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


  1. How were the babies exposed to cholera in the creche? Was the water supply not filtered? Confused about that. Why were these children specifically exposed - some were toddlers right and others were babies from the baby house.

  2. That's a great question. One child at the creche got sick with cholera, and that was what caused Heather to announce that the babies had to be evacuated. However, most of the children who stayed at the creche didn't get sick (though a few did). I don't know the details of how the cholera was remedied at the creche, though I was told that they "treated the well" and that took care of it. I am convinced that if the babies had stayed at the creche, very few or none of them would have gotten sick. However, Heather's response to the cholera situation turned out to be consistent with the larger pattern of drumming up drama and using fear to generate large donations of money.

    1. This information is updated with more detail in the "Filling in the Gaps" post (Feb 3).

  3. Hi, the k you for sharing your heart. this absolutely breaks me to read all this :( it brings up so much emotion and tears for us. Katheryn was our little girl, today is 4 years since she passed. Our son Canaan ( Dionel ) also had cholera and almost died. I am so thankful he his home with us now and also broken that we don't get to share this with our little Katheryn. I know we will see her again. Thank you for sharing, I know this is very difficult.

    1. Dear Angela,
      My tears and heartbreak go out to you on this sad anniversary. What sorrow you must still be feeling. You are in my thoughts and prayers. May the Lord be with you and bring His comfort and healing to you in your grief.

  4. Do you have any pictures of Malachi from during this time? He moved in with me while I was living in montrouis so we've now been together longer than not in his life but I only have stories of his first 2 years and would love to have some pictures if they exist.

    1. Hi Lindsay, I am so happy to hear that Malachi has someone to love him! He was Annita's favorite while he was in the seemed like she constantly had him on her lap. I only have one single picture of him (I didn't have a camera during this part of my time in Haiti). I wish I had more! You can see the photo on day 7. Please contact me if you'd like a full-size version of the photo.


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