Monday, January 30, 2017

Cholera Day 11: 10 babies and 11 days In Port Au Prince

Day 11: Wednesday, January 30, 2013

In the morning, Kerlande and Clauciane were so indignant at the conditions at the Joanne's that they insisted I call Wesmin to tell him about it. They were convinced the babies were going to get sick again if they stayed there.

It was difficult. I barely had a way to wash my hands there, much less take all the necessary precautions for preventing the spread of cholera.

I called Wesmin and he said that he would send a tap-tap that day. We went and picked up Sephora as if we were going to transfer her to St. Damien’s, but we took her home instead, where she rode home on my lap on the tap-tap. Wesmin had said she had already been tested for HIV and Tuberculosis, and he said he preferred that she be treated locally.

The ministry had obtained a new creche for the babies in my absence, and this was the moving day for everyone. Our tap-tap pulled in to the driveway, and almost immediately afterwards, all the other vehicles came, bearing all the other children who were moving in.

One of the missionaries gave me a ride back to Club Indigo, and my ordeal was over. I moved back into my room, never so grateful in my life to relax after the stress and burden of the experience.

Of course, the stress and burden of the adventure in Haiti was far from over. Little did I know that the missionaries would quickly be told by Heather that the new creche location was a SECRET creche, and we were not under any circumstances to tell anyone where it was. But that's a story for another day.

If you missed the previous posts, here's where you can start: Cholera Day 0

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Cholera Day 10: 10 babies and 11 days In Port Au Prince

Day 10: Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Sephora was still in the hospital, and the nurses were saying that her cholera strain was resistant to the antibiotics and also that she had other issues going on, and they wanted her to get tested for HIV and tuberculosis. They gave me a paper authorizing a transfer the next day to St. Damien’s, the neighboring hospital and apparently the highest-quality children’s hospital in Port-au-Prince, according to Mallery.

Read the next post: Cholera Day 11.
Start over at the beginning of the story: Cholera Day 0

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Cholera Day 9: 10 babies and 11 days In Port Au Prince

Day 9: Monday, January 28, 2013

Pranel got released and went back to the Joanne's. I felt like I couldn’t send Kerlande and Clauciane home yet, because as long as we had babies in two locations, we needed someone to stay to watch them in both places. They were also really helpful because they washed clothes by hand every day, keeping the babies’s clothes and sheets clean. This was something I was still not as skillful or as knowledgeable of how to do, what supplies to use, or where to get them, but they seemed to know instinctively. They also knew how to keep the babies quiet and happy all day long, while they cried a lot more with me.

From an email that I wrote to a friend:

"One thing that has been really cool about being in the hospital is that my Creole has grown tremendously! I feel like it grew more in this one week than it did in the three months I was in Haiti before. I still have great difficulty understanding everything people say, but more and more, I can communicate. It's still rough and simplified and baby talk, but it's coming.
You remember how I shared with you that I don't exactly love babies? So this whole experience has been one of dependence on the Lord and constantly drawing from His supply of love, and meditating on truths like "Love your neighbor (even a baby) as yourself." So the other day, it blessed me so tremendously that the nurses at the hospital all remarked that I treated these babies with a lot of love. Ah! They could see it! Even though I couldn't feel any love of my own, Jesus had succeeded in loving these babies through me in a tangible enough way that others around me were convinced that I was just there adoring these babies with all my heart. No... but Jesus was! It brought a fresh supply of tears to my eyes to realize that I had been the vessel of His love in this way, and He blessed me with the manifestation of His glory at succeeding in using this weak, clueless, not-really-useful-when-it-comes-to-babies person."

Read the next post: Cholera Day 10.
Start over from the beginning of the story: Cholera Day 0

Friday, January 27, 2017

Cholera Day 8: 10 babies and 11 days In Port Au Prince

Day 8: Sunday, January 27, 2013

At 6:00 in the morning, before anyone was stirring, I got up and bleached the floor in the bedroom where Jackson, Kerlande, Clauciane, and I were staying.

Then I called Watson, my moto driver, to come and pick me up to take me to the hospital. However, he didn’t know where Joanne and Doug's house was, and though I gave him the address, he couldn’t find it. Doug took me out in the car to a well-known landmark, where we met up with him and then had him follow the car back to the house so that he could see where it was for next time.

I got to the hospital and worked with Roselord through the day. Pranel's and Sephora's symptoms were still hanging on. Annita came after church “just to visit the babies.” She ended up offering to staying through the night and work, which I had intended to do, but when she was willing to do it, I was willing to let her.

Moses, one of the babies at the Joanne's house, had been having diarrhea for 4 days, so they brought him to the clinic, where he got admitted and tested positive for cholera.

I stayed the night at the Kimballs.

Read the next post: Cholera Day 9.
Start over at the beginning; Cholera Day 0

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Cholera Day 7: 10 babies and 11 days In Port Au Prince

Day 7: Saturday, January 26, 2013

I got up in the morning, ate breakfast with the kids, and saw that they were doing very, very well. The staff was giving them excellent care, and they were happy. I asked if they knew a moto driver they trusted who could take me back to the hospital, because their schedule that day didn’t allow for their driver to take me to the hospital. Frentz (Mallery’s husband) called a guy named Watson who came to get me, and I got to the hospital about 10:30. As I paid the moto driver, I also asked him if he could possibly come to get me again if I needed a ride, and he said he could. I got his name and number and went into the hospital compound.

When I got there, I met up with Annita and Manette. They had worked all day Friday, all night Friday night, and were expecting to work all day Saturday. We had agreed to pay $10 for the day shift and $15 for the night shift for each person. We had paid them the $10 each for the day shift on Friday, but we owed them $25 each for Friday night and Saturday. In addition to their work with the babies, they had also washed all the clothes. This in itself was worth a great deal, because Joanne’s laundry lady refused to wash them out of fear of touching the cholera-infected items, and we had had to pay another lady $15 to do it on Thursday. The amount of laundry we produced was unbelievable, yet understandable considering the quantity of diarrhea and vomit we were dealing with, so it was a splendid bonus to have all the clothes clean.

Annita told me that Doug had come in the morning to restock our supplies of diapers, wipes, etc., but that he had not paid them. I was indignant all over again. It was simply not right. I couldn’t go on seeing our workers not taken care of. I had no money, but this time I did have my debit card and driver’s license, so I could at least go to a bank and withdraw money at an ATM. I told Annita I would take care of it, and I called Watson, the moto driver who had brought me to the hospital, and asked him if he could come back to get me. He said he could, so I went out to wait for him.

On the phone with Watson, I had said that I needed to go to the bank and withdraw money at an ATM, but he evidently hadn’t understood me, because when he picked me up, we started going back exactly the way we had come when he brought me from Joanne’s. At first I thought, “Well… maybe this is a shortcut to a place where we can go to a bank.” But as we got further into remote residential areas, I at least had to ask. “Are we going to the bank?” I asked. “I don’t need to go back to Mallery’s. I want to find an ATM machine.” He turned the moto around and we started going back towards the more commercial parts of town.

We tried three banks before I finally got a chance to withdraw some money. After I got the cash, I asked the moto driver how to buy minutes to recharge my phone, which he helped me to do. Then we went back to the hospital. It all took an inordinate amount of time, and I got quite sunburned.

I was thirsty and hot. I paid the moto driver and then asked one of the nearby street vendors for a water bottle. It cost me 25 gourdes, and I asked if they had another one. They didn’t, but they went to get one from another vendor.

While they were gone, I opened the one I had. I tore off the plastic shrink wrap and opened the cap. The cap opened without ripping away from the little ring that is supposed to stay below the plastic lip at the bottom part of the lip of the bottle, and I thought, “Oh great. This is one of those bottles that they warned me about.” Joanne’s interpreter, Dony, had warned me that sometimes they took these bottles and refilled with them with different water which wasn’t safe to drink. When the vendor came back with another water bottle, I noticed that it was filled to a different level than the one I had. Without removing the shrink wrap, I twisted the cap slightly. I could see that it, too, was going to be able to unscrew without punching off the little safety ring. “Yep,” I thought. “These are bogus…not from the factory that the label says.” I had already paid for the second bottle, too, and I asked for my money back for both of them. I explained quite nicely and calmly that this bottle looked like it had been opened before, and I couldn’t drink that water, because it would make me sick. It made me sad to do it, because I was extremely thirsty, and I really, really wanted water, but I couldn’t drink water that was going to make me sick.

The guy gave me my money back for the second bottle, but not for the first. The reason for this, which I didn’t understand at the time, was that I had removed the plastic shrink wrap from the first bottle, and everyone had seen me do it. I could barely understand the creole spoken around me, but I could gather bits and pieces of phrases here and there. I asked again, calmly and a bit beseechingly, for him to give me my money back. A crowd of people gathered around, and they all started speaking loudly with each other in Creole. One man came, as it were, to my defense, and I thought for a minute that I was going to get my money back. 25 gourdes is about 60 cents, so it wasn’t a huge deal, but I thought it was perfectly reasonable to expect to return something that showed obvious signs of being opened before and refilled and get my money back. The man seemed to be demanding that the vendor return my money back to me. However, several people stepped in and said something I didn’t understand, which I afterward surmised must have been them reporting that they saw me take the plastic shrink wrap off, which, in their minds, meant that it certainly had not been opened before I touched it. The man shrugged his shoulders and disappeared into the crowd.

Another man shouldered his way forward, picked up the water bottle, and set it down with a decisive thump on the top of the cooler. “Take this bottle, and go away,” he said.

In that instant, something in the back of my mind told me that I ought to take his advice, go away, and just drop it. However, I didn’t obey my instincts.

“No, I want my money back,” I said, still calm, unruffled, and unafraid. “I can’t drink that water. It will make me sick.”

“Then take it and throw it away,” he said in exasperation. “You’ve lost it.”

That didn’t make any sense to me. Why had I lost it? Only afterward did I realize that in their minds, the presence or absence of the plastic shrink wrap (which I had taken off myself) formed the definition of “opened before,” while to me, it was the plastic cap itself, and the water level, and the whole aspect of this bottle being a “re-bottled” water. We were talking about two different things, and I didn’t know it, and they didn’t bother to understand my point of view. “No, I want my money back,” I repeated. I stood there, almost like a Haitian approaches an American, with my hand out, standing there without speaking.

More conversation ensued, more heated discussion in Creole by all the bystanders. Another person commanded me to take the bottle and go away. The voice in my head told me I’d better listen. I sighed. “Okay,” I agreed. I picked up the bottle and walked away.

Later, inside the hospital, motivated by my extreme thirst, I drank the water. It didn’t ever make me sick.

But after that, whenever I walked by those vendors, someone would make a comment about a water bottle and 25 gourdes, and the whole crowd would burst out laughing. The first time it happened, I apologized humbly in my broken Creole for my role in that whole drama, but that caused another burst of laughter. It was somewhat intimidating to walk in and out of the hospital after that, because I felt that I had unwittingly made enemies, simply because I didn’t understand.

Aside: It’s interesting how one comes to understand things here. Having gone through this experience, I understand that it’s not quite as simple a matter as it is in America to make a return of a simple item. There is no such rule as “the customer is always right.” There is no allowance made for the defectiveness of an item being grounds for a return. Now I understand—but if some seasoned missionary had tried to tell me as much (which no one ever did, because there are so many of these things, no one could possibly keep track of them all to tell the newcomers), I would have believed it, but I wouldn’t have understood.

When I got back to the hospital, I learned that Malachi and Jackson were getting released. Mallery only had room for one more, so she was going to take Malachi, and Joanne would take Jackson.

In the afternoon, Joanne came with Dony, her interpreter, and they brought Jackson and me back to her house. This left only two children at the hospital, Pranel and Sephora, curiously enough, the same two who had been admitted first. I started making plans for sending Kerlande and Clauciane back to Montrouis, since we wouldn’t need so much staff at the hospital anymore. I thought they could go back Sunday or Monday.

On the way, we stopped at a restaurant, where Dony ordered me a take-out meal of goat over rice, which was delicious and spicy and a very-needed boost to my energy level. Dony also gave me money from Joanne to replace what I had paid the nannies.

Back at the Kimballs, it felt good to take a shower and pour cold water all over my sunburn. I spent the night there.

Read the next post: Cholera Day 8.
Read the story from the beginning: Cholera Day 0

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Progression of Control in Spiritual Abuse

How I Saw Spiritual Abuse Progress

In the experience I had with Heather Elyse, I was lured gently and inevitably down a path of giving up more and more control without ever realizing it, until I was behaving out of fear and uncertainty at every turn. Here is the pattern that it followed.

Earliest Stage: Give up trivial things 

The first stage of being swept into the net of control really didn't look like being controlled at all. In this stage, we were asked to give up things that we really didn't care one way or the other about, or things that were too insignificant to raise your hackles.

  • Photos. I was taking a lot of photos when I first arrived, but Heather immediately instructed me not to post them, telling me that Hague convention prohibits photos of children who are up for adoption. I had no clue that there even was such a thing as the Hague Convention, so I just accepted her word as true. 
  • Adoptive parents. I was told over and over that I was not to have any contact with the adoptive parents. I was not to make any attempt to get to know them, and I was to refuse to approve any of their friend requests on facebook. However, these people were all strangers that I didn't have a burning desire to get to know, so it didn't seem like a big deal. I also didn't have any context or background for what was involved in an adoption, so I didn't have a framework for what a "normal" adoption should look like. (The effort to obey this command, however, did prove to be detrimental, as I could never keep the adoptive parents straight or figure out who went with which children. Instead, "adoptive parents" morphed in my mind into a somewhat faceless collective group rather than individual people.)
  • Wesmin. At the beginning of my time in Haiti, I was explicitly told not to talk to Wesmin, not to get to know him, not to have any contact with him, and to avoid him. However, this was easy to do, because my daily routine didn't throw me into Wesmin's way very much. 

Hypocrisy on the rules about these same trivial things 

  • Photos. Heather retained the authority to make an "exception" for which photos could be posted, so one day I was allowed to post a picture of all my schoolchildren on my blog. At the time, I failed to notice the point that if it was ok to do it one one occasion, it was not true that it was really forbidden. Or if it was really forbidden, it was not ok to do it even once. Heather therefore subtly established herself as being "above the rules" in that department. 
  • Photos were also wielded as a control mechanism towards adoptive parents. Take photos only of the children when they're dressed in gorgeous clothes and hairbows. Don't take pictures of children with skin sores or snotty noses. Don't post photos. Don't allow adoptive parents to have any access to photos. Don't share photos with anyone. Share a regular photo update of the children, but withhold the photos of any kids who belong to parents who aren't "waiting well." (And because I had no contact with adoptive parents, I had no context or basis for how to evaluate what "waiting well" even meant, and had to take it at face value, too.)

Villainizing innocent parties

  • Creche staff - Even before I got to Haiti, Heather was bashing her Haitian staff to us. "The Haitian nannies don't nurture the children. They leave everything a mess. They have no clue how to make kids thrive the way Americans do. etc. etc. etc." 
  • Wesmin - Heather stated to us single ladies that Wesmin was not to be trusted, that he had a dirty mind, that he was not a godly man, that he was into pornography, and that we should stay as far away as possible from him. She created fear and distrust by her words without us ever getting to know Wesmin for his own sake. I still don't know the truth about Wesmin, but I suspect that he is one of the people that we ought to feel sorry for the most. Looking back, I wonder if Heather manipulated and used him more than almost anyone else.
  • Adoptive parents - Adoptive parents were constantly being labeled as "crazy," "making trouble," or "creating drama," and there was a seeming attempt to create a great deal of animosity and distrust against them. 
  • Birth parents - Every month on the 15th, the birth parents would come to visit their children. People would fill the creche yard, sitting with their children and visiting quietly with them. Perhaps they would bring a popsicle or a bag of chips to share with the child. But instead of being able to see the beauty of it, Heather cast a cloud of annoyance on this visit, considering it a nuisance and claiming that people trashed the place and created a huge waste of time on that day. Birth parents were also being constantly labeled as "crazy," which was one of Heather's favorite terms for anyone who was not currently in her good graces. 
  • IBESR - the Haitian government's child protective services division. IBESR was also "crazy" and was mentioned with an eye roll or a bad attitude.
  • The Haitian government - The government of Haiti was also met with contempt and disrespect, and while I know there are valid charges of corruption towards Haiti's government, there was seemingly no respect even for procedures that were relatively standardized and efficient.
  • Haitians in general - Haitians in general were villainized as being lazy, good for nothing, drug addicts, and voodoo worshipers. Again, there are some bad people in Haiti, but the population as a whole was given an unduly broad-brush negative stereotype.
  • Other adoption agencies and orphanages. Right next door to our creche, there was another orphanage run by a Christian woman, and yet we were told that she was "crazy" and that we shouldn't go over there or get to know her. The same held true for another organization that was just around the corner from our creche. Therefore, we were isolated right off the bat from other helpful Americans who could have served as an early warning signal for some of the things that they could tell weren't right. 
  • Local churches - When we arrived in Haiti, we were specifically instructed not to attend any of the local churches. We were told they were bad, off-base, and full of needless drama. I didn't get to attend a Haitian church until March 17, but when I did, I found it to be delightful. 

Middle Stage: Shutting Down Information Sharing

Then it moved to information.

  • "Don't share that." 
  • "They weren't supposed to know that."
  • "You weren't supposed to say that." 
  • "You aren't allowed to share that."

To this day, I'm not "allowed" to be sharing what I'm sharing about the whole experience, but I have chosen to boldly disregard that order and thus throw off the remaining traces of authority that I was still granting Heather over me by me keeping silent.

When I was in the middle of the experience, I remember being disoriented and bewildered by the amount of information that was "not allowed to be shared." It was so unpredictable and so extensive, and "classified information" was often in so many innocent, innocuous categories. I was left thinking, "HOW could anyone ever predict that they weren't allowed to say that???" But the effect of long-term, repeated run-ins with getting in trouble for saying something "wrong" was that everyone quickly concluded that no one was ever allowed to share anything with anybody. And so communication quickly shut down.

Fear of invoking Heather's displeasure over telling something that wasn't supposed to be shared grew to such an extent that in July of 2013, two other girls and I were living in the US in the same house, and Heather was in Haiti, and yet we were all mutually afraid to tell each other if one of us had received an email from Heather, lest the other two were "not supposed to know about it." How she wielded this much fear from another country, over adult women, is still mind boggling to me.

Looking back on it now, though, it makes total sense that everything had to be kept a secret. There were so many lies flying around that Heather could only continue to operate by keeping people in the dark about what was going on. If people could communicate freely with each other, they would have a chance to see the lie, and she would be found out.

The genius of Heather's operation, though, was that she so carefully crafted each lie that she was the last person that any of us suspected to be the instigator of it all. Like a master ventriloquist, she successfully projected the blame onto other parties and hid behind such a believable facade of innocence that the outrage never landed on her. In situation A, she contrived to have the Haitian nannies be the enemy. In situation B, it was Jasmine who "ought to be fired." In situation C, it was Wesmin who was to be feared and distrusted. In situation D, it was the adoptive parents. In situation E, it was the Haitian government. And on and on it went. Dancing a dance like this must have been thrilling and terrifying all at the same time for Heather as she gambled to see how far she could push the envelope and still get away with it.

I will just take a moment to say to anyone reading this: If you ever find yourself in any organization where everyone is operating under a culture of fear, secrecy, and withholding of information, GET OUT. You are unequivocally in a dangerous environment of spiritual abuse. It will be costly to get out. It will take courage. You will have so many swirling clouds of conflicting information, you might not know which way is up. If this is the case for you, please get in touch with me so we can talk. But GET OUT without delay.

Late Stage: Abuse and control are essentially complete

  • The leader begins to demand unquestioning loyalty, and threatens (or performs) outright rejection of anyone whose loyalty is suspect
  • The abuser begins to aggressively expand their jurisdiction, claiming new areas where they have a "right" to give orders and be obeyed. They often do this by simply expanding the scope and dimension of the orders they are giving, and when they see obedience, they accept this tacit agreement that they have authority in that area, and there is no going back. 
  • The leader begins to give illogical orders, but they are accepted without question. For example: "No visitors are authorized to visit the creche any more." "The creche in Pierre Payen is a secret creche. Don't tell anyone of its existence under any circumstances." 
  • The followers begin to have to perform extreme mental gyrations in order to justify to themselves that there is a valid explanation for what is going on. For instance, during that time, I consoled myself by saying, "Well, the enemy even accuses God of lying, so if accusations of Heather lying are flying around, it's only consistent with the pattern of the enemy."
  • When the leader senses an impending departure of the followers due to how crazy things are getting, the leader uses blackmail as leverage to keep the followers in line. In the case of Heather, she used adoptive children as blackmail over the adoptive parents who loved them, threatening to cancel the adoption, taking away the children, hiding the children, or otherwise manipulating people through what she would do (or did do) with their children. 


I just reread the article by Tara Livesay on their side of the perspective on what happened when they came into the creche with the Cox's. I was taken aback by the vision of myself as a fearful, unsure person who was under the sway of so much control. Yet when I was in the midst of the situation, I didn't know I was exhibiting fear. I remember how I felt that day that I saw the Livesays at Club Indigo, and I would have rejected a "fear" label as preposterous. Me, afraid? I would have scoffed at the idea. I remember the next time I saw the Livesays when they came in to the creche with the Cox's to look for their son. Again, I remember how I felt, and I would have never though of myself as fearful. Nay, I was bold and nonchalant to walk out of the house and go over and stand by Tara and talk to her. "Me, afraid? Never."

How strange! How can a person feel unafraid while at the same time manifesting fear? If I wasn't the person who lived through it, I would say it wasn't possible. But looking back, it's clear to me that I was exhibiting fear that day, I was under the sway of undue control, and whether I felt it or not, I was.

I make this point to emphasize the fact that people who have gotten sucked into spiritual abuse without realizing it are very often blind to the fact. They can't see the obvious. I couldn't. In February and March of 2013, I was still passionately defending Heather. It would be many months before my eyes would be opened, and that only after seeing a mountain of damning evidence. Being in a situation of spiritual abuse feels confusing and chaotic. You are under the influence of a master manipulator, a spin-doctor who can easily and deftly come up with the most compelling reasons in the world why black is white and white is black. As counter intuitive as it seems, it feels impossible that the detractors have any logic, so you dismiss their side of the story.

If someone you love has gotten caught in the vortex of spiritual abuse, don't be surprised if they can't see the truth. You will be frustrated with them for not being able to see the obvious, but don't let that frustration build a rift between you. When your loved one finally does emerge, they will need their "before-abuse" relationships to be intact and a safe place to recover.


There's so much more. Tracing the progression of control in spiritual abuse is tracing only one layer of a multifaceted experience that didn't come with labels attached to cut-and-dried categories. You live life in a story, but you retell it after the fact piece by piece in categories. There are other layers yet to peel back. Stay tuned. 

Cholera Day 6: 10 babies and 11 days In Port Au Prince

Day 6: Friday, January 25, 2013

In the morning, the babies were happier than I had seen them in a long time. They had toys! They were released from the four walls of their cribs! They all looked bright and healthy, and I knew they would be getting the best possible care. Mallery said they could accept up to two more children, and I instantly resolved that the next two to be released would go to her rather than back to Doug and Joanne’s, because I was highly impressed, and quite favorably so, with their setup.

We had a delicious pancake breakfast, Gail gave me a bag loaded with snacks, which was a treat and a blessing, and then Mallery's driver took me back the hospital. On the way, we stopped at a grocery store, hoping to find an ATM there, but they didn’t have one. Still, I was able to use my debit card to make a purchase, so I bought a package of bread rolls, a tub of peanut butter, and a package of plastic spoons to spread it. This ended up being a welcome source of food at the hospital, where food had been scarce for me.

Later I wrote in an email to my close missionary friend in Montrouis,
"After the worst episode of overwhelming circumstances that left me frustrated and crying, I prayed, and God showed me that I was "seeing the winds and waves boisterous" and sinking in the waves instead of walking on the water. He brought me back to fix my eyes on Jesus and grab ahold of Him in faith, and since then I have been at peace. The next day in my Bible reading, I read the account of how he stilled the storm. I thought about my "storm" and realized that I didn't need to lament, "Master, carest thou not that we perish?" but instead, I realized that He could speak the word at any point and simply still the storm. 
That happened with the departure of the kids to Mallery's place. It was like suddenly the whole crisis was suddenly tamed, the emergency was over, and everything was right-side-up again. They have such a great setup, where the kids will be healthy, well fed, and cared for with amazing competency."

Once I got back to the hospital, I found that one more of the children was going to be released, so I contacted Mallery and she said she would send her driver to pick her up.

We determined that I would go with her to spend the night, so for the second night in a row, I stayed at Mallery’s. I mentioned earlier that I just so “happened” to have two changes of clothes with me in my bag. Now I found that I needed the second one, too. God had foreseen my every step, and had provided for me to have everything needful in order to walk in the path before me.

Read the next post: Cholera Day 7.
Start over at the beginning: Cholera Day 0

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Cholera Day 5: 10 babies and 11 days In Port Au Prince

Day 5: Thursday, January 24, 2013

(Note: From here, the tone of my journal changes somewhat, because it was written down three weeks after the fact instead of right at the time.) 

I got up in the morning and went back to the hospital. Kerlande and Clauciane went home. I worked with Annita and Roselord and Manette.

During the course of the day, the hospital told us that they were releasing four of the babies: Hope, David, Nadiya, and Ugnel. I texted Joanne and told her, and I asked the hospital if it was okay if we waited until the car got here to pick us up. They said it would be fine, and we waited. I planned to go home with the babies and stay the night at Joanne’s, with Kerlande and Clauciane coming back to cover the night shift.

One thing that we instituted for the first time that day was a sheet of paper recording every little thing about each of the babies. We wrote down the time and amount of every feeding, diaper change, bowel movement, or throw up. After the breathless state of emergency we had continually been in for the past several days, it felt good to finally get on top of things and have a bit of a system and organize our care a bit. Twice a day, the nurses would ask us for each child, “How many times did they have diarrhea? Did they pee? Did they vomit?” and we had so many people changing diapers, and so many children altogether, that it was impossible to remember or accurately count up the number of times. This information was vital for the doctors and nurses to know so that they could make appropriate decisions about the babies’ care, so getting it down on paper with an accurate count was a very important and useful step.

All day, we waited for the car to come to take the released babies home, and the hospital was very patient with us for delaying so long. Many, many people were in the waiting room, and the hospital desperately needed these cribs to open up for other children.

Joanne’s husband Doug finally came at around 9:00 pm. I was so ready to go home and get a night’s worth of sleep. The nurses had a shift change at 7:00, so the people who had told me about the babies who were released were no longer at the hospital. The nurse on duty came up and rattled off five names, not four. Hope, David, Nadiya, Ugnel, and Pranel.

I looked at her with surprise. “Pranel?” I said. “But he vomited a ton today.” I indicated the sheet of paper, where no one had as many instances of vomit (or anything) as he did. The nurse squinted at the paper suspiciously and grudgingly admitted that he had. “Okay, we’ll keep him for observation,” she announced. “The rest can go.” I was utterly grateful for the fact that we had written everything down today. If not, we might have been expected to take home a still-very-sick baby. It was surprising that Pranel should still be this bad, since he had been here the longest, but nevertheless, such were the facts.

Doug asked me if the babies who were being released were free of cholera, and I honestly answered that I didn’t know. He asked the nurse if these four children had tested negative for cholera. (All the children tested positive upon admittance to the hospital.)

It just so happened that this particular nurse, who had a heart of gold when caring for the children, came across as very gruff and defensive when dealing with people. So when Doug asked her about the children’s symptoms, she lashed out with a tirade to the effect that, “If the doctor said these children were fit to be released, then they are fit to be released. You will not come in here and alter the hospital’s policies. The children are going home because we say so.”

Doug shot back, “But have they been tested?”

The answer was no.

Doug shook his head. “I’m just asking that they be tested. I want a negative test result before I can bring them into my house. I have fourteen other children to think about. I can’t have children coming into my house who are still contagious for cholera. I’m responsible for all of them, not just these.”

The nurse adamantly repeated her statements about the children's fitness for release.

Doug adamantly repeated his insistence that the children be tested.

The nurse adhered to the hospital’s policies and the doctor’s word and walked away.

Doug went over to me and softly said into my ear, “In a few minutes, I am going to walk out the door and go home. Do you want to get to sleep tonight? You can go with me if you want to. I’ll leave it up to you whether you want to go or stay, but if you want to go home and get some rest, I’m going home now.” He walked away to give me some time to ponder the decision.

What a blow! I was tired, and there was no doubt that I wanted to sleep that night. Of course I did. But far stronger was the absolute certainty that it would be the height of irresponsibility for me to walk out the door with Doug and abandon these babies, forcing the hospital to deal with their presence. I walked to the corner of the room and lifted my eyes to the Lord.

“Lord, what do you say that I do?” I asked.

“Stay,” He replied.

So I told Doug I was staying. “Okay,” he said with a shrug and a helpless tone of voice. “If you don’t want to get a good night’s sleep, that’s up to you.”

I looked at him and said perfectly calmly, “It’s not that I don’t want to sleep tonight. I do. I just think I should stay. I perfectly respect your decision, and I don’t accuse you in any way.” What I did not say was, “For you and me to both leave would be scandalous and highly offensive to the staff at this hospital. We were turned away from three hospitals before they took us into this one. I’m saving your skin if any of the children at your house DO come down with cholera, so they don’t turn you out at the door at the sight of your face.”

Doug walked out of the hospital and went home, oblivious to the affront he was causing, not just to me, but to the hospital staff and to all the waiting parents who needed a crib to lie their child in for the night. His request that they be tested, though reasonable enough on the surface, could not be complied with. According to information I later received from an American nurse, cholera remains contagious for seven days after the last appearance of symptoms, so they would have still tested positive, but after a person is symptom-free for 24 hours, they are technically “over” the cholera and the hospital releases them because they can now eat and drink normally again, with normal defecation and urination.

When Doug had left, I went over to the nurse who had so forcefully argued with him. “Madam,” I said. She looked up in surprise, hard lines of contention still visible on her face. “I don’t know what to do,” I went on in Creole. “I agree with you that these babies should be released. However, that man has absolutely refused to let the children into his house. I don’t know where else to go or what to do with them.” Her face softened. She understood my plight. I knew no one in Port. It was already 9:30 at night. Who would take them, even if I did have contacts?

I walked back to the corner of the room and lifted my eyes to the Lord again.

“Lord,” I said, “what do I do now?”

“Make a phone call,” he said.

I wanted to call Heather and spill out a story of indignation in her ear, but she was in the US. I called Ryan F instead. His wife picked up the phone. “Oh, how are you?” she asked.

“I’ve been better,” I said with a sigh. Then I quickly added, “The babies and I are fine, there’s no new danger,” sensing that my words could be interpreted all sorts of ways. Then I briefly summed up the story to her. She briefly summed up the story to her husband and handed him the phone.

“Okay, give me a second,” he said. “I have an idea for a plan. Let me make a phone call and get back to you.”

Intrigued, I said goodbye and hung up the phone. An idea for a plan? This was unexpected news.

He called back and said that there was a woman named Mallery who was coming to pick up the babies. She was someone who had been contacted about taking in some of the evacuated babies, but it had never actually been confirmed. Nevertheless, she had been working all that day to make preparations to take in five of our kids. She had staff, a nurse, and a location to take care of the kids. They were on their way and would be at the hospital in a few minutes. Ryan had given her my phone number and said that she would be calling me shortly.

Mallery called after I hung up the phone, and her husband, Frentz, a Haitian, spoke with the nurse to find out precise directions to the hospital. They arrived in a white van and I met them outside and led them in to meet the babies. We collected the four who were being released. The nurse still had her hackles up and refused to speak anything but French with Mallery and her friend, Gail, who was also a nurse. Gail had a few questions about the medication the children had received, and Mallery, who spoke perfect Creole (being married to a Haitian) was trying to translate for her, but the nurse wasn’t making things any easier.

However, just before we left, the nurse snuck up to me with a genuine relief and kindness in her eyes, laid her hand on my arm, and said, “Miss Rebekah, thank you.” I knew that there was more meaning behind those simple words than behind many a flowery phrase spoken by more flattering lips. I comprehended how much gossip would have flown, how much complaining about these arrogant, unfeeling white people, who thought they ruled the world and wouldn’t remove the children from the hospital, etc. etc. etc., that was now stopped, prevented from ever happening in the first place.

For my part, I was just in a daze of admiration at God. The exit that He provided when all possible options seemed closed up was so perfect, I felt like He was simply showing off for my delight and amazement, doing His work with a flourish.

I accompanied the little party of believers in their van and we drove to their house. On the way, I heard stories of how God had provided for the founding of their ministry, stories of God’s unmistakable faithfulness and guidance, that made my heart soar with the glory of His ways. We got to their property, and they had a separate house all set up just for these babies. They had literally been expecting to get them this very day, which was a surprise to me, since Ryan had said that no one on our end had ever been explicitly clear that any of the kids were coming at all. But it was God’s preparation for snatching us out of the difficulty that we were in. The little house had electricity, its own bathroom, and cribs and pack-n-plays set up to accommodate the children.

God had even overseen little details, like the fact that I unexpectedly “happened” to have two changes of clothes in my bag. I was able to spend the night and take a shower and have a fresh outfit to put on in the morning to get back to the hospital. There was even a cot set up for me to sleep on. I slept soundly and peacefully in a place that seemed like heaven on earth.

Read the next post: Cholera Day 6.
Start over at the beginning: Cholera Day 0

Monday, January 23, 2017

Cholera Day 4: 10 babies and 11 days In Port Au Prince

Day 4: Wednesday, January 23, 2013

I got up about 6:00 in the morning and started feeding babies and changing diapers, longing for the moment when Joanne would come to relieve me and I could go home and sleep.

Annita went out to wash the dishes, and when she tried to come back in, the hospital security wouldn’t let her bring the bowls back in that we were using to feed cereal to the older babies. “No one else is allowed to feed their children inside here,” they said, “and they’re complaining to us that you are breaking the rules.”

Rules? Who would have thought? We weren’t allowed to feed our children inside the hospital? But sure enough, all the other families had their tiny little children outside in a little waiting area (the same place where I had had to put my backpack on a shelf the first day), feeding them their breakfast. You would see a parent holding a child in one hand and an IV bag in the other hand as they went to the outdoor tent where a few chairs and benches were set up. When I tried to go out a little later and bring the bowls in, with a box of rice cereal in my hand to show that we weren’t feeding anything messy, the guards stopped me, too. So we had to bring the kids outside and feed them.

Annita stopped me just after I was turned around at the door by the guard. She looked me in the eyes and put her hand on my shoulder. “Don’t be upset,” she said, her voice calm, commanding, and peaceful. “It’s not man. It’s not coming from man. It’s from the hand of God. Don’t fight against man.” Her words were so true, and instantly gave me peace.

Funny story—when I mixed up the rice cereal for the first two kids, one of the ladies sitting nearby asked me, “Is that ice?” “No, it’s rice,” I replied. It did look sort of like crushed ice, though. (It’s almost funnier in English than in Creole, which is the language the exchange took place in, because the words don’t rhyme or sound anything alike in Creole. Ice is glase, and rice is riz.)

At 8:00, I had Jackson outside in the feeding area and I just had the feeling I should call Joanne to see where she was. I was desperate to get home. I was depending on her arrival, because I felt like I was sinking, drowning in exhaustion. “Oh, I’m at Wahoo Bay,” she said. “I’m just now leaving. I’ll be there. I’ll be there. I’ll tell you the story when I get there.”

My heart sank.

Wahoo Bay? I knew she had driven Ryan back to Club Indigo, arriving there about 11:00 pm, so she must have stopped for the night on her way back.

Now I was angry. Wahoo Bay is a luxury resort. So not only was she 2 hours away, she had spent a lovely night in a nice resort while I was slaving away with the babies, losing my sleep at the hospital. I was as polite as I could be to her and hung up the phone as fast as possible, before I said anything I would regret later.

I could just see yesterday happening all over again. Roselord, who had worked through the night with me, needed to go home and get her sleep, not twiddle her thumbs all day, waiting around for Joanne. Dear, sweet Annita and Loselie had worked all day yesterday, all through the night, and were willing to work all day today, so they were going to be tired by the end of the day and need to be relieved. I was NOT going to stand for another day of “I’ll be there, I’ll be there” and treat these ladies the way Kerland and Clauciane had been treated the day before.

Something snapped in me. I was not going to stand for it. I was not going to wait around all day again. I was not going to depend on Joanne and have her not come through for me again. Until now, I had deferred to her the lead, consulting her for final decisions and allowing her to be the head of the operation. But in that moment, I decided that Heather had committed these babies to my care, and if Joanne was not going to come through for me, I was going to make sure that I didn’t fall through on them. I was going to rise up and make things happen instead of just letting them happen to me.

I strode resolutely back inside the hospital, fighting back tears. My posture of “woman on a mission” must have been obvious, because a couple of the staff who saw me laughed as I went by. I heard them and turned around to see if they really were laughing at me for the way I was walking. They were. Just for effect, I made a dramatic expression of the way I felt, pressing my lips together and balling up my fists and shaking my head. They started asking me what was wrong, and I replied that I had no words to express what was going on, and I had better go away and pray before I talked to anyone. I first went in and asked Roselord to finish feeding Jackson, who was left on the bench outside with his bowl of cereal next to him. Then I fled, went around to the back of the hospital, sat down on a cinder block, and bawled.

But a nurse named Nirva followed me out there, and she coaxed the story out of me. Then she addressed me with an authoritarian, commanding tone of voice that was not at all unkind. It was strong, like a rope to pull a drowning person back up onto solid ground, and forceful, like someone who had been there before. She said to me, essentially, “Stop crying. Crying makes you weak. It gives Satan opportunity. It causes you to focus on your problems. You need to pray. Look to God and ask Him to give you strength.”

Take it from a Haitian woman, I thought. Who else has faced more adversity and unpleasant situations? She knows. I’m only just now getting a taste of challenge, after having nothing bad ever happen to me all my life.

She continued to repeat what she was saying (as it was in Creole and I wasn't getting the whole thing the first time around), until she succeeded in making it clear. She got me back on the feet of my faith and told me the truth. "I want you to stand up and pray now, out loud. Cry out to God about it."

The truth has a forcefulness about it. I realized that I was “seeing the wind and waves boisterous” and therefore I was sinking. So I took her advice, looked to God, and asked him to give me strength. I prayed out loud until I knew that I was stably back on the grounds of faith, and I was able to pray out of my position In Christ and claim His strength and victory in this situation. I realized that it was far more important for me to learn to draw strength and grace from him than for this situation to go away or for me to get sleep.

After I prayed, I had peace. I took a deep breath, walked into the hospital, and started making arrangements for the nannies to eat and for Roselord to get home.

Joanne called me back and asked if I was mad at her. “Yes!” I admitted. She explained that she was experiencing such bad diarrhea all day yesterday that she simply hadn’t been able to make it back to Port last night. Uh oh, I thought. I told her that I forgave her and apologized for getting mad at her. I saw that the enemy wanted nothing better than for us to get at each other’s throats, and I would have no part of that. She said that Dony (her interpreter) was coming and would be there at 9:00 to pick us up. I told Roselord and she was willing to wait until then to go home.

Dony arrived at about 9:15 and gave Roselord the money she needed to take a tap-tap home. He probably brought supplies, too. I don’t remember. We were constantly running out of diapers, wipes, and formula, and needing more.

Joanne arrived about 10:00 and she was very kind, very subdued, and I was very understanding and very calm. I can’t remember now how the day went, but I know I left Annita and Loselie alone. I must have gone to Joanne’s house, where I rested and took a shower. We were supposed to bring Kerlande and Clauciane, the two nannies from Montrouis, to the hospital by 7:00 for the shift change, but we didn’t get there until about 7:40. I walked in to the hospital and Annita and Loselie were sitting in chairs, looking exhausted. Annita gave me a stern look. “I can’t get home now,” she said. “I missed the last vehicle that’s running. You have to be on time.” I apologized profusely and made arrangements for Joanne’s driver to take her home. I went with them and then went back home to Joanne’s house, where I slept in a house for the first night since I had been in Port.

Read the next post: Cholera Day 5
Start over at the beginning: Cholera Day 0 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Cholera Day 3: 10 babies and 11 days In Port Au Prince

Day 3: Tuesday, January 22, 2013

At about 6:00 in the morning, Ryan woke up and joined us in our work for the waking up routine of the babies--feeding, changing, and giving rehydration fluid.

Overnight, we had run out of wipes almost right away, so we were stuck changing diarrhea diapers without wipes. We were also out of sheets and clothes for the kids. Overnight, a lot of them got quite cold and mosquito-bitten, and they had to lie on the bare vinyl mattresses. It was cold. It was the first time I had been cold in Haiti.

Ryan texted Joanne at 7:00 in the morning with the supplies we needed. She was going to pick up all the medications from the pharmacy, which we were supposed to have done yesterday, but in all the craziness of bringing 3 loads of kids to the hospital, it never got done. Joanne was our lifeline, and it was important to us that she come and drop off supplies and pick up Kerland and Clauciane, who had worked through the night, so that they could sleep through the day and then come back to take the shift the next night. That would allow me to get a night of much-needed rest.

However, we didn't hear from Joanne until 9:00, and she said it would be 2-3 hours before she could get there. We were thinking 11-12:00. But 11:00 came and went. 12:00 came and went. Kerland and Clauciane were very tired, and yet they were still helping out.

One of the best things that happened was that Ryan put some minutes onto my phone. I had not been able to do this because I still had not managed to get any Haitian cash or use an ATM. This was a huge blessing and it rescued me from a sticky situation on day 5.

Joanne finally arrived at 3:00 and stayed at the hospital for two hours. During those two hours, there was a meeting with the nurses, where they scolded us for some of our methods (like the nannies moving bottles from one mouth to another and moving babies around from bed to bed). They told us we wouldn't be allowed to use the bottles any more, but would have to feed by syringe in the future. They also scolded us for having no sheets and clothes for the babies. The creche had sent a whole suitcase full of crib sheets and about 10 brand new onesies, but with all the vomit, each crib sheet and outfit lasted a very short time before it was soaked. Joanne had taken the laundry home, but her laundry lady refused to wash the cholera-infected items, and Joanne and Doug ended up burning it all instead. My clothes that had gotten soiled got disposed of with the rest of the stuff.

Joanne left at about 5:00, taking my coworker and Kerland and Clauciane with her, and leaving me to spend another night at the hospital. I had been depending on getting a night’s sleep Tuesday night and have Kerland and Clauciane work, but with them working through the day, I preferred to make the sacrifice myself and not expect that of them. I didn’t have the heart to send them back to arrive home at 6:00 and then turn around to come back to the hospital at 9 or 10. You don’t treat people like that, I thought. But Joanne didn’t seem to understand that. “They’re a different breed,” her words were. “They can take it.” Nevertheless, I sent Kerland and Clauciane home to sleep. However, that would be my third consecutive night in the hospital, and I really needed to get home to sleep the next morning. I was longing for it. Joanne promised me that she would come at 8:00 in the morning to relieve me so that I could go home and sleep. I thought I could make it until then.

When Joanne left, Annita, our sweet, amazing lady, who had worked all through the day, offered to work through the night as well with me. She was expecting to work all the next day, too, but she said she was willing and she needed the money. Her daughter, Loselie, had also worked through the night, and she, too, offered to stay. I accepted gratefully. I lay down for an hour and slept, and woke up refreshed at 7:00 pm. Then I made Annita and Loselie lie down so they could get some sleep, while I watched the babies. While the babies were sleeping, there wasn't so much to do for them, so nights are somewhat easier in that aspect.

At 2:00 in the morning, Annita got up, saying she hadn't been able to fall asleep, so she might as well be up and around checking on the babies. Unlike me, who can catch a little cat nap in a chair, she couldn't get a wink of sleep all night, despite lying down on a mattress for a couple of hours. However, when she got up off the mattress at 2:00 in the morning and told me she hadn't been able to fall asleep, she went to prayer. She walked around, praying for the babies, stopping at each crib, and just lifting up everything to the Lord. Afterward, her face had such a radiant glow and she just looked so alive.

Later, I wrote to my missionary friend back in Montrouis,
"Oh yes, sleep... Three consecutive days and nights at the hospital left me sleep-deprived and emotional. I am usually pretty stable emotionally, but mix lack of sleep with reduced nutrition, and the flesh protests loudly by way of bursts of tears when little things happen. I had a nice 2-hour nap today, though, and I'm about to go to bed, so that's nice.
I was so challenged by Annita, a Haitian woman who has been working for us at the hospital, helping to take care of the babies. After working all day last Tuesday, she also offered to work through the night, knowing that she was also expecting to work all day the next day. 
I realized that I had been praying, but I had not been entering into such a powerful evidence of the working of grace and strength in my life. So I joined her in prayer, and God has been stretching me to find His strength even in the midst of tiredness. It's easy for me to say, "Oh, I'm emotional right now because I'm sleep- and food-deprived. Let me fix it with sleep and food." Yeah, that sets the flesh back to normal and comforts it--but what if God is asking me to give up sleep and food for the moment? Truthfully speaking, it is a BETTER solution to say, "Oh, I'm emotional right now because I'm sleep- and food-deprived. Let me fix it with prayer." But can I find that to be just as helpful? Or is it just a theoretical truth that stays well out of reach of practical living? Annita certainly found it to be practical and effective for her right there in her tiredness. It was such an inspiration to me!"

As Annita prayed, she also checked on each child, fed rehydration fluid every two hours, and changed random diapers, I asked her if she was going to be tired, and she said, yes, but that praying had energized her. It was evident. She had such a glow on her face and such a quiet strength about her that I marveled.

Read the next post: Cholera Day 4.
Start over at the beginning: Cholera Day 0

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Cholera Day 2: 10 babies and 11 days In Port Au Prince

Day 2: Monday, January 21, 2013

I got about 5 hours of sleep, interrupted every few minutes by the fact that every time a baby would cry, I would lift my head to see if it was one of ours. If it wasn’t, I would lay my head back down.

At 6:00 am, the nurse tapped my foot. “Sephora must drink now,” she said. I gave Sephora the rehydration fluid, hoping that she wouldn’t throw it up this time like she had every other time. She did. Over the course of the morning, the puddle under her crib grew to be a lake, wider than the width of her crib and more than half the length. Once, I almost tripped in it and very nearly slipped onto my backside. That would not have been pleasant.

I tried to hold Sephora in my arms while I read the Bible, but there were too many mosquitoes. No sooner would I settle in with Sephora’s head cradled in my left arm and my Bible propped up in my right hand, than a mosquito would appear right in front of my face. I would set the Bible down with a plop, jerk forward to slap the mosquito, and usually miss. I would look around for a second one to appear, and I would usually miss killing that one, too. Then I would get a lapse where they weren’t coming, and I would pick up the Bible. Sure enough, before I got to read so much as one verse, I would see another one zooming up to my feet or my arms or any exposed skin. Every time I would slap at the mosquitoes, I would jerk the baby, lose my place, and probably miss the mosquito, so finally I just put the Bible down and focused on murder. ;-) In this way, I got quite a pile of them. They were littering the floor and stuck like ornaments all over my jeans, and most of them were big, fat, juicy ones, glutted with the blood of poor little cholera babies. I got dozens of bites myself, so it felt like a just revenge to be so bent on killing them.

One thing that this whole mosquito thing taught me was that this was another way to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In the last message I heard Pastor Joyce preach, he cited the command to “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and he said, “If you are hungry, what do you do? You get something to eat. If you are thirsty, what do you do? You get something to drink. If you are sick, what do you do? You go to the doctor, or you take some medicine.” In the same vein, “If a mosquito is flying around you, what do you do? You slap it.” So what would you do to your neighbor? Feed him when he’s hungry, give him to drink when he’s thirsty, take him to the doctor when he’s sick and swat his mosquitoes.” So what would you do for a baby? Treat him like your neighbor, whom you are supposed to love as yourself. Do everything for a baby that you would do for yourself. Simple.

I was just thinking that I was figuring this thing out and getting into a nice little routine. The nurse had told me to give the rehydration fluid every 2 hours, and I figured I would feed them every 4 hours, so I just thought that I would put formula into the rehydration fluid every other time.

They had formula in their rehydration fluid at the 2-hour mark. They both threw up. I had discovered, though, that I ought to expect this, so I had preemptively put them on the plastic mattress at the end of the bed, with the sheet taken off that part. Thus, I didn’t suffer the loss of a sheet, which made me very happy. I was finally getting the hang of this.

Two hours later, they were getting fussy again, so the nurses suggested I feed them again. I told them that they had eaten just two hours before, but they said to go ahead and feed them anyway. I fed them, placed them on the plastic, they threw up, I wiped it up, and again, I had saved my sheets. So fifteen minutes after feeding them, everyone was past the point of needing so much attention.

Oh boy! I am getting way ahead of myself and leaving out a major detail.

At about 7:30 in the morning, Joanne arrived. I heard her voice in the waiting area and went out to see her, glad that she had come, and needing the supplies that she had brought.

Jackson on a much happier day
There she was with Jackson, one of the babies who had spent the night at the house. He looked lifeless. Four people (doctors and nurses) were working frantically to find a vein. One person was on each limb (arms & legs), and they were each sticking him with needles. He did not move, whimper, or struggle, and they were digging around. They had just started shaving his head to try to find a vein there when finally they got one in his right arm, and the fluid started. He was so dehydrated that his skin was in shriveled-up wrinkles on the soles of his feet. His eyes kept rolling back in his head. He was limp and utterly anemic.

Joanne stayed by his side while I went back and forth between him and the two babies in the other room. They were pretty much fine, though, so I spent a lot of time talking to Joanne and watching Jackson.

They were keeping him right up by the doctors and nurses in the waiting area, so that they could watch him, and when a couple of hours had passed, they determined he was okay to be moved to a bed in the hospital. He took the crib next to Pranel’s.

Just then, Joanne got a call from her husband. Katheryn was dying. “I’ve got to go,” she said. “She may not make it.”

She rushed off, and just as she went out the door, I got up to go call after her, “Bring back diapers!” I had only three left, one of which was broken (the tab had ripped off).

That took me only a couple of seconds, but when I got back, Jackson had stood up in his crib and was about to try to climb out. He just about fell, which would surely have ripped out his IV, not to mention hurting him, but I caught him just in time. Two or three more times, Jackson would stand up and almost fall out of bed as soon as I moved away from the side of his crib. Something had to be done, because the crib rails were dysfunctional and wouldn’t stay up, so they had to be propped up by shoving a chair under the sliding side so that it would hit the seat of the chair and stay partway up. This made the rail so low, though, that while it afforded protection against a child rolling out, it afforded a tempting prospect for a mischevous boy who saw how easy it would be to climb out. I looked around for a bit of string and found the hospital gown that the nurses had given Sephora for a sheet. It had ties on the neck, and I wrapped these around the crib rail in a way to rig it where it was fixed in the all-the-way-up position. I raised the other side rail until it got stuck in an almost-all-the-way-up position. Thus, the crib rails were both immoveable, but at least Jackson wasn’t falling out. I had to climb onto a chair to reach into the crib, which the nurses didn’t like, but it was the best possible solution.

Other things I started to notice, little things, things that reflected the ever-present reality, "this is Haiti," just as much as the Creole spoken all around me, like the fact that one crib was missing a wheel and was propped up on two pieces of cinder block. Ants were crawling in and out of a crack in the wall in a constant stream across the ledge where I was keeping the diapers, feasting on a spill that looked like week-old Coca Cola. The hospital itself was built on a concrete floor slab that had a nice tile floor, but the walls were built of some kind of plywood propped up against some framing so that you could see the cracks of light through it. The handwashing station, which was outside, was a huge (500-gallon?) drum that had a tap in the bottom of it and a rubbermaid basin underneath to catch the drips. The basin served as a foot-sanitizing station as well as just a place to catch the runoff from the tap. There was no soap, but there was some kind of chlorox solution in the water, so it left your hands smelling like bleach. At least the hospital had electricity! The toilets were a scary place. Two stalls without doors in each of the three sections of the warehouse-type building. They didn’t flush, and there was a constant amount of pee and flies there.

Anyway, getting back to the story—

Now that Jackson was there, my previous calm routine seemed all disrupted. I ran out of diapers. I kept failing to be able to do the most basic things because I didn’t have supplies. I didn’t have a phone, because mine didn’t have any minutes. I didn’t have a cent of money, because since I got to Haiti, I hadn’t been able to make an ATM withdrawal. I tried on Saturday in Saint Marc, but the ATM wasn’t working. Even the few dollars of American cash in my purse were now back in Joanne’s house. I didn’t know a soul in Port-au-Prince and didn’t know my way around if I needed to get anything. In every possible way, I was stuck and totally dependent on Joanne.

Anyway, somewhere towards noon, after so carefully saving my sheets, Jackson and Sephora threw up within minutes of each other. I didn’t have anything to clean up the babies or the mess, and the nurses helped me. I was feeling really bad because of a lot of little mistakes I had made that a more experienced person wouldn’t have made, and now I started to feel like I was drowning in impossibility. The nurses kept helping me out of kindness, but I wished I was better supplied so they didn’t have to do what wasn’t really their job and which made their life harder.

Finally one of them said, “You need a nurse!”

“OUI!” I replied with all my heart. And then all my inadequacy flooded upon me and I burst into tears. I went into a corner and sat in a chair and buried my head in my lap and just let the tears silently fall. One of the nurses, Sheila, went to me and held me and tried to comfort me. I tried to stop crying, grateful for her help, but still overwrought, and having a hard time pulling it together.

Just then, someone said that Joanne was back, so I hurriedly dried my tears and stifled my sobs. I didn’t want her to see me like that. I went out to see her. She had brought 3 more babies who had started having diarrhea: Ugnel, David, and Malachi. She and I were working to answer the nurse’s questions for their intake forms, help them weigh the babies, and fill out paperwork, when she mentioned that one of them had died.

“What? One died?” I asked.

“Oh! You didn’t know?” she said. “I heard on my way home. Katheryn died.”

“No, I didn’t know,” I said, wide-eyed.

“She died within the hour from when her symptoms started,” she said. “There was nothing Doug could do. I got home and I thought, ‘She can’t be dead,’ so I was poking her. She was hard as a rock.”

I digested this bit of information, too numb to really understand it, and too much in crisis mode to slow down enough for this to sink in. This was to the extent that a little later, when the nurses were looking through the list of names on my clipboard, and they said, “Who’s Katheryn?” I heard myself callously reply, “She’s the one who died.” They didn’t understand my English or something, so I had to repeat it. “Katheryn is dead,” I said, in a voice so toneless it surprised me. What was wrong with me? I hoped I could somehow eventually get out of this coldness and insensibility.

Joanne and I had just finished checking in Ugnel, David, and Malachi, when a pick-up truck pulled up. It was an ambulance. Out piled Nadiya, Violet, and Hope.

Jackson, Nadiya, and two other children on a much happier day
“Here’s the rest of them,” Joanne said. And indeed it was. We spent the next while checking these in, and as there was no room for them or for the three boys we had just checked in, they all waited on cots in the waiting area. I was shocked at how calm and fine the kids were to just sit there on the cots without any further directives. Even wiggly, mischevious Nadiya was willing to sit there and not try to get off.

With all nine of these children coming into their hospital in less than 24 hours, the hospital had some serious questions for Joanne and me. The fact that we didn't have any paperwork looked really bad. We directed all of these questions to Wesmin and I'm not sure how he handled it, but the hospital didn't ask us any more questions after that.

At about this time, we hired some Haitian help. Three in the hospital was overwhelming enough for me, and then it had doubled to six and then tripled to 9 before we could blink. The nurses saw how understaffed we were, so they made some phone calls. Soon, four smiling women stood before us, willing to help us out. We only wanted three, but we didn't know which three to choose, so the nurses chose for us and sent the other girl away. Two of the ones who were chosen were girls in their late teens or early 20s, and one was an older woman, perhaps 50. She looked a bit frail, and I was unsure how she would work out, but I didn’t want to pass too much judgment too early.

It turned out that this older woman, whose name was Annita, was practically an angel. She treated the kids with love and tenderness, played with them and made them laugh, and knew exactly what to do to care for them. She also knew how to make do without diapers or wipes, and she was a tireless bundle of energy. She was thorough, constantly checking each child for wet diapers and other needs. She was tender, treating each one like Jesus would. She took initiative, giving each one a bath and instantly ramping up the level of care that we were giving these children by her very presence. The influx of these ladies was a huge help. However, we were still out of supplies, so Joanne still had to go out again after that to replenish our stores.

During the course of the afternoon, Clauciane, one of the nannies from the creche, arrived and also pitched in to help. She would stay the night, so that was going to be a huge help. I backed off a bit from having such an active role in the baby care and let these capable, competent Haitian women take over. They somehow produced out of nowhere soap and powder, and in no time they had the babies clean, dry, and sweet-smelling. They used the empty wipes dispenser for a water basin to give sponge baths and to clean bottoms when the wipes ran out. They knew how to improvise with so many things. (One day, much later, I wanted to know how Annita got the bottles so much cleaner than I did when she washed them. She showed me how she used a wadded-up scrap of a discarded plastic grocery bag as a dishcloth.) I watched them and learned from them as they worked, reluctant to get in their way or disrupt their system. They were amazing, and I quickly felt like my presence was redundant, but it gave me the chance to watch and learn from them.

At 5:00 PM, Joanne and I left to go back to the house. I hadn’t had a shower since Saturday morning, and I hadn’t gone to the bathroom since I first got to Joanne’s house on Sunday, and I needed to rest. I took a shower. Ahhh! It felt so good—even if it was only a cold bucket shower.

Ryan F and another nanny from the creche, Kerlande, had arrived that afternoon from Club Indigo/Montrouis, and I spent a few minutes filling Ryan in and updating him on what was going on. Then I went downstairs, lay down on my bed, and got an hour of sleep before it was time to go. I was lying merely on the wire frame of a bunk bed with no mattress on it. It would have been uncomfortable, but I didn’t feel a thing, I was so tired. Gradually, the voices of the house died away, and I was lost in blissful sleep.

Something woke me up. Perhaps it was because the house suddenly got quiet, I don’t know, but I got up and everyone was gone. I went over the house and Ryan and Joanne were not to be found. I went upstairs and Doug was there. I asked him and he said they just went out to the car. I went down and the car was still there, so I got in with them and we left for the hospital. Kerlande was also with us.

We got there about 9:00 and Joanne left Ryan, Kerlande, and me there to stay the night. All the hospital staff was very surprised to see me, but they were very welcoming and kind, and everyone acted like they liked me a lot.

I started off by getting two hours sleep. Joanne had left us a mattress, sheet, and pillow, and we took turns sleeping there during the night. I woke up refreshed and ready to face a few more hours.

Read the next post: Cholera Day 3
Go back to the beginning: Cholera Day 0

Friday, January 20, 2017

Cholera Day 1: 10 babies and 11 days In Port Au Prince

Day 1: Sunday, January 20, 2013
If you missed Day 0, go back and read it first for context. 

The alarm rang at 4:30, starting my day off early. I checked my email. One of the other missionary guys was sick with major diarrhea now. Uh oh. What in the would were we in for?

At 5:00, no one was there, so I went back to bed and got another delicious hour of sleep before anyone knocked on my door.

In that hour, I had a dream in which I was about to do something risky (like jump off a cliff or something), and I woke up with the very clear thought that it was okay to do any dangerous, scary thing in the world during a dream, because the fact was, you were really lying peacefully in your bed the whole time, safe and indestructible from cliff jumps and such like. Following on the heels of that thought was the realization that even in the real world, my life is hid with Christ in God, and no matter what risky venture I could die from, my real self, my spirit, is reposing safe and sound in the Father’s hand, where no one can ever touch it or hurt it, and where I will stay, even if my earthly body dies. So I might as well enjoy the experience. I had no idea how relevant this concept was to be in the experience I was about to walk through.

Nurse Pierreline and Hope
Ryan F came a little after 6, and we left in a tap-tap for the creche. He and the Wesmin (the creche director) worked to dismantle cribs, while Nurse Pierreline (the creche's head nurse) and Jasmine (Wesmin's sister) got the kids ready.

As they were collecting the kids, I asked Nurse Pierreline and Jasmine to tell me their names. Even though I had spent 3 months in Haiti (from September to December), I still didn’t know the babies. At all. I never have been a baby person. I knew my school children, but I had not gotten to know the babies. The two ladies told me the names of the children, and I carefully wrote down the list of names next to a description of their outfits. Katheryn, Nadiya, Pranel (Jet), Sephora, Jackson, Malachi, David. Ugnel, Hope, and one more child whose parents have requested me to withhold her name, so I'll call her "Violet." I said to myself, “I have until these children change their clothes to learn their names, so I’d better get started.”
Mismanagement #3: Sending an unqualified person
Lesson #3: While it is a legitimate need on the mission field to fill a variety of roles, it's also important to keep in mind what people's strengths and weaknesses are. 

We left when the cribs were dismantled and loaded into the tap-tap. I rode in the back of Wesmin's car with a baby on my lap and two toddlers (Nadiya and Violet) on the seats beside me. Jasmine had two babies on her lap. Five more children rode in the tap-tap, totaling 10. Little Katheryn, who sat on my lap, seemed so healthy and normal. I loved on her and snuggled her, fed her some rice cereal, and just enjoyed her lovely little self.

However, before we got there, Katheryn pooped all over me, a light greenish-brown, runny diarrhea. “Here we go,” I thought. “it’s starting already.” But I was only thinking of the whole “it's yucky that babies get wet stuff all over you” thing. Not any farther than that. And God had given me peace about the whole caring-for-babies-despite-disliking-them thing. I asked Him for love, and He gave it to me. And what better kind of love than the unselfish, unconditional kind, which loves even a baby, who can give back the least return for your love?

One of the things I was worried about was having enough diapers. They gave me one pack of 18 diapers. With 10 babies, that’s less than 2 diapers per child. That wouldn’t even last us through the night. I asked for more and they said they didn’t have any.

Mismanagement #4: Inadequate supplies
Lesson #4: Outfit your trip with the sufficient amount of supplies for a successful outcome
Mismanagement #5: Internal feuds. The claim that they "didn't have any" diapers went back to a long-standing feud between the Haitian staff at the creche and the American missionaries. We Americans arrived in September and were told by Heather that the creche was providing all the diapers for the kids, and that there were plenty of diapers in the storeroom for everyone. However, these diapers never appeared. They were regularly hidden or locked up by the Haitian staff where we couldn't get them. Looking back, I'm guessing that they were being told precisely the opposite of what we were being told ("Those Americans are supposed to buy their own diapers! If they take the creche's diapers, they're stealing"). At the time, though, we could never figure it out. Why such a fuss about the diapers? But on this particular occasion, when I asked for more diapers, I knew I wasn't going to be able to get any farther than that. 
Lesson #5: As a manager, you must not have warring factions if you're going to get anything productive done. Warring factions that come from the manager intentionally setting people at animosity with each other is a completely avoidable scenario.   

We arrived in Port-au-Prince after a very silent drive. Joanne and her husband Doug greeted us warmly and welcomed us into their home. We got Katheryn changed right away, and I got to change my clothes into something not poopy.

I went downstairs and greeted all the kids that Joanne and Doug already had, most of whom I knew, because they had been in our creche when I left the country in December. (For context: I had just gotten back to Haiti January 16 after being in the US for about a month, recovering from malaria.)

Ryan worked for a while putting cribs together after Wesmin and Jasmine and Nurse Pierreline left. Joanne and her son helped me feed the babies, and while we were doing this, Joanne found out why the children had been sent to her. She had had no idea that they had been exposed to cholera. "What about all our children?" she said. "Now they're going to be exposed to it." I felt really bad for her and her husband, and I told her I would understand completely if she sent us all back. She and her husband had a consultation and determined that they would not allow these babies to mingle with all the children in general, but would keep them in a separate room.

After all the babies were fed, for which I was grateful for the help, Joanne showed me their setup for how to bathe them, and I took them one by one to give them a bath. That took a long time, and in the meantime, all nine of the other babies were sitting in their separate room on an incredibly dusty floor, with no toys, nothing to do, and no supervision. I felt bad for them, and I felt like they would have had better care at the creche, where someone would at least be there to oversee them while they played.

While I bathed each child, I realized his or her clothes were coming off, so as I gave the bath, I scrutinized each child’s face and purposely repeated his or her name aloud during the duration of the bath. For instance, “Hi, Hope. How are you, Hope? Let’s get in the bath, Hope. Hope, Hope, Hopieee… You are Hope.” In this way, I successfully learned all the children’s names by their faces and not their clothes.

Baths took way longer than I expected, because each bath involved going outside to the patio where they had a shallow 10-gallon tub set up, lowering a 2-gallon bucket down into the cistern, filling it with water, dumping it into the 10-gallon tub, repeating this a couple of times until the 10-gallon tub was sufficiently filled with water, and using soap and a washcloth to wash the children down. Many of them peed (or worse) in the water, causing me to have to dump it out and start over with pulling bucketfuls out of the cistern. All of them shared the same soap, washcloth, and towel. This, I believe, was very detrimental to their health, and I didn't like it, but I didn't have any other supplies.

Mismanagement #6: Not following practices of hygiene and sanitation
Lesson #6: If I didn't like something, I should not have continued doing it. If I felt that this was unhygienic, I shouldn't have just crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. At the time, I had no idea that the consequences of poor hygiene would be so drastic, but in hindsight, I need to let this lesson teach me not to proceed with a thing that feels "off." I had other choices. I could have not bathed the children. I could have taken additional measures to sanitize the washcloth. I could have asked for additional towels. I didn't do any of these things because I was (a) already stretched too thin and (b) in an unfamiliar place where I wasn't sure what supplies were and were not available. But looking back, I think that bath was probably one of two factors that were instrumental in ALL the children getting cholera. (The second factor was that eight of the children were left to play on a floor that had not been sanitized after Sephora's cholera vomit, below.) Neither of these factors would have happened if the children had been kept in the creche, where they were given baths in much cleaner circumstances. 
After the baths were over, I went into the room with the babies, glad that I could finally get to mopping this extremely dirty floor. Some of the kids were able to walk, but the youngest ones were crawling around in this thick layer of dust, and I was desperate to get it cleaned up. Doing this required getting a mop and bucket, more trips to the cistern, and strategically keeping the children to one side of the room while I mopped the other, and then moving them back to the clean side while I got the second side.

When I was finally finished with that, I thought it would be a chance to sit down and just be with them for a little while, get to know them, talk to them, and comfort them in their new environment. I had just sat down with Violet, who looked lost and disoriented, to snuggle her and get her comfortable, when the diarrhea and the vomit started. Sephora threw up twice and Pranel had a huge blowout of diarrhea, so between wiping up one thing and another, I was kept hopping. Every time I had to wipe something up, it meant jumping up, going around to the back of the house, drawing water, rinsing out the one rag that I had, and coming back. All that time, the babies were left totally unattended, and I would come back to find that one was bullying the other or there was a new puddle of spit-up that Sephora was mopping up with her dress.

At this point, Joanne came downstairs and appeared just as I was wiping up vomit.

“Do you need any help?” she asked.

“Well…” I hesitated. What did I know about these things? But I told her about the diarrhea and vomit. Who knows if it’s cholera? I thought. But Joanne thought it sounded like it was—clear diarrhea and white/clear vomit. So we rushed out for the hospital with Pranel and Sephora, leaving the other 8 babies to fend for themselves. I still don't know what exactly happened to them in the interval, but at least I know that Doug and his son fed them.

We tried 3 hospitals and they wouldn’t take us. After the first sent us on, I said, “Oh! I forgot to get diapers or food. Do you want to stop back by the house and grab some?” Rookie mistake. Any mom would have known to grab the diaper bag and some snacks.

“No, we just urgently need to get to the hospital,” Joanne said, so we skipped it. The babies had eaten at about 11:00, and it was now 3:00, high time for a feeding, but we figured that since babies can die within hours from cholera, it would be better to just get to the hospital sooner. Truly it was alarming how suddenly and rapidly they went downhill. Limp bodies, eyes rolling back in heads--and me in the back seat with them, praying for them to hold on.

Finally, the fourth hospital took us in. It was in a bad part of town that Joanne wouldn’t even drive into without a trusted Haitian guy in the car with us. Fredly was very accommodating and helpful and helped us find the places we wanted to go and translated a bit for us. This hospital was the main cholera ward for the whole of Port au Prince. There was a chlorox bath for your shoes when you went in or out, and there were a number of shelves with purses and backpacks on them. Apparently you were not allowed to have a bag inside.

I had my backpack with me, because right before we left the house, I had said to Joanne, “Oh, grab my backpack so I can have my water bottle.” At that time I wasn’t thinking of the fact that it wouldn’t be safe to leave it in the car. Now I had to carry it up to the hospital. Then I had to leave it on one of those shelves and take a number from a lady who said she would watch it. As Joanne and I were setting our bags down, the people nearby said, “If you have phones, money, or other valuables in there, you should take them with you inside.” Well, I had my computer, my purse with wallet, (American) cash, credit cards, and checkbooks, and my kindle, besides some books and a water bottle. Considering that a year's wages in Haiti might be $500, my backpack represented a jackpot, so there was no way I was going to open the entire contents of my backpack and carry them inside when I had a baby in my arms. I shrugged my shoulders and stuck it up on the shelf as if it was the most inconsequential thing in the world. “Lord, protect my backpack,” I silently breathed.

We went in and the medical staff checked the babies. They tested positive for cholera and the hospital admitted them to stay overnight.

The hospital was a long warehouse-like building with 3 sections. The first section was where they did the initial exam, the second section was where the babies stayed, and the third section was where older children and adult cholera patients lay on cots. In our section (the 2nd section), about 30 feet square, there were 15 cribs lined up in rows. There was just enough space between each crib for a chair to sit, and parents were tending to their babies at the cribs where they were placed.

The hospital provided rehydration fluid, but that was it. Each family had to provide food, diapers, clothes, and crib sheets for their child. We had none of these things, so Joanne left to go get them, while I stayed with the babies. (She took my backpack with her, and nothing was missing from it.) Pranel and Sephora allowed themselves to be comforted for a time, but soon they were so hungry they were inconsolable. Also, their diapers had suffered so many bouts of diarrhea that they were bulging with a wetness unlike I had seen any diaper hold.

Finally, Sephora’s diaper could hold no more. I turned around from laying Pranel down, who had fallen asleep on my lap, and I saw a little brown river cascading down Sephora’s bed and landing on the floor in a puddle already the size of a dinner plate.

I had no wipes, no diapers, and no supplies of any kind except a towel. I used the towel to wipe off the bed and soak up the floor. Then I left it there. Later a nurse came by and picked it up and said, “Is this yours?” “Yes, but I used it to wipe up poop,” I said. “It’s full of poop.” She dropped it like a hot cake onto the rack at the end of the crib. (Note that unless otherwise specified, the conversations that I had with nurses were all in Creole. My 3-month-old Creole had to suffice for all my communication for the entirety of my stay in this hospital, except for the interactions with one doctor, who spoke English. So just understanding what was being spoken around me was another incredibly difficult part of the ordeal.)

Later, another nurse came and had mercy on me. She cut one of the disposable plastic pads in half, the kind that you can put under a baby and it has one plastic side and one cotton side, to soak up leaks. She cut it into two big triangles, and we tied the 3 points around the babies’ legs. That bought me some time, though Pranel immediately filled up this makeshift diaper.

Overall, all the nurses at the hospital were extremely caring and thoughtful. For some reason, they took a liking to me and had mercy on me in my distress, going far above and beyond the call of duty, and doing things that were not in their job description and not what they would offer to do for anyone else in the hospital. They were so great! I wished I could treat them all to a nice dinner and write them all a thank-you note.

Pranel woke up and simply would not be comforted. I didn’t have anything to give him. I knew he was just hungry. I tried patting him, bouncing him, picking him up, putting him down, fanning him, sitting him up, and everything else I could think of. He just screamed. Everyone else in the hospital was commenting in Creole over the fact that this crazy white person hadn’t brought any clothes, diapers, food, or sheets for this child. But what did I know?

In my defense, I had never taken a child to the hospital before, much less a Haitian hospital, so I didn’t know what it involved, and I did suggest food and diapers, at least before we got too far away from the house. I will certainly never make that mistake again!

Another nurse had mercy on me and went and bought a can of juice to feed the babies. I gave them a few sips, but they didn’t like it.

Where, oh where was Joanne?

At 9:00 PM, she came. She brought food, diapers, clothes, and sheets for the babies, and a gorgeous big sub sandwich for me. She gave me a Sprite, too, but I gave it to the nurse who had given me the juice.

We fed the babies and Sephora immediately started vomiting it all up, and ended up vomiting up more than she ate.

Joanne said she had even brought my suitcase in the car, so if there was anything I wanted to grab, I could go out and get it.

I went out with our interpreter, he unlocked the car, I opened the back, and my suitcase was not there.

“Okay…” I thought. But after all, I figured I could still get by, even if I just had the clothes on my back for the next two weeks.

Joanne had also asked me to look for the bug spray, because there were swarms of mosquitoes everywhere inside the hospital, but I couldn’t find it. (This was another trying aspect of being there, since I had just gotten over malaria. It only takes one bite…)

I went back inside and reported to Joanne that I couldn’t find the bug spray. Then I just talked about the babies and other things for a few minutes. Then I figured the time had probably come to tell her.

“I don’t want you to freak out,” I said, “but my suitcase was not in the car.”

Huh??” she gasped. “Of course I’m going to freak out. I have to call Doug!”

“No, I’m not even sure if it’s lost, and anyway, it’s a small loss,” I said.

She called Doug and he said he had never put the suitcase in the back. Whew!

Joanne left at 11:00 PM. I stayed up watching the babies sleep until 12:30. Then I went to sleep myself for a few hours.

Read the next post: Cholera Day 2.