I'll never forget how our last trip started: we arrived into Port-au-Price, and upon exiting the airport and walking into the scorching heat, realized our truck - that would be taking us to the village - had a flat. No fancy tools in Haiti: a rush metal rod, some make-shift propping mechanism for the vehicle, and POOF the tire was changed. Looking at our team members - basking in the heat while we waited - I was beyond humbled how no one was phased by this hiccup in our travels. I'm accustomed to the travel adage "everything you think can go wrong likely will;" but to see that internalized and shrugged off by the other members made me realize what a unique group THMT attracts.
Just like last year, this year we had a diverse group of individuals: physician assistants from where I am on faculty at the Baylor College of Medicine, nurse practitioners from New Orleans to New York City, administrative members from the organization itself whom I worked with last year, and an array of on-the-ground Haitian staff including medical students, physicians, and dental students. Every year I return I'm simply taken back how such a diverse team - both in profession and ages - can come together in a remote section of Haiti and, hardly knowing each other immediately take the reins and work in such harmony. Every member of our team brought a unique skill-set to the mission, and together we made our mission trip as truly productive as possible.
Several other things - aside from instant cohesion that always transpires with the groups I lead - also stand out. During our stay at the clinic, we saw hundreds of patients, treating conditions ranging from complicated ear lacerations, to hypertensive urgency, to hyperglycemia in a diabetics. We successfully treated countless children with upper respiratory infections that benefited from nebulizers and possible antibiotics, and were able to provide appropriate referrals to patients that needed a higher level of care. With such scant resources, the pharmacy we have stocked - loaded with some of the most essential medicines needed for us to be successful - continues to be one of the strongest assets provided by THMT.
Beyond this, the fact that we have so many eager translators work for us, who are known and respected within the community, adds more relevance and creates more impact to THMT's continued presence within the community. I have generally found in my global health mission work this barrier - cross-cultural understanding and trust, particularly in an area where westernized medicine can be viewed in a skeptical light against traditional Voodoo beliefs - can be one the most arduous to overcome. However, our translators, coupled with guidance and support of the pastors, made our clinic weeks generally run smoothly and effortlessly.
Global health work is a tough business: leaving your home, immersing oneself in an entirely new country and culture, and working long and hard hours in a setting that drastically differs from what we have available in the US makes me have the utmost respect for the team members that join me. Every time I reflect on Haiti - from the friendships I have locals around the community, to the incredible practitioners I have been fortunate enough to work alongside and learn from - I swell with pride at what we have accomplished, and look forward to our continued work and presence within the community.
Ripal "Rip" Patel, MD, MPH