Reporting from Les Cayes, Haiti

November 9

Haiti—or at least what I’ve seen of it—is a very religious country. Although religion in Haiti may make people think of Voodoo—which is certainly still practiced—I however, have seen it mainly in the Christian incarnation. A significant number of the buses and trucks, as well as the stores around Cayes have Christian Bible verses/words on them/names, and there are churches (of various denominations) all over the city.  Women at the maternity often pray and sing through their labor/contractions, and many of the women—immediately after giving birth—say a prayer in thanks to Jesus. Two nights ago—at 3am—one of the laboring women started signing a song talking about “needing God”. Shortly after she started singing other people picked up the song and began to sing as well. For a good 5 minutes I’d say there were 15+ people singing this song (beautifully I might add), and then after the song faded they each started praying their own prayers. I seemed to be the only one who was astonished that everyone seemed to know the song and wanted to sing it, and that no one else thought it an inappropriate time (3am) to belt out a song and then start to pray loudly. I mention this story only because it was—for me—an incredibly unique experience, which gave me a better appreciation for the norms and beliefs of some (most, possibly) of my patients.

Sometimes—despite all our efforts to the contrary—women don’t make it to the delivery table in time to have their babies. This happens all over the world; babies get born in hospital beds because the nurses/doctors/midwives aren’t able to get there quick enough or the mom doesn’t realize the birth is so imminent, or any number of other factors. The difference however, is that here the births don’t just happen in the beds, but they also happen on the (not so clean) tile floor. We’ve had two such births on my recent shifts—both women trying to make it to the birthing room and falling short without properly notifying us of the fact that they were pushing.  Both times I’ve been the “baby nurse” after the birth and have apologized to the babies for having their entrance into the world be falling onto the cold tile. Luckily, they won’t remember it and neither were worse for the wear.

Apart from my work at the maternity I’m doing some less exciting—though I think still very important—work with one of the doctors in the Infectious Disease Department. I’m compiling a list of all the women who been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS at the hospital and who have been pregnant within the last couple years (I’m start from 2010 until the present, but hope to get to 2008). From that list I’m trying to find all the women who should be taking their HIV/AIDS medications, but aren’t. The hope is that with such a list the community health workers—who work not only in Cayes, but in the surrounding areas—can track these women down and make sure they receive the (free) medications that they need to not only prolong their lives, but hopefully decrease the risk of transmission to future children and/or sexual partners.  Again not the most glamorous work, as it involves me sorting through two large registration books and trying to decipher the not-always-legible cursive Haitian names, but it will hopefully prolong and better some lives.