Sunday, July 17, 2011

No Sick Kid is a Happy Kid

Here in Haiti, I have had the opportunity to serve in many diverse roles;  massage therapist, mother, friend, child, daughter, face-painter, cook, nurse, tourist, servant, leader, follower, deliverer, secretary, pharmacist, and dietitian.

Today, I had the opportunity to serve as a nurse/ secretary for the children at one of the orphanages. My cousin (who is an RN) and I (a training RD-registered dietitian) broke away from the rest of our mission team to spend the day with the doctor sponsored by Healing Haiti. It is always so interesting being on this end of the mission work, you see so many different aspects that you don't see when you come to spend the day with the kids for crafts or swimming at the beach. While all those things are great for the kids' spirits, social interaction, and positive influence and affection, they are only temporary distractions from other things that may be occurring on a daily basis. My new motto is "No sick kid is a Happy Kid." 

Upon arriving at the orphanage, I realized that today I would not only see the kids for their check-ups, but I would be able to observe what their life is like when we dont come to visit and play. The kids were spread out all over the orphanage. Some of the girls were getting their hair braided by the older girls and some of the kids were just sitting on the cement steps leading to their bedrooms. Yvon rang the bell in the gathering room, and kids trickled in from all over. Before we knew it, the steps were filled with the orphans. Yvon started the kids in a prayer, which lead into a beautiful worship song. 

During our visit, we did check-ups on the kids that were sick or had signs of parasitic infections. In total, we saw 25 kids and 6 of them were noted as needing parasite tests. Many of the kids were iron deficient, some had bad coughs, one had bronchitis, one had cavities, another had an ear infection. There were a variety of conditions, but the one that stood out to me most was the little 7 month year old baby that appeared to be a new born. The baby and his 3 siblings were new orphans. We were informed that their mother had just died from cholera. We had seen the baby 2 days prior to the doctor visit and thought that he looked very lethargic and thin for an infant. I saw the baby last week and the week before, but thought it was a new addition to Yvon's family.  No wonder all the older girls in the orphanage were caring for the baby as though it was their very own; the baby was a new addition to all of their family. He was now one of them. During the visit, one of the orphan girls held the baby as Dr. Sem lifted the baby's arms and checked the baby's vitals. "Malnutrition", the doctor wrote in his medical notes. He looked over at me, "The baby will need infant formula." I wrote the doctor's orders on my list of reminders of things to get for our medical kit. All I could think of was the importance of mom's milk during the first few months of life. I couldnt help but wonder how long the baby has been without his mother's breast milk and if this has something to do with his malnutrition. From my knowledge in psychology and nutrition, the first few months of life and the first few years of life are crucial times in a human's life for proper brain wiring and physical growth. These years set the stage for the rest of the human's life. I pray for our new additions to the orphanage..

 While assisting Dr. Sem, I was also able to observe the children's activities occurring around me. For a while, everyone was just hanging out. Then a radio came in the room and children all gathered around. It sounded like a story was on the radio, and made me think of the stories I read about American Girl dolls that used the radio for entertainment rather than a TV. After the programing was complete, kids that were finished with their check-up started to play jump rope, some started to sing songs and joke around with Yvon, and others were just laying around hanging out with each other. 

While I was helping with medical filing, one little girl ran up behind me tap my back and ran away! She continued this little game for a few minutes and then acted like it wasn't her. She was absolutely adorable! A few kids sitting along the wall ledge near our work station would occasionally say "Kristina" .. I would look over and smile at them and one or two of the kids would point at the kid that was "responsible" for "distract" me from work. It was pretty cute.. 

The doctor visits are one of my favorite things to participate in with our mission. I am able to learn from the doctor, use my knowledge skill, and to see a different aspect to the kids health that I am not able to see from just playing with them. The doctor visits really get my left brain ticking and makes me wonder about different aspects of their water and food quality, their sanitary behaviors, and how the medicine we leave is distributed when we aren't there. My biggest concern for this children is getting them "caught-up" on their medical check-ups. Even more importantly, I am concerned about their diet. With my nutrition background, I know that a high quality and balanced diet can be the key to medical complications. Food can be a life long prevention to much bigger health problems.

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