Lessons Learned

Everyday, this country, this job, and these people teach me something.  This week, I thought I’d share a few lessons I learned along the way.

1) When Your Moto Gets Stuck in the Mud, Sometimes You Have to Get Off and Walk. As perhaps evident from the tenor of the past few blog posts… it has been a rough month.  Between the heartbreaking patient cases, the unrelenting rainstorms, and the frustrations surrounding treatment adherence, it has been all too easy to feel discouraged.  However, this past Friday, a funny thing happened: the sun came out.  And then, like so many dominoes, things started to fall into place.  One of our patients with a back mass was diagnosed with a benign cyst, and promptly received compassionate, quality care.  The secretary for the mayor of Montellano agreed to set up a meeting with HHI to discuss trash collection in one of the Haitian bateyes where we work.  And, with the reprieve from the rain, I was finally — finally! — able to get up the mountain to visit some of our community health workers and patients.  It wasn’t the easiest route: halfway up, our moto lurched to a sudden stop, the wheels grinding fruitlessly in the mud.  Concerned that my trip would be delayed yet again, I asked the driver, “What do we do?”  He looked at me like the true idiot gringa that I am and said, “Nos bajamos y caminamos. We get off and walk.”  Oh.  Right.  So we got off and walked.  And sure, it took a bit longer to get there… but we made it.

Cedric's happy hog

2) It is Possible to Save a Dying Pig Using Only a Sewing Kit and a Bottle of Hand Sanitizer. Apparently adult female pigs are wont to attack other pigs’ offspring in some sort of territorial, Darwinian attempt to ensure the dominance of their own bloodline (yet another “lesson learned” this week).  This recently occurred within the pigsty of Cedric, one of our community health workers: a female pig bit into the stomach of another pig’s newborn, effectively eviscerating the piglet.  Cedric, ever the resourceful and ingenious community health worker that he is,  promptly fetched his first aid box and a sewing kit.  Over the next two hours, he proceeded to clean out the intestines of the piglet with HHI-supplied hand sanitizer and then sew up the wound with tailor’s thread.  After a recent visit to Cedric’s pigsty, I am happy to report that the piglet’s stitches have since been removed and it is recuperating well.

3) Share, Care and Cooperate. Technically, I learned this lesson in Mrs. Gueller’s kindergarten class, but its themes reverberated this week as HHI collaborated with two different NGOs in the area.  On Thursday afternoon, HHI partnered up with The DREAM Project of Cabarete, supplying hand sanitizer and educational handouts in an effort to inform the community about the recent cholera outbreak in Haiti.  (http://www.dominicandream.org/)  Then on Saturday morning, HHI showed up at The Mariposa Foundation to participate in a discussion about domestic violence (http://www.mariposadrfoundation.org).  It was an honor to “share, care and cooperate” with both organizations, and hopefully we will continue to do so in the future.

Girls involved with the Mariposa Foundation's leadership classes

4) You Can Always Talk about Food. Sometimes it can be a bit daunting, when sharing a meal with our patients and their families, to think of a conversational topic that will be able to span vast differences in culture, language, age and socioeconomic status.  For example, the classically American habit of asking about one’s job is simply not done here.  However, over time and through a considerable amount of trial and error, I’ve discovered a few talking points that will spark conversation without fail:

  • the weather
  • friends and family
  • the health of one’s friends and family
  • good food

Looking at that list, and also thinking of all the topics it excludes, I’m beginning to think that Dominicans have it all figured out.

Mercedes, our community health worker from Arroyo de Leche, cooking up a feast

5) Girls Rule.

Sisters from Arroyo de Leche

A study recently published in the medical journal Lancet found that increased educational attainment among women has directly contributed to decreased child mortality worldwide since 1970 (Lancet 376(9745):959-74).  Specifically, the study contends that 4.2 million fewer children died in the last 40 years solely because they had educated mothers.  Reading that study made me think…  80% of our salaried community health workers are women…  and two of our female community health workers  have brought their children to class with them before… and twice in the past month, I’ve gone on patient home visits with female community health workers who brought their young daughters along.  Up in Arroyo de Leche recently, Marielis, the 4-year-old daughter of our community health worker, watched as her mom measured a patient’s blood pressure and counseled him on  various lifestyle changes.  Afterward, the patient pinched  Marielis’ cheeks and teased, “¿Vas a ser médica un día, mi corazón? Are you going to be a doctor someday, sweetie?”  Marielis shyly nodded, and I thought, “She just might.”

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One Comment

  1. rebecca hickey
    Posted November 18, 2010 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

    I love your insight, Megan. I am pleased the sun finally came out…it always does…but, sometimes it takes it’s sweet time. Women rule the world!…they just don’t know it, yet. I love that young girls are being teased about becoming doctors..let that thought marinate for 10-15 years and who knows what will happen. Keep up the good work…I know it is not easy but it is definitely important.

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