A 76-year-old woman with cardiac problems and stroke history hobbled for 30 minutes with a stick so she could be seen by our medical team. When she walked, her posture was so kyphotic that her back was almost at a 90-degree angle with her legs. I asked her multiple times during her physical therapy session if she needed a break, and her only answer was no. She desperately wanted to learn to walk again.
Jackie is a 24-year-old interpreter who lost both of his parents in the earthquake and therefore can no longer afford to go to a university. He is saving his money by translating so one day he can go back to school.
Madame La Fleur managed an orphanage that was destroyed after the earthquake. She was relocated to a refugee tent camp with almost 100,000 other people. Her husband took her only biological child and relocated to the United States. She hasn’t heard from him since he fled. She is now living with 30 malnourished children in a refugee tent camp called Jerusalem.
During the earthquake, a 30-year-old mother dislocated her elbow, which resulted in severe ulnar nerve damage. She walks a half mile for water, and even this water is infested with parasites. One can see little black worms swimming in the water.
Some people that I treated were so malnourished that I did not want to give them any strengthening exercises. Instead, I gave them several stretches and educated them about the importance of proper body mechanics and posture. Many people suffer from musculoskeletal pain due to the hard manual labor that they perform on a daily basis.
Most Haitians we saw were malnourished. Many had severe abdominal pain due to parasites in their drinking water. When one woman was asked what she wanted in the future for her children, she said she wanted her children to eat tomorrow.
Many malnourished Haitians had very high blood pressure. This may be due to the fact that their bodies are constantly in a “fight or flight” state. I certainly have felt stressed during periods of my life but I never had to worry about whether my family will have enough food to eat or clean water to drink.
The earthquake in Haiti occurred over a year ago, but many people are still suffering from its aftermath. We drove past block after block of collapsed buildings that looked like they have not been touched since the earthquake. Most people live in tents and have no electricity or access to clean water.
How do we solve Haiti’s lack of infrastructure, water, food, education and jobs? I don’t know, but I think about a quote from Mother Teresa: “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”
I urge you not to forget about the ripples that your aid to Haiti can create. I want to thank everyone who donated canes before my trip. Every patient whom I gave a cane to thanked me multiple times and acted as if I had just given them gold. Every smile and thank you made the trip worth it.
Katie Koren is a physical therapist at Rush University Medical Center.