Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Mysterious Reappearance of Heather Elyse

(This is the story of events that happened four years ago in Haiti. If you missed yesterday's post, please read it first and then come back to this one.)

Early in the morning, the emails started flowing again.

Thursday, Feb 7, 2013 at 5:56 AM [Staff member]
Ryan F, Nick, and Laura Brown traveled by tap tap to the hotel last night where we stayed. Wesmin was there and very upset. Blamed the Americans (us) for leaving her. Says my kids are safe. Of course I wish we hadn't left but she gave us all clear coherent instructions yesterday morning on what she wanted us to do and we did what she said including Wesmin.
He says Heather was put in an ambulance then transferred to another hospital and he does not know which one.
[A staff member] got us a list of hospitals in Petionville which I sent Ryan F. He said that he visited three and she was not there. They are now with Molier, still looking.
Please pray! Tim any advice? Should you contact the embassy?
Call me if you need to.

6:58 AM [Staff member]
I am so sorry. She was sick but wasn't sure if it was just her normal sick with something else or what. I don't think it's cholera. Whoever finds her, see if they will test for typhoid fever. She was feverish with chills and aches and was complaining of lung/chest stuff but says she always has breathing issues there. She tossed and turned and moaned most of the night and was not feeling well since Monday so I would think if it were cholera it would have taken her out before then. We also traveled all day without stopping for bathroom breaks so again, just didn't seem like it was cholera.  It could be a flu or Haiti funk on top of her other medical stuff.

Heather Found?

Then things seemed to take a positive turn. 

At 7:46 AM, a person named "Claude Murielle" sent an email to Heather's two main email addresses with the subject line, "Found Heather." 

Greetings friends,
My wife and I write you this morning and apologize we couldn't get a letter to you sooner. You see we are not so well adjusted to Internet nor do we keep proper Internet at our house.

We were celebrating our 34 anniversary yesterday and found a near death patient at a gas station trying to buy drinks. She was in coherent and looked like she was going to pass out. We had just exited the hotel OASIS. I am a doctor and my wife is a nurse. We took her to the hospital in Petionville but they would not take her saying she seemed to have Cholera. They transferred her to another hospital who wanted to get her to US. No one would accept her due to clear other issues.

We apologize but we had to go through her purse and belongings to try and find out who she is.

She is a lovely young lady and we can't tell you how blessed we are to have her under our care. I can't believe how many children she has. Please tell the children their mom is in good hands.

We need to know where to return her. She tested positive for cholera and malaria. Also, she has very bad lungs. She is on an IV and we administer antibiotics

We are not kidnappers. We live in Boston and know how Haiti hospitals are. She looked near death and we felt strongly we had to do something.

We adopted a little girl 18 years ago. My wife can't have children. Adoption was what lead us to Christ.

We feel strongly that this young lady we care for has a huge calling. We love looking at all the pictures online. She seems to be a real life angel. We are so happy God bring her to us. We spent most the night crying over her blogging.

We would love to donate and help your organization once we get her better

We need an address to drop her off please.

Again sorry we use her phones and purse.

Dr. CM

There was much rejoicing on the part of the staff at this turn of events. 

Four minutes later, "Claude Murielle" sent another email: 

We will check Internet tonight but there was a Haitian man we called that tried to steal her. We could tell he was lying so we did not release her to him. We knew she would die if someone didn't get her help. So we apologize if this man was good but he seemed like he was lying. We are Haitian born and we know our Haitian brothers very well. 

Of course, everyone interpreted this to mean Wesmin.

One of the staff members immediately emailed this to the thread:

Whoever talks to Wesmin, Please let Him know we are so thankful he went back to check on her. She didn't even want him to. She told him to go back to Club and clear it out in case there was cholera there. Please let him know over and over that no one thinks this is his fault and none of us knew it was this bad. She was more achy sick and i had been in the bathroom more than she had that night so we weren't really sure she had cholera but we kept checking symptoms online to what she had and trying to see if it was close. She was (in her own words) irritable which is a sign but the aches and chest/ breathing was different. She just wanted some juice in the morning and to rest. I would have gotten a ride to the airport or stayed if we thought it was this bad. I feel terrible and wish we would have known. Again, so thankful Wesmin went back to check on her.

Wow. So glad that couple found her. The malaria would make sense now with the extra symptoms.....

Praying for her. I'm glad she was able to be with it enough to share abut herself. Helps us to know she is conscious and still with it.

I just want to apologize to everyone for leaving her. I just really didn't know she was that sick.

In a direct reply to "Dr Claude Murielle," another staff member responded this:
Praise God!!!! We have been worried sick. Is she in the hospital or with you now?
Numbers to call:
Ryan [Number redacted]
[Name redacted] [Number redacted]
[Name redacted] [Number redacted]
[Name redacted] [Number redacted]
[Name redacted] [Number redacted]
Molier [Number redacted]
Thank you for you care!!!! Please respond so we can find her. Thank you sooooo much!
"Claude Murielle" wrote back,
Alrighty so I don't understand why I call all those numbers. That is so many numbers. This is very strange to me. Does she have a husband I can talk too? I did not see one in all her pictures. Who is [name redacted]? I need to talk to someone related. she is with us in our home as a guest. You say you need to find her? How did she become lost in the first place?
Maybe my email was not so clear.
Also, we accidentally answered an email and call. We don't know how to use these phones.
I need to talk to someone related to her. What about husband or kids?
When she wakes I will find out what this email means with all these numbers.

The staff member responded, 
I am sorry I was unclear. I am [name redacted]. I am in America. The numbers I gave are ones of staff and missionaries for our organization. Giving Hope Rescue Mission.
They have been looking for her all night in Port au Prince because she was no longer in the hotel. The hotel front desk told the missionaries she was taken to the hospital but they did not know which one. The President of our organization [name redacted] can contact you or her pastor [name redacted]. Heather is unmarried.
We are so grateful for your care.
Thank you,

The Embassy

Meanwhile, Ryan and company had driven over to the US Embassy after failing to find Heather all night. Ryan and Nick went inside the embassy, where they were not permitted to use their phones. Ryan was given a sheet of paper and was asked to write a report of the incident. He did so. 

In the meantime, Moliere was waiting outside in the car with Laura when his phone rang. It was one of the Americans, and he handed the phone to Laura. Laura was told about the email that had come through, so she went inside the embassy to inform Nick and Ryan that Heather had been found. 

However, the embassy wanted proof that this was true. Did they have a phone number or address of where she was? No, they didn't. Without that, they couldn't close the case.

The emails continue

8:29 AM [Missionary] 
I have contacted Moliere, who handed the phone to Laura Brown.  I let her know that Heather was found, safe, on the mend from what we know, and in good hands. She went in to try and get Ryan and Nick, so we could stave off any added drama with the Embassy.  

Laura just called saying the Embassy needed confirmation that she's ok - a phone number/address of where she is at.  Which we don't have.  Laura is giving the Embassy my number to get the contact info.  I'll just be honest of what we've heard and the situation.  Pray for God's lead and for no unnecessary drama with embassy action.  

Anna, let me know if you get any contact info for this couple.  I could forward these emails to the embassy - the two from Dr.CM.  

Let us meditate on the ONE who was right there to get Heather at that gas station at the very point of need - he brought earthly ministers for her.  He will carry this whole process through!

8:39 AM [Staff member]
I would suggest that it might be wise to keep in contact with the embassy on this until we hear directly from heather or someone sees her in person and confirms the situation. I believe that God is active in this and is directing you all on the ground with his spirit and discernment. Bless you guys!

9:13 AM [Missionary]
I just spoke with the embassy.  I've forwarded the first email from this doctor and they agree the do not wish to drop the case until we have Heather, have spoken with her or have an address/phone contact.  The embassy finds it strange that this man would not give a number or address, but it's very likely - and judging from their emails - they are being extra careful for her safety.   I trust the Lord will not allow our feet to stumble... and will lead us in the way we should go.  Standing on Psalm 32:8!   Thank you for your caution and insight!

I'm off email now, due to internet, so text of call if I am needed!

9:16 AM [Staff member]
I talked to [person] and [person]. She is calling the hotel Oasis and verifying this man Dr C was/is there.

9:18 AM [Claude Murielle]
I think I am understanding a little better. Still confused on some issues.  Your email makes clarity.

Haiti is dangerous. The fact the man I called yesterday tried to lie and steal her makes me wee nervous.

 Yes I need to speak to someone directly and yes I want to be the one to drop her off so I can see everything and meet the people who take her and exchange numbers. I want to keep in touch on her care. She needs antibiotics twice a day. She needs liquids every hour. Please add salt and a spoon of sugar to her water.

Where are the kids? Cholera is dangerous and you can die from This. It is a luck she is still alive. She needs an xray on her lungs. Please someone needs to make sure her kids don't have cholera. I don't understand how an American got Cholera.

I need an address and a phone number. I can have her at her house by this Evening at 8 pm. I need to know who the person is I drop her off at and need them to give me their number when they recognize her face. I want the number of these men you say.

Thank you personal assistant.

Dr. CM.

9:31 AM [Michelle S]
I just talked to heather. She is OK. Please tell them embassy she is OK. I didn't tell her the embassy was involved or she would have freaked. She said the Dr is going to drop her off.

9:45 AM [Staff member]
Just spoke with the Hotel Oasis. They confirmed that "Dr Claude Murielle" was not a guest and recommended embassy involvement.

They did go to Heather's room and spoke with Wesmin. They seemed suspicious of him, but I assured them that he is someone we trust.

In light of Michelle's email I don't think we should do more with the hotel.

9:46 AM [Michelle S]
Do not contact the hotel please

10:13 AM [Staff member]
Heather is awake talking to Michelle and I, still weak, making plans. Everything is getting worked out. Thank you for your continued prayers.

10:21 AM [Staff member]
Praise the Lord!

10:28 AM [Staff member]
Such good news. 

In the light of all this, the need for missionaries to have smart phones is very apparent.  I can't imagine how hard it was for those searching for hospitals to be doing so without GPS. Or not being able to keep up with the email conversations going on here. It's very easy to use Natcom or Digicel SIM cards in unlocked iPhones. If it is ok with everyone, Charity and I can create a post to collect iPhones so the missionaries will be better able to communicate with each other, offer updates and so forth. Of course we won't mention Heather's situation in the request but will mention how an hour and the right directions to hospitals could save lives in the future. 

Let me know if this would be ok.

2:35 PM [Staff member]
I have spoken to Heather several times. Everything is okay. Just resting back in Montrouis for now. She will be writing everyone later when she feels better. Thank you for your prayers. 

*end of thread*

Trip back to Montrouis

Once Michelle and another staff member had actually spoken with Heather on the phone and reassured themselves that she was awake and stable, they got word to the embassy that they could close the case and Ryan could go home. 

Moliere drove the group along Route Nacionale #1 back towards Montrouis when they came up behind a familiar green vehicle. 

"That looks like Wesmin's car," Ryan thought. They pulled up beside it to pass them. 

Sure enough, it was. There were Heather and Wesmin in the car together, talking and laughing. Heather appeared perfectly healthy.

The aftermath

Heather accused Ryan of being "totally inappropriate and acting out of line" for his actions in going to seek her in Port au Prince. There was absolutely no recognition of his heroic, self-sacrificing action. Given the light that he had at the time (and assuming that all of the available data was true), the choice NOT to go seek her would have been unconscionable.

My humble opinion on interpreting these events 

Looking back from the perspective of four years later, and knowing what I now know, this is what I think about the situation. These are only guesses, but they are the guesses I'm currently applying to make sense of the way things went down.

I think....

  • Heather made the whole thing up 
  • Heather was with Wesmin the whole time and was dictating to Wesmin what to do and not do (i.e. now stop answering Ryan's texts; now call Michelle S and tell her such-and-such, etc.)
  • Heather used a few "real" symptoms that her staff members had seen to make the whole thing believable that she had become so gravely ill so quickly.
  • "Claude Murielle" was an invention of Heather and Wesmin together (Heather thinking it up, and Wesmin writing it). They would have opened a gmail account and died laughing over the way they imagined it would go over when it came through. 
  • When things looked like they were getting gravely close to being found out (i.e. Americans at the embassy and calling the Oasis hotel), Heather had to call Michelle to "end" the whole joke.
Things that simply don't line up or make sense
  • Michelle's very first email: "I was informed that heather was taken to a hospital in port today, for what I am not sure.  Wesmins guess was cholera.  He just told me that she is on an iv and unconscious." 
  • This states some very clear facts: "Heather was taken to a hospital in port." There are a finite number of hospitals in port. "Wesmins guess was cholera." If she was admitted to a hospital, there would be no more "guessing" because she would have tested positive or negative. "He just told me that she is on an iv and unconscious." Therefore, Wesmin must have been at the hospital long enough for Heather to not only get admitted, but also get put on an IV and THEN lose consciousness. For Michelle's email to be true, Wesmin must have called her and known all these things.
  • Then the story changes, and no one seems to notice the discrepancy. Suddenly, Heather is found incoherently wandering around a gas station. She is fortuitously found by a compassionate person who just "happens" to have this insane combination of characteristics: 
  • A doctor
  • A Christian
  • A person who lives in Boston, but who is also a Haitian, and is also presently in Haiti
  • Someone who has adopted a child
  • Someone who has medical training, near-fluent English, and a home in the US, yet doesn't know how to operate a smartphone

Other discrepancies from the doctor's email (read this as if Heather is the brains behind it, and suddenly, the whole thing falls apart):
  • This doctor ran into Heather who was "near death" despite being presumably upright and walking around at the gas station. People don't typically intervene on behalf of a complete stranger when they are merely "incoherent and look like they are going to pass out." 
  • Then he took her to the hospital in Petionville, and the hospital refused to admit her, but still managed to "transfer her" to another hospital that wanted to get her to US, but yet "no one would accept her." 
  • This doctor presumably follows Heather through all these transfers, and despite his medical credentials is unable to get her admitted anywhere, so he takes her to his OWN PERSONAL HOME (on his anniversary night, no less), where he puts her on IVs and antibiotics and she goes unconscious.
  • This doctor seemingly cares so very much about reuniting Heather with her family that he trespasses on her purse and phone, but he somehow manages to wait all night before attempting to contact anyone. 
  • Heather managed to let her cell phone battery die early in the morning despite spending the night at the premier hotel in Port where they have electricity. Yet as soon as the doctor rummages through her purse for the phone, it works perfectly for him to look up who she's connected to. 
  • Instead of making a phone call, the doctor chooses to write an email, because that's the most efficient way to get in touch with someone in an emergency, right? 
  • The doctor just "happens" to choose from among Heather's thousands of contacts the exact right two email addresses to write to, including Heather's OWN email address, which wouldn't make sense to anyone other than a person who knew that someone else read Heather's email. He manages to do this despite being so clueless about the phone's functionality that he "accidentally" answers a call and replies to an email and has to apologize for this.
  • The doctor feels the need to mention, "We are not kidnappers." This is so obviously "Heather's fingerprints" it's like a dead giveaway.

Things that make me feel sick inside over this situation
  • All the people who put themselves in danger and lost an entire night's sleep with no thanks or recognition 
  • The staff being made to feel horrible and guilty over leaving the country (something that could easily be manipulated later by a clever person into making people waste money and time on changing their ticket, simply because they felt guilty over the last time when they didn't do it) 
  • All the urgent requests for prayer over a situation that was FAKE.
Other observations
  • You can see here that no one believed that Heather had a husband at this point, contradicting what other people had seen in earlier visits to Haiti.
  • Notice that no one questioned the validity of (a) Heather being violently ill (b) Heather's whereabouts being unknown (c) the doctor's blatantly false email (d) Wesmin mysteriously knowing and then not knowing where she was. No one noticed the discrepancies. This is how good Heather was at hiding the fact that she was the one behind all the drama. In hindsight, it seems completely obvious, but in the thick of the situation, there was so much chaos that we simply accepted the data at face value without looking any deeper. 
  • Notice, too, how much dirt Heather threw onto Wesmin through this situation. I, for one, took it at face value at the time and felt that if this doctor had mistrusted Wesmin enough to refuse to release Heather to him when he came to pick her up, then Wesmin must be suspicious indeed. 
  • Observe Heather's incredible, blatant self-promotion in the doctor's email: "She is a lovely young lady and we can't tell you how blessed we are to have her under our care. I can't believe how many children she has. Please tell the children their mom is in good hands....We feel strongly that this young lady we care for has a huge calling. We love looking at all the pictures online. She seems to be a real life angel. We are so happy God bring her to us.  We spent most the night crying over her blogging....We would love to donate and help your organization once we get her better."
  • It's also worth pointing out that this whole situation was supposed to be confidential. Therefore, no one could reach out to the people outside the situation to get a reality check or a healthy dose of skepticism. Even if we had "disobeyed" and shared it, though, it's doubtful if other people's opinion would have made a big enough dent to get us to see the light. I know for myself, I was still very much "drinking the kool-aid" and was therefore largely impervious to outside perspective. For instance, my dad saw right through it (not this situation per se, but the whole Heather thing in general), but I couldn't accept his version of the story for a long, long time. Furthermore, the number of people I respected and trusted who were also believing the story was so high that it bolstered my confidence in a "Heather-favorable" interpretation. How could this many smart and informed people ALL be wrong when they all went through the situation together? Looking back, it is hard to believe how long Heather was able to play this game and how many variations of it she was able to pull off before people stopped believing her.

Well, congratulations if you made it through all that. 

What's incredible is that future events made this one seem mild and tame and forgettable by comparison. 

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Mysterious Disappearance of Heather Elyse

Yes, that sounds like a Hardy Boys title. And the story that unfolded was almost Hardy-Boy-esque in its absurdity and unlike-real-life-ness.

So there I was on day 3 of my cholera recovery. I was doing quite well overall, taking it easy, trying to avoid too much contact with other people, and using lots and lots of bleach. Bleach and I became very good friends during that episode.

I had spent the night hooked up to an IV bag after receiving such kindness and great treatment from the clinic in Cabaret. In the morning, I was feeling much better due to being rehydrated, and the diarrhea had slowed way down due to the Cipro knocking it out. I still had quite a bit of abdominal pain, but I was able to drink normally and keep everything down. I didn't eat a lot, but just took it easy and rested most of the day.

One of the important things with cholera is not reinfecting yourself, and regular soap doesn't kill it, so you have to use bleach. The nurses had taught me the proper bleach-to-water ratio. By 4:00 Wednesday afternoon, I was amazed to discover the energy to bleach all my clothes, clean the bathroom, wipe down my entire floor with bleach (even moving the bed and all the furniture), and do all the laundry for my bleached clothes, bedding, towels, and cleaning rags.

Funny story--I had soaked my clothes in bleach water for the obligatory ten minutes, and I had taken them to the laundry room, where they had been through the washer and were just finishing in the dryer. When the dryer finished, I went in to pull the clothes out. Some guy I didn't know was in the laundry room, too, putting clothes in the washer. "Hi," I mumbled. "Hola," he said. "Hola," I said back. Then his eyes widened and he did a double take. "Wow! Are you ok?"

"Oooohhhhh," I realized. "I must look like a fright! I should have waited until he was gone before I came in here. I forgot what I must look like to people." There I was, greasy hair, bare feet, no makeup, and IV tubes still dangling out of my arm, affixed with big obvious X's of white tape. "Yeah, I'm ok," I said as nonchalantly as possible. "I'm going to be fine," and with that I swept my clothes out of the dryer and high-tailed it back to my room. Aaaah! Embarrassing!

For some context on what was about to unfold, a couple of Heather's staff members had come down to Haiti for a short visit. They were going to fly out early on Feb 6th, so they had left Montrouis the day before and went to Port au Prince to spend the night in the Oasis hotel, where they would be closer to the airport for their flight in the morning.

Heather and Wesmin went with them.


Towards evening on the 6th, Ryan F came down to my room.

"We've got a problem," he said. "Heather wasn't feeling well after the group went to the airport this morning. She thinks she may have cholera. She was texting early on in the day, but the battery on her phone died. Wesmin was with her initially, but now he doesn't know where she is. For a while he was texting me, but now even he has stopped answering his texts. A group of us are leaving now to try to find her. I'm taking a Tap-tap to Port tonight with Laura Brown and Nick."

"Whoa!" I said. "Can I go?"

Ryan hesitated. I realized that only a few hours earlier I had been hooked up to an IV for my cholera.

"Never mind," I corrected myself. "What am I thinking? Well, I'll be praying for you."

Ryan departed. I remember being struck with how I had never thought of just how difficult it would be to find someone who had gotten lost in a city in a foreign country if they were sick and their phone battery died. I wondered how Ryan could possibly find her. It is well known in Haiti that it is not safe or recommended to drive after dark, and especially not late at night, in Port au Prince, and I knew Ryan was risking his neck to go and look for Heather.

Then the emails started flowing.

At 5:40 PM, Michelle S sent an email out to all the missionaries and staff.

Hello staff,
I was informed that heather was taken to a hospital in port today, for what I am not sure. Wesmins guess was cholera. He just told me that she is on an iv and unconscious. Please pray. Please keep it amongst the staff. I don't want any of our adoptive parents to panic and you know how private a person heather is ;)
I will keep everyone updated, but please pray fervently.

5:41 PM: [Staff member]
"yes, will start praying and won't stop until we hear that she is fully recovered."

5:46 PM: [Staff member]
"Yes, of course. Praying wholeheartedly and fervently. Thank you for updating us and for all you do, Michelle."

6:05 PM: [Staff member]
"Been praying all day. She was not well when we left this morning. :("

9:02 PM: [Staff member]
...She was sick when we left at 5:30am but insisted we all go. She told us that she needed juice and so Wesmin bought some at the gas station. She said that she just wanted to sleep and that she would decide when Wesmin returned if she needed to go to the hospital. We had two cars at the Oasis hotel. The new red one and green Mazda. We were in the green Mazda today because it's the only one with a working air conditioner.
Heather was not able to answer texts. Her phone batteries were dead. She emailed Wesmin at 11:45am saying she needed to go to the hospital. My guess is that he arrived there at that time or soon after based on when he dropped us off at the airport.
I talked to Ryan F and told him the situation and to go find them. When I landed i received the text that said he was headed to Port with Nick and Laura to look for them. Received a text from Wesmin that he sent while I was in the air that said he was worried sick. She was in the hospital with iv. He didn't mention what hospital.
I wish we would have stayed.....ughhhh
Exhausted myself, but feeling fine.


Meanwhile, Ryan and the crew who went to Port had managed to get in touch with Moliere, a Haitian driver who had reliable vehicles. We often hired him for airport runs and other things. The group left the tap tap behind, and Moliere drove them to the Oasis hotel, the last place where Heather had been seen. The front desk told them that Heather had checked out that morning, but that Wesmin had reserved his room for another night and was still there.

Ryan dialed Wesmin's room number from the front desk telephone. Wesmin picked up the phone and acted enraged that he was being contacted. He refused to come down to the lobby, and he said he was with a woman and wasn't about to leave her alone to go down and talk to Ryan.

Unsuccessful on that front, they spent the whole night driving from hospital to hospital in Port au Prince, asking if Heather had been admitted there and not finding her. Laura Brown is a nurse who is fluent in Creole and has extensive work experience in Haitian hospitals, so she was an invaluable resource to them in this endeavor.

No luck. None of the hospitals had her.


MANY people back in the US hit their knees for fervent prayer. Some of them would faithfully continue all night.


I went to bed and slept all through the night, which I considered to be a quick and dramatic answer to prayer for my recovery from cholera.

Continued tomorrow at 9:00 AM EST.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

I Get Cholera, Day 2

If you missed Day 1, read it here. This is part of a series reviewing events that happened four years ago in Haiti.

February 5, 2013

Overnight my temperature spiked at 103.3 and gradually started to go down, reaching 101.5 by the next morning and then leveling out at 100.2 about midday.

Through the morning, everyone kept checking on me. One of the missionaries made me some Pedialyte, which I drank, but 15 minutes later I vomited it back up, and the experience was so unpleasant I found it difficult to motivate myself to drink again. I tried little sips every few minutes, but every few minutes ended up being more like every hour, and by 2:00 I had only drunk about an inch from the glass.

The missionary men came to my room to pray for me early in the morning, which I greatly appreciated. Then I just slept or listened to sermons for a while. They came back about 2:00 and asked if I would like them to pray for me again, which I said I wouldn’t turn down.

I have to be grateful for the watchfulness and initiative of Ryan F. He had made some calls and found out about a clinic outside of Cabaret where there were some American nurses. He got the phone number for them and arranged an appointment for me. He was tired of taking people to St. Marc and watching them be stuck 15 times before they got the IV in. So he drove me down there, with our interpreter along, and me lying feebly in the back seat, hoping and praying that I wouldn’t have diarrhea too many times on the car trip. If it weren't for Ryan, I would probably have languished for another day or more before I got any medical attention, and who knows how much worse I would have gotten by then?

The first part of the drive, the part on the paved road, was fine, but then we got onto the dirt road. The clinic had sent a Haitian named Frank down to meet us at the turnoff where we connected with the dirt road, so he hopped in the car to guide us, and I had to sit up. He was an older guy, dressed in a red shirt, and he had such a pleasant face and genuine smile that even in my foggy, semi-incoherent state I appreciated it.

The road was very bumpy, but it took us way up into the mountains, to give me a glimpse of rural Haiti that I had never seen before. The vegetation was very dry scrub bushes and sparse brown grass, covered all over with a thick layer of dust near the road. Haitians rode by on thin horses, their backs laden with burlap sacks full of market produce. A little girl, walking along in the middle of nowhere, stopped to smile and wave. Goats and cows grazed along the sides of the road, un-fenced-in and untied. The houses were built of poorer materials, and they were so few and far between, I wondered how in the world anyone subsisted up here. There was no visible agriculture going on, no cultivated lots or crops, just stony dry ground and thorny bushes. How did they get their supplies? I wondered. Even getting bare rice and beans seemed a bit difficult to imagine. There weren’t exactly tap-taps running up and down this road. And how in the world is it possible that there’s a clinic back up in here? I wondered. We topped a little rise and I could see the sea in the distance, which meant that our switchbacks had turned us around temporarily to face the way we had come. This was the first time I had ventured over the mountains in any way. It was like a great hike with the vehicle doing all the work.

We drove on and on. What I was told would be 30 minutes felt like it took 2 hours, because every jolt and bump took its toll on my miserable abdomen. Finally I could stand it no longer. “I think I have to go to the bathroom,” I said. “Can you pull over?” The place was remote. There were no houses or cars or motos or people. I would rather go on the ground, outside the car, than go in a bag in the car with 3 men, and then have to smell it the rest of the way. I waded gingerly through the thorns and down a steep bank to a place of relative privacy, but by no means hidden from view. Thank the Lord for skirts, I thought, which permit you to do something like this relatively modestly. I was just squatting down when I heard a slight rustle. A Haitian was slowly riding by on a horse. He stared at me all the way, this apparition of a white woman in a long white skirt with a roll of toilet paper in her hand, obviously about to use the side of the road as a toilet. I waited until he was gone and then tried again. Thank the Lord I could hold it! I thought. This time no one happened along, and I finished my business with as much modesty as I could and got back in the car, trusting that the guys had kept their eyes forward and not looked around backward to where I was. Nobody made any comment except for “We have about 6 or 7 more minutes to go,” and we went on. That 6 or 7 minutes felt like 20, but finally we made it, parked the car, and got out.

I walked slowly in with Ryan and Jack accompanying me, and immediately, Lori and Alicia, sisters, saw me, got me into a room, and started treatment. They took a malaria test and a cholera test, gave me some anti-nausea medication, and put me on an IV. The cholera test came back positive, malaria, negative. They answered all our questions and gave us as much time as we needed and were very flexible with what we wanted to do. I could stay overnight in their cholera house, or go home with an IV and medicine, or just stay for a few hours, or whatever I thought was best. I opted to go home with the IV. They showed me how to change the IV bag when mine got empty and were overall very helpful. They also filled a tote bag with 4 extra IV bags, a whole bottle of Cipro, a whole bottle of Zithromax, 5 parasite treatments for kids we have here, lots of bandaids and alcohol swabs, tubing kits to install two IV bags, some anti-nausea pills, syringes to measure the proper doses of everything, and some bleach powder to mix with water for sterilizing things properly. They didn't charge us a penny for the care or the supplies. Amazing. We wanted to do something to bless them back after they treated me so helpfully. Ryan said, “You can take me here anytime if I ever keel over.” I heartily agreed.

We had to do the drive back in the dark, which Ryan heroically did. I lay in the back seat all the way home, holding myself as still as possible despite the jostling. I fell asleep once we got to the paved road and could scarcely wake up enough to discern which was the way back to the apartment building once we got home at about 8:00 pm.

I walked back to my room, went to the bathroom, and then lay on the floor for about an hour, trying to work up the energy to take a shower before I went to bed. Finally I did. I got up, showered, got ready for bed, and gratefully snuggled between the sheets with my IV bag hanging above me, dropping the life-giving fluid into my veins. I slept sweetly.


Continued tomorrow at 9:00 AM EST

Saturday, February 4, 2017

I Get Cholera, Day 1

This journal entry was written four years ago and never posted. It provides a glimpse into the things that happened and the way I was thinking about them at the time. I had been incredibly grateful that I never came down with cholera myself during all the time I was caring for the babies in the hospital in Port au Prince. 

However, after I got back from Port, I spent about half a day scrubbing the floor inch by inch in one of the rooms at Club Indigo because two American guys were coming down and were going to stay there. The room had previously been lined with babies' cribs, and the floor was caked with grime and crud, but I joyfully took a rag and bucket and washed it down, scrubbing on my hands and knees, excited about the guys who were coming and utterly unconcerned about investing some hard work into giving them a clean place to stay. (Club Indigo had a cleaning staff who would come through with a mop once a day, but they just did a quick pass over the room, and this room definitely needed deep cleaning.) I remember getting extremely sweaty due to the amount of elbow grease I had to exert, and I emerged from the room disheveled with my hair a mess.

Only after I finished scrubbing the room was I told that babies with cholera had been kept in that room while I was at Port. I hadn't worn gloves or taken any special precautions while I scrubbed the floor. I'm sure that some of that grime and crud was cholera-infested feces. And that's how I think I came down with cholera after being fine the whole time up to that point.    

February 4, 2013

Ever since I got back to Haiti, I have been trying to have a girls’ night with the missionary ladies. I brought summer sausage and three kinds of specialty Wisconsin cheese that I had gotten in the US, and I wanted to have the ladies over for fellowship, prayer, and snacks. Monday I was at the creche as usual, but it seemed like nothing was going on that night. Ah! My girls’ night! I thought. So I called and texted people and set it up.

About 6:00 in the evening, I happily set to work making some homemade chai tea. About 6:30, I went to pick up one of the ladies from her house. (First time driving at night in Haiti!) Suddenly, as soon as I walked in the door to my room, I felt nauseous. It was only slight, and I pushed it out of my mind. I continued making the chai and cutting the cheese and summer sausage. Two more ladies came about 8:00, and I served everyone chai.

Then I had to go to the bathroom. It was diarrhea. I took my temperature. 99.3. I was sure I was in for it. I told the girls that maybe they should all go home, because I just had diarrhea and I told them what my temperature was. They decided to stay, and we did have a lovely time talking, though I was curled up in a fetal position on the bed, huddled under a blanket and feeling worse all the time. We had a prayer time together, lifting up each other’s needs, and that was also very wonderful.

The ladies left, and I took my temperature again. It was 101.5. “Oh, no!” I thought. I went to bed, where I thrashed and moaned all night long, getting up frequently to go to the bathroom, and having weird, feverish, delusional sensations. I remember at one point feeling like I had four bodies, and trying to decide which one of them I would send to the bathroom. Nobody wanted to go. Finally desperate urges caused one of them to take the initiative, and I was surprised that all of me went along.

The signs of cholera are liquid diarrhea and vomiting, with a distinctive, almost lime-green color, a distinctive smell, and a texture sometimes like rice. I was sure I had it. Cholera works by stripping your body of the water in your cells. Long after the digestive system is emptied out, the patient continues to have diarrhea, because the disease is eating away at the intestinal lining, breaking down tissues, and emptying out all the water in them. Bowel movements are like pure liquid with a few small solid chunks of matter (which I imagine would be bits of villi). It was truly agonizing.


Read the next post: I Get Cholera, Day 2

Friday, February 3, 2017

Filling In Some of the Gaps in the Cholera Story

Since posting my cholera story, I have gotten a TON of feedback, input, and information from a variety of sources who contacted me. Here are a couple of interesting pieces to the story to fill in the gaps.

  • I didn't know what happened at the creche in my absence. I stated in the comment section under Cholera Day 2 that I didn't think these kids would have gotten sick if they had stayed at the creche. This was my best attempt at making sense of the situation, but it turns out that may not be an accurate interpretation. 
  • One of the missionaries just told me that the babies who were sent with me were the ones who were more healthy or had more "chub" who the creche considered to be the least likely to come down with cholera.
  • 7 babies from the creche got cholera and were moved to Club Indigo, where an American named Jessica (who happened to be visiting) took over their care, ensuring that they were given proper treatment, checking on them every hour, and pretty much working to the point of exhaustion to ensure that they all recovered. They did. 
  • Club Indigo never authorized these kids to be living at Club, so when they found out about it, it was a big deal that Ryan F had to smooth over with Club officials. Fortunately, he had a great relationship with them and was able to do so. 
  • The Club Indigo situation triggered the need to look for a new site to keep babies, and the organization located and rented a house in Pierre Payen, right off the main Hwy 1 on the south side of the road. All the babies got moved to that house on January 30, leaving the baby house empty at the creche in Montrouis. 
  • On Feb 1, one of the missionary couples, R and S, moved out of Club Indigo and into what was formerly the baby house at the creche, because it was much cheaper for them than living at Club Indigo. (I am purposely not going into detail about what happened to them in the whole Haiti mess, because it is their story to tell, but in my opinion what I watched them walk through was perhaps the most heartbreaking story of all the ones that I witnessed.)