After the January 12 earthquake struck the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, the population swelled in the sleepy town of Milot, the “North State for Haiti” team’s week-long home base. Victims of the quake, their families, medical professionals, aid workers, and refugees from the rubble descended on this tropical village in Haiti’s northeast.
It’s nearly impossible to determine the volume of the population explosion, but a tent-city phoenixed from the ashes of a former patch of banana palms on the grounds of a school, across from Hopital Sacre Coeur.
As patient numbers outpaced hospital capacity, the hospital erected six tents, outfitted three school classrooms and created a temporary pediatrics unit on the school site. The expansion allowed Hopital Sacre Coeur to treat the masses of injured patients arriving from Port-au-Prince, and house and feed up to 1,500 patients and family members.
True to family-focused Haitian tradition, hospital patients normally have their daily needs, including food, bathing, clothing and laundry met by relatives or friends. But many earthquake victims, refugees and orphans arrived in Milot without these supports.
Milot rose to the occasion. The tents became a village-within-a-village, and a safe haven, as community members became surrogate caretakers to the waves of patients arriving each day for weeks after the January 12 natural disaster.
The “North State for Haiti” team and other volunteers spend a significant amount of time at the tents, assuming responsibility for patient rounds, wound care and dressing changes. Team members are doing just what they came here to do: adjusting and prescribing medication, encouraging patients to ambulate (a nurse term for “move around”) and helping patients adjust to new prosthetics. And although all of the team members are qualified medical professionals, this week they have also become proficient at coloring and balloon-hat twisting.
The tents are completely self-contained and protected by hospital security, although security is hardly a necessity in a peaceful community where family members come and go, and residents cook, socialize and do laundry. The tents have become a commune where patients assist one another with physical therapy, recreate, play and socialize.
The tents are the only, albeit temporary, home for some earthquake victims and a well-equipped medical center, thanks to donations of supplies and equipment from the Phillips and Simmons Corporations. The community is also a safe-haven for Port-au-Prince’s displaced and unidentified children. One of the tents’ displaced youth and also the tents’ unofficial mascot is 2-year-old Jamesley Dieudonne, pictured above.
Originally presumed orphaned by the earthquake, Jamesley was rescued from rubble in Port-au-Prince and transported to Milot for treatment to an eye so severely swollen, physicians couldn’t determine by sight if it was still intact. Jamesley’s mother is missing, but subsequent victim identification revealed that Jamesly’s father was transported to the United States for treatment. His step-mother was located, but has not come to Milot to care for him.
Jamesly was diagnosed with severe spinal injuries, requires a hyperextension back brace and needs to be evaluated by a pediatrician every month. Ongoing care for Jamesley will include antibiotic therapy, x-rays every three months and evaluation by a pediatric spine specialist.
Jameseley’s case file indicates that “concerns have been raised concerning the complexity of Jamesly’s follow-up care,” and there are doubts about whether the orthotic device he needs could be adequately adjusted and monitored. But while he is at the tents, Jamesly’s surrogate caretaker is 16-year-old St. Louis DiVenson, above, known in the tents as “Magool,” translated “Big Cheeks.”
In addition to studying and caring for his blind mother and grandfather in Milot, Magool comes to the tents each day to wash Jamesley’s clothes, change his diapers and teach him to walk.
The latter was an almost impossible task, as volunteers and staff refused to put him down. Doctors finally attached a note to Jamesley that read “Do not pick up.” After a few weeks of defiance and withdrawal from constant human contact, Jamesley is walking. However, the posture and gait he is adapting may not really improve without intensive physiotherapy and the orthotic device.
Despite his challenges, Jamesley may actually be better off than other members of his Sacre Coeur tent community. Magool would like to keep Jamesley with his family in Milot, although he seems naïve about the level of care that Jamesley will need, and, although eager to rise to the occasion, is sweetly unaware of the responsibilities of parenthood. Jamesley’s case notes reveal another scenario: transfer to the Adventist Hospital in Carrfour or the CURE Hospital in the Dominican Republic to receive treatment.
But until Jamesley’s medical issues are mitigated, he has a few more months in Milot’s tent city. However, many earthquake victims have already been treated and rehabilitated. As patients are discharged and tents are vacated, they become a temporary solution to a much-needed hospital expansion. The tents will soon be relocated to two parcels directly behind the hospital, when the current location is returned to use as an elementary school in January.
Nearly half of the 85 remaining earthquake victims will be discharged by October and the remainder discharged by January. Patients will be sent on a bus, often reluctantly, back to Port-au-Prince with $100 per person, clothing, a tent, and bags of rice and beans. Most will return to the memory of an earthquake that leveled their homes, killed family members and caused irreversible injuries.
So, no matter which path Jamesley’s life takes, the fate of those with only a tent and a few bags of food may be more ill-fated than the tent city’s famous 2-year-old. Jamesley has an entire community of tent-dwellers, an army of volunteers and a caregiver well beyond his years, all willing to give him a place to call home.
The team is accepting donations for CRUDEM. Make checks payable to CRUDEM and send to P.O. Box 633, 215 Lake Blvd, Redding, CA 96003.
For more information about CRUDEM and Hopital Sacre Coeur, visit crudem.org.
Adam Mankoski is a recent North State transplant who feels completely at home here. He enjoys experiencing and writing about the people, places and things that embody the free spirit of the State of Jefferson. He and his partner own HawkMan Studios and are the creators of Redding’s 2nd Saturday ArtHop. Email your NorthState weekend events to email@example.com.