Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Living in a time of Cholera

As a western trained health care professional, names like typhoid and cholera send chills down my spine.  I was in the states as the current epidemic was worsening.  I wondered how we would find life and living when we returned home before Christmas.  I needn't have worried tho' because as usual God's grace and the resilience of the Haitian people continue to astound me.
While cholera is terrifying simply in it's speed of destroying lives, it can be dealt with so easily.  One of the first things most of us who live here did was spend quite a bit of time and resources educating people. I learned long ago that the cooks here were skilled at preparing safe food.  They could take a piece of fresh meat from the market, "wash" it with lemons (acetic acid) and thoroughly cook it into a yummy, edible dish.  Those that tend to get sick (often foreigners) , are those who fail to use these methods.  Trust me, folks, our cooks know what they are doing!
But with cholera now endemic in our area, the main difference is needing to treat quickly.  Normally, if someone gets sick in our neighborhood, they'll just stay home and groan for a few days suffering through fevers, etc.  With Typhoid and malaria, this was okay.  But cholera's severe dehydration can kill in hours.  My nephew, a newly graduated physician in the Dominican Republic, has reported to me that there have been quite a few cases there, but very few deaths because of people seeking treatment quickly.   The 4,,000 plus deaths we've had in Haiti are largely due to people not responding quickly enough.  The terrible tragedy to me is that the treatment is available to most people in their own pantries.  Oral re-hydration solutions can be made with sugar, salt, and clean drinking water.   If someone would just start drinking as soon as they have symptoms, they would in all likelihood survive.  In severe cases, only one dose of Doxycycline should be sufficient.  If all this is true, why the panic?  Because old reflexes die hard, at least in this old registered nurse.
So besides spreading the word about how easily this is treated, we are practicing prevention with visible measures as well.  For example, all of our students have been taught the importance of hand washing.  The little ones can chant rhymes and songs of the needs to wash hands..  On our school campus, we have well water (thanks to Rotary International) which our guards carry to the classrooms.  The younger students are helped to wash their hands before eating, etc. so it's a constant reinforcement of how to stay healthy.

Overall, life has changed very little up here in the north central plateau.  Occasionally I'll see a cot being carried by some men (our version of an ambulance)  to the cholera treatment center in our community that is being run by Doctors Without Borders.   But the good news for us is that most of these cases are coming from outlying areas and very few cases from within the community.  We are so grateful that the education seems to have had an impact.
One reason I think all this is on my mind now is that I know some folks are considering coming to help out in Haiti this coming year, but this cholera stuff is just too scarey.  Trust me, I can understand the trepidation, but this is our reality.   I have learned long ago after raising my children here, that God has ALWAYS provided what we needed, often in very unexpected ways.  Ten years ago  I broke two bones in my right hand in a freak accident.  After it was diagnosed via Xray at our local hospital, there just "happened" to be an American surgeon and Occupational Therapist specializing in hands visiting that week who could ensure my hand was set properly.   I think it was just God's way to reassure me.  Over and over, I've seen things like this, until I realized I really could trust God to provide what we needed when we needed it.
Anyway, I'm not going to mislead people and say there's no risk of anything here in Haiti.  But I've learned that living in a time of Cholera is just the same as any other time, proceeding one day at a time, being cautious (rather than shaking hands, everyone now "hand bumps"), and trusting in God's provisions.  

1 comment:

tiffany said...

God is indeed good.