HAUT-LIMBE (November 23, 2010) – The cholera outbreak in Haiti is “horrific,” says Rachael Jarman, a physician assistant who returned Saturday after working at a clinic there.
Jarman and a team of nine others from Edina Covenant Church worked at the Ebenezer Clinic last week. Some worked in the clinic and unfinished hospital while others did construction work.
The team had planned the mission trip long before the cholera outbreak and had planned to put the finishing touches on a hospital the clinic was constructing. That changed.
“By the time we arrived, the hospital was overflowing with patients, and the nurses, doctors, and volunteers were exhausted,” says Bryan Malley, a team member who also is the director of communications for the Northwest Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church.
The only other person from Edina with medical experience was a nurse, but the hospital workers explained anyone could be trained to change IV bags and help in other ways,” Malley says.
The stream of patients was “endless,” says Jarman. “We would think it was calming down for a moment, and then there would be these motorcycles bringing more people.”
The hospital is basically three large rooms, and there is only a handful of hospital beds. The cholera outbreak forced the clinic to open the hospital before it was completed. Patients were placed on cots wherever possible. The smell of vomit and other fluids was constant.
“You try to keep the room as clean as possible, but there were too many people,” says Jarman.
Cholera is an intestinal infection caused by ingesting bacteria-contaminated food or water. The infection causes diarrhea and vomiting, which can lead to severe dehydration and death within hours if not treated.
The disease is easily cured by rehydrating patients, if treated in time. Although several patients have died at the hospital, most have survived.
“People come in, their eyes sunken and they’re emaciated,” Jarman says. “After a day, their eyes would brighten and they would sit up on their bed and be talking with you.”
The team worked throughout each day and staff working in the hospital took shifts throughout the night, resting to get three or fours of sleep. The struggle to maintain adequate supplies is constant. The hospital nearly ran out of IV bottles, but was able to secure more on Friday, Jarman says.
Team members who did not work in the hospital built shelves for the pharmacy and later started construction of a new concrete driveway so patients could make it to the hospital more easily as well as provide better access to trucks.
The team had a nerve-wracking, three-hour trip to the clinic from the Cap Haitien airport when they arrived because riots had broken out and protesters had set up roadblocks along the route.
Jarman emphasized the resilient spirit of the Haitians. “People were helpful, generous and protective of us. Even in the clinic there was never a sense of panic or anger. People and their families were grateful for the care that was given.
“Tears were rarely shed as people focused on the tasks at hand,” she added, “It was a real show of strength and bravery.”