The Trying Times of Cholera
The people of Haiti seem to be facing this newest challenge, Cholera, with their usual strength, and a full determination to plow ahead.
The Ministry of Health, and foreign organizations working in public health, are trying to contain the spread of Cholera by having people treated in centers in the Artibonite valley, as opposed to going to Port-au-Prince or other centers away from the Artibonite River, the source of contamination. There are also vigorous instructions on the radio as to the importance of thorough hand washing and proper food preparation.
As you probably know, Cholera is different from other illnesses that cause diarrhea because you can lose so much fluid within hours of the start of the illness, that you will go into shock and die. It also doesn't help that Cholera is very contagious.
During this epidemic, we have been in solidarity with the Haitian people with our traditional good neighbor policy. We have made four trips to St Marc, one to Ester and one to Robinet near Grand Saline. Long hard rides on rough roads, where we all sleep in the truck when necessary, drinking water we bring with us and eating snacks. We usually go to these places after a days work at our own mission, and then do a partial night shift at St Marc, from about 7 PM to midnight.
Our approach is very simple. We just try to strengthen what is being done. We bring mattresses or beds for those on the floor, we bring the patients tooth brushes, tooth paste, towels, Gatorade or Pedialyte, some articles for hygiene, some snacks for when they can eat. For healthcare we bring IV fluids and catheters, IV poles, sheets, etc. Because usually the staff are strained, we usually wind up using these ourselves for the patients. Our usual work has been starting and managing IV therapy for people who have fallen between the cracks.
You can imagine it is a hard reality. People's most private bodily functions become very public, and with so many people with vomit and diarrhea together it is very difficult to control sanitation. It is embarrassing for the patients. They are very weak with sunken eyes, dry mouths and tongues, skin that has become loose and thin. IV fluids and the Pedialyte or Gatorade, when they are managed right, save the people from death.
We are very lucky and very glad that we can help our neighbors in their troubles. We will try to go to Grand Saline in the next day or two by helicopter if we can, since it is the only way in. For our own institutions we can have more involvement. We are being sure there are proper water filters at our orphanages, and we have a full plan of action worked out in case Cholera comes to Port-au-Prince. The plan at St. Damien's preserves the inside of the hospital from contamination (so that maternity, cancer are, surgery and other programs do not get contaminated), and yet still allows us to receive up to 400 children with Cholera. At the St Luke family hospital, and even at Francsville if necessary, we have set out the plans for how to receive up to 200 adults. We can expand these numbers if necessary.
In any case, my own impression from working in the field these last days is that the Cholera is being contained. There are still a lot of patients but less. There are only 6 reported cases in Port-au- Prince, and I believe they are at the general hospital, and they are all from Artibonite (not infected in Port-au-Prince).
Let's hope and pray that we will see a decline now in the number of people embattled by this illness.
Thank you for your prayers and concerns and support. We are always glad for donations to help. We have invested heavily into IV fluids and catheters, Pedialyte, Gatorade, sheets, buckets, and on and on and on.
Best regards and prayers for God's blessing on you and your family,
Fr. Rick Frechette