Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Noisy Nights and Days:

The combination of noises last night—whooee! It was a cacophonous racket. We had a roomful of Guatemalans next door to us. They were talking animatedly and had the TV up loud on an American channel. A infernal pump of some sort directly outside our window churned noisily on and off all night. And then sounding as if it was coming on the other side of our front door was a hyena-like coughing and gagging. The poor person had bouts of these sick, desperate- sounding noises every 20 minutes or so.

At one point, being a doctor and all, John got up to check, but could not find the source of the sounds. We think they are from a man staying in a room across from ours. We met him yesterday. He is a Canadian citizen from a French speaking province and of Italian descent who has a business in Haiti. John saw him at breakfast abusing one of the waiters and thinks he could be manic/depressive. The man said he is hiding out here because the U.N. is trying to kill him, which seems highly unlikely, but then again, this is Haiti so you never know. Even more preposterously, he claims that the U.S. is going to invade Haiti this summer and make it an American protectorate and that Aristide will be returning soon. He said he has proof of all of this. Anyway, I incorporated his coughing—or whoseever it was—into my dream. John and I were on a ship in complete fog. The only thing we had to guide us was this coughing but we couldn’t tell which direction it was coming from.

Despite the noisy night, we both got decent sleep and made it to clinic only to find that conditions there weren’t much better. Lots of moms and kids in the waiting area and the babies had the crying volume up full blast. Both John and Dr. Jean-François were seeing patients in an 8x8 foot room. About six nurses were trying to organize the chaos in the waiting area, including weighing the patients and taking their temps. These nurses bring in the patients’ dossiers and for some reason today, they were coming in the room every few minutes to shuffle through the dossiers. This made it difficult to thoroughly examine the babies. John brings a heavy-duty antibiotic, ceftriaxone, brand name Rocephin, from the U.S. which is given by injection. He reserves this medicine for the sickest children, and only one of the three babies he ordered an injection for got it.

“You know what this place needs is Six Sigma,” I joked to John. “CAT should send a team down, train some black belts, and whip this clinic into shape.” Har-de-har-har. One of the realities of practicing medicine in Haiti is the frustration of working in a less than ideal environment. Supplies, order, and skills are all lacking. While most environments are far from optimal in Haiti, in the field of medicine, these gaps can contribute to life and death—mainly death—consequences. American clinicians who practice in Haiti have to decide what they can tolerate. John remembers one doctor from an academic institution, who volunteered with a medical mission group. He flew home earlyt and wrote the group leader a letter charging him with malpractice. Well, yes, by U.S. standards it might have been, but in Haiti the team probably saved lives.

Perspective helps. The following prayer by Archbishop Oscar Romero from El Salvador, who was killed for his insistence on justice for the poor and his criticism of the death squads, provides it:

It helps now and then, to step back and take the long view. The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts; it is even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that should be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and to do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders, ministers not messiahs. We are prophets of a future that is not our own.

The picture above is of Archbishop Oscar Romero from El Salvador, an outspoken advocate for the poor. He was assasinated while saying Mass in 1980.

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