father could afford, so considering the additional fees for a more expensive treatment seemed a virtual impossibility. The father made the choice to wait it out at the general hospital. I returned home, in the dark, riding in the same pickup truck that I now realized had no working headlights!

The father showed up the next day at the church compound where I live. He had come to ask me if I could pay for the cost of transporting and treating the baby at the faraway hospital. I told him that until I knew how much money it would all cost, I could not give him a definite answer. I told the father that I would pay at least some of the costs, but I could not commit to how much until I knew what the actual bill was. He made the choice of finding a way to this third hospital.

A few days later, I was told that the father had returned and he had the baby with him and he wanted to speak to me. I found him with the baby in a cast. The cast completely covered one leg, and covered the thigh of the other leg, and was halfway up the torso of the child. The broken leg was stabilized by a small tree limb embedded into the full leg cast and anchored into the cast on the thigh of the other leg. The stick was then covered with the white plaster material that engulfed the whole contraption of a cast. It seems some doctor, I do not know which one, showed up at the hospital and had taken care of the child. The father now handed me a stack of bills, explaining that in about one month another xray would be needed to determine how well the bone was healing. What a saw before me was a man desperate to help his child, even though the mother did not want to be any part of this child’s life. How sad! What kind of future will this little guy have? At least this parent chose life over death as a way to solve the current problem!

The last week has been filled with sick baby news. The baby of my last communiqué is scheduled to go to Port-au-Prince for the long awaited CT Scan. But I was informed that the machine is still not working. Another baby will see a US Doctor who is coming to the LesCayes area. She has a condition that normally requires the amputation of a limb or two. This doctor has performed a similar surgery that successfully saved the child from amputation, but proved to be a very delicate, difficult surgery.

Please pray for all this babies and their families! If they live or if they die, the family is faced with a difficult life ahead! Only God can make sense of these hardships!

Nora Léon

Missionary to Haiti & the Dominican Republic Until next time ………….

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