2009: A Day in the Life of a Volunteer

What it’s like to be a member of the trip.

Every days starts at 6:00 am when we crawl out of bed and get oriented. Running water at Hotel Jimani is hit or miss, last year spending more time on the miss side. Breakfast is simple, but delicious food prepared by the hotel staff. After breakfast we congregate to talk about that day’s clinic. This is also an opportunity for the attendings to point out things they liked and disliked about the previous day’s clinic. In this way we hope that clinic will run a little smoother each day we are there.

It takes a lot of gear to run a fully self-sufficient clinic, and after breakfast we load all 25+ bags of it into our loyal chariot. Lesly, our primary contact person and Project Haiti guru generally takes this time to heckle the people loading the van and make clandestine calls on his cell phone. The man can work magic with his contacts, solving any problem with a swift name-drop and a smile. He is invaluable to the trip.

If we are working in Haiti that day, we try to leave at the just the right time so that we can get to the border right as it opens. The border crossings tend to shorten our clinic time, but given the current political conditions in Haiti there doesn’t seem to be a way around it. Passports are not necessary when under Lesly’s wing, and we generally drive right through without a fuss. Once at our clinic site everyone disperses and things get a little chaotic. Between the hundreds of people waiting and getting excited to see a doctor and all the medical students trying to get the right duffel bags in the right places the beginning of clinic is always a zoo. There are pre-scheduled teams consisting of two second-years or a first- and second-year, a third- or fourth-year, and an attending. Each unit is responsible for collecting their supplies for the day (blood pressure cuff, otoscope, bandages, thermometer, etc.) and staking claim to their own area.

Once the patients start flooding in the real fun starts. As a first- or second-year you are responsible for conducting the history and physical with your partner. This is scary at first, but the learning curve is steep and by the end of the first day everyone is comfortable and confident. Each patient gets a work-up by the underclassmen while the upperclassmen observe and make suggestions when necessary. When finished, the patient is presented to the attending for approval. The patient’s prescriptions and treatment are decided upon, then they are sent to our pharmacy to retrieve their medications.

200 patients later we pack up shop, reload the bus, and head home. As before, the border poses a problem by closing at 6pm. We had a couple close calls last year, rolling into the border with everyone transfixed on the bus clock, hoping that the watches of the border guards don’t read 6:23 as well. Once back in Jimani, we usually go visit the orphanage straight from clinic. This is one of the best parts of the day because the kids are amazing, and we are all afforded the chance to regress to a child-like state after a long day.

What happens after the orphanage depends on the day. Those who are not scheduled for night clinic relax, shower (maybe), and wait for dinner to be served. If you are lucky enough to be scheduled for night clinic (no sarcasm here, it’s awesome) you eat a quick snack then get back on the bus. Night clinic is run from an actual clinic building in Jimani owned by a local, Dr. Mark. The atmosphere tends to be more relaxed being fewer patients in a town used to medical care, and it being dark means the weather is far more bearable. Night clinic has the same set up as the other, only fewer people.

After night clinic many go home and crash, but the bold meet up with the rest of the trip in town. Without fail, carnival is either going on or gearing up during the time we are there, meaning the town of Jimani is one big party. All the locals are dancing to blaring music in the streets, which are lined by vendors selling everything from tacos to Presidente, the local brew. Another option is to go dance with the locals at the disco, but either way being saturated with local culture is a blast.

We then crash at Hotel Jimani, after a wonderfully exhausting day, excited to do it all again tomorrow.