13 April 2010

Calling, Capsules, and Candy

I’m in the back of a truck, bouncing down the road, the very air in my lungs being rattled out of me. The air is thick with dust, and I’m glad for my MAF hat to keep off the sun. We’re only going four or five miles to LaJeune, but it takes half an hour…when the truck finally stops, I still feel like I’m moving, and I wait a moment to stand up. The Tang we brought to stay hydrated has spilled, creeping under six suitcases full of medical supplies. You read that correctly—last weekend, David and I were promoted to pharmacist and medical records specialist, respectively, by virtue of our availability. A group of Americans from North Carolina, Indiana and Chicago came to do a medical clinic at a nearby school, and they stayed at the guest house where we live. We took them into Pignon to get Cokes on Friday night, and they invited us to come along with them to LeJeune the next day.

Whatever I thought it would be like, it wasn’t like that. It started out orderly—we brought the kids and their parents in by groups of ten, moving them from one part of our covered cement gazebo to another. Sheets provided relative privacy for the pediatrician at first, but by the end of the day, exams were being done out in the open. I didn’t have the Creole word for “next,” which slowed me down. Groups of ten turned into whoever sliding their way into the line when I wasn’t looking, and by lunchtime on Saturday, I was stressed, and so was everyone else. We finally finished all the children I’d processed so far at 2:00, and I stood up and announced that it was time for them to leave, so we could take a break for lunch.

They stared at me. Not one of them moved. I looked around for a translator, thinking that I must not have been understood. I asked him to repeat my message. Thirty Haitians sat and stared. A few of them snickered. “I’m not joking,” I insisted in Creole, feeling my anger start to rise. “The doctor will see you after lunch. You have to go now!” Crickets. My American section of my brain couldn’t believe what was happening, but my Haitian section of brain whispered to me that I was having a cultural moment and needed to step back. If the roles were reversed, and my child was sick, what would I have done? How long would I have waited? How far would I have walked? If this is my shot, how far would I see it through?

At this point, hunger and fatigue took their toll, and our fabulous doctor lost patience. She threatened to leave and shut the clinic down—you should have seen them scramble. I’m not usually one for threats, but it worked. Over Cokes and tomato/onion/cheese/hot sauce sandwiches, we took a few deep breaths and got together a better strategy for the afternoon. (Oh yeah—and someone needs to talk to our cook about acceptable ingredients for sandwiches.)

Lest you get the wrong impression, the children were amazing. There was a lot of fear in the gazebo—many of them had seldom, if ever, seen a doctor, and they weren't exactly comfortable with the whole process. If you’d never been weighed or measured or had your blood taken, you might think it was kind of weird, too (candy became integral in rewarding their cooperation). I can say with confidence that American children would never have waited so quietly—and some of them waited for hours.

Some of them were from a rough neighborhood of Port-au-Prince called Cite Soleil—they’d been made orphans by the earthquake. One of them had a shirt that said, “Don’t make me call my grandma.” I don’t know why, but it brought tears to my eyes. He couldn’t have been more than four, and he had an old wound that needed to be cleaned out. I stroked his head while he cried. I tried to give him candy, but he rejected it at first…after a few minutes, I tried again, bringing my camera with me. He decided that maybe I was all right after all, and he started hamming it up for me and our medical assistant—I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time, partly from joy, because it meant he was feeling better.

We treated lots of headaches, stomachaches, parasites, and anemia, as well as a few unusual cases…PTSD and a mouth infection and a boy with Downs syndrome who probably needed a brain scan and a few other things we couldn’t test for. David doled out medicine faithfully, using a translator to make sure the directions were understood. Lots of pain killers, for the next seizure or fever. ‘But when it’s gone?’ I thought. An inhaler for a girl with asthma. ‘But when it’s gone?’ I thought. Yet it’s better than nothing, and for many, it’s a relief from the daily distress.

For a few moments, sitting there, I envied them. What they were doing mattered—some of these children might have died if they hadn't been seen that day. And then I remembered: MAF brought them in. Talking with the doctor later, she uttered the following words: “Missionary doctors and nurses are great, but missionary pilots? That’s just amazing!” I was humbly reminded that I don’t need to regret our calling—after all, it ultimately isn’t mine to regret, and without our calling, hers might not be fulfilled.

Your prayers are part of your calling—please don’t forget us.


  1. I have a new favorite quote-of-the-month from your blog entry: "What they were doing mattered—some of these children might have died if they hadn't been seen that day. And then I remembered: MAF brought them in....Without our calling, hers might not be fulfilled."

    I'm very, very proud of my son and daughter-in-law. You guys are putting up with heat, noisy roosters, spiders, cockroaches, and tons of ambiguity regarding future living arrangements. And the reason is so you can fulfill your calling to enable others to fulfill their callings. That's very cool! :-)

  2. Dave and Christine, I was really moved reading about your ministry in the clinic. There is so much need and I'm sure it seems that all the remedies are temporary. However, you guys have living water to offer. It is great to see an MAF pilot/mechanic dispensing drugs and touching people where they are. You don't see these kinds of things in the MAF brochures. :)

    Are prayers are with you guys constantly and we hope your living situation stabilizes soon.

  3. CHRISTINE!!!!! You made me exclaim with delight at the email which announced your wall post.

    I can't get on Facebook right now (long story), but I've sent you an email I hope you'll receive.

    If you don't, at least you'll see this and know that I love you and think and pray for you and David often.

  4. You guys pretty much rock my world. Just sayin'. :)