We complain a lot about American Healthcare, I do too… deductibles, the ridiculous price of medication, the annoyance of multiple medical bills that come in the mail. In Haiti the lack of healthcare is so much more than an inconvenience- it is a life and death situation.
Imagine you are flat broke, with no income and no public assistance and you have a sick child. Your only option is the public hospital where the bed is free, no room and board. That’s great you may think, free healthcare. But no, the care is not free, just the bed. You bring your own sheets, your family must bring food to feed you, there is no cafeteria. Your family must sit at the bedside to provide for your comfort, bring a fan if you need one. Oh, another thing, there is not always power at night so if you want a light you will need to bring a flashlight. You must go to a pharmacy and purchase all medications or supplies needed for your care. If you don’t have the money you do not get the medications. There are a minimal number of nurses on staff, and doctors visit most days- unless it is a weekend or a holiday.
On a recent Haiti trip our team visited the hospital and met a 12 year old boy who was very ill- short of breath, in severe pain, with serious swelling all over his body. He was suffering and if he was in the US he would have been directly admitted to a pediatric ICU. But in Haiti he was all but forgotten. His mother was crying, pleading for her son as she muttered, ‘Weekend.’ Weekend is a word that has been picked up by the Haitian people. She was frustrated that the weekend meant no doctors, meant that her son would have to wait to be seen, wait to get better, perhaps wait to die.
On another trip we entered the hospital only to hear a mother wailing and as we rounded the corner we saw why. She had a one year old daughter who was near death. This precious baby was clearly malnourished, no, emaciated and breathing just a few times a minute.The mother was crying out, pleading with the staff, “Please, I know I don’t have any money to pay, but please- please help us. Please, take care of my baby.” The nurse was stoic, shaking her head side to side, trying to tell the mother it’s not a matter of money, it is too late. There is nothing more to do. We prayed and began trying to console the mother. I will never forget it- she stood holding a large duffel bag and this tiny baby with a crying toddler wrapped around her leg. Everyone just stared at her. She was broken, it was all too much. I asked her how we could help, explained that the baby had just a short time left and there was nothing that could be done. She said she just wanted to go home, to take her baby home. We were able to find a taxi for her and paid the fare. I cried as the taxi pulled away. I had never before seen that kind of sorrow and couldn’t imagine holding my dying baby while my toddler cried beside me. I couldn’t imagine the desperation. Yet, I also noticed a peace come over her as she began singing. My last glimpse of her I saw the beginning of a smile. It was not a happy ending, although I do believe we met her need that day, the need for a bit of peace.
Now the hospital situation in Haiti is even worse. The medical staff are on strike- not for more money- but for paychecks. They just want the pay they were promised. Here is an excellent post explaining it: