By Lisa Richards, R.N., Onsite Volunteer Coordinator
I met him my second week in Milot. I knew I was off to a bad start, getting attached to babies and following them home after their discharge from the hospital. I saw the way others looked at me as if to say, “You can’t do this with every patient.” I even scared myself a bit too. Would I be able to say goodbye to my future patients when it was time for them to leave the hospital? I wasn’t sure, but I knew with this patient I couldn’t pull myself away.
Meet Michelet, now a 7 month old baby boy. I first met him at HSC in the NICU just days after his birth. His mom was really sick after the pregnancy and was too weak to do anything for herself, nonetheless this new baby she had in her life. Michelet’s dad would come to the hospital as soon as he was done with working in the garden and slump in a plastic chair next to his wife all through the night until he had to leave for work again in the morning. Day after day he arrived in the same tattered clothes. The mother was brought one plate of food a day, which was hardly enough for her to maintain the 90 or so pounds that she carried. It was clear they were a very poor family, even by Haitian standards.
It’s my routine to check on the NICU babies even though that’s not where I do my nursing. I try to assist the nurses by soothing the crying ones or doing formula feedings as needed.
Michelet stuck out to me for several reasons. The first was that he was one of the tiniest babies in the room – just barely making the 3 lb mark. On his little body, his most beautiful feature is his big, deep brown eyes. Despite his small size and new life, he was surprisingly alert. Once I learned more about the health status of his mother and the lack of family members at the hospital during the day, I made a feeding/holding/loving – on – little – Michelet schedule. I recruited several volunteers throughout the weeks of his hospital stay to assist me in this role. Most of the women volunteers were thrilled to do this and would even help with the very late night and early morning feedings. Sister Ann supplied us with all of the formula, blankets, diapers and preemie clothes that we needed in order to take the very best care of Michelet.
I wasn’t sure when the exact date of his discharge would be. One morning as I was walking out of the gates of CRUDEM, on my way to the hospital, Michelet’s dad met me at the gate. He had already been discharged and was at home. He knew I would be anxiously looking for the baby so he waited outside the gate all morning for me. He wanted to bring me to see where they lived and said he wanted Michelet to know who I was as he grows up, because I had been such a big part of his beginning. I was thrilled. That was my first of the many home visits to come.
I visit Michelet at least once a week; sometimes as often as 3 times a week. I stuff my backpack full of coloring books and crayons, a Frisbee, baby wipes and diapers, pencils, baby soap to give the toddlers and babies baths, granola bars or anything else I have on hand that I can think to bring for him, his family, and their neighbors that come hang out with us. It’s always a good time at their house. There are plenty of jokes and laughter – most of which are directed at me, my hair or my Kreyol skills. I play music from my cell phone and the kids dance around. They wedge their coloring pages in between wooden boards of walls to decorate the outside of their home.
They have become a little family for me, which I welcome since I am living so far away from my own family now. Although they have so little, they often surprise me with a bag full of ripe and delicious fruit. As true as it is that I love fruit, the gesture of their generosity makes the greatest impression on me.
Michelet is healthy and growing, yet is still very small for his age. He weighs a mere 10 lbs, which is the size of a large newborn baby. He is content and well loved by his family, me, and the many volunteers I have brought to visit him and his family. His eyes are as beautiful as ever and they seem to win everyone over. His mother still suffers from a chronic disease, but thanks to the generosity of others, her meds are covered each month and her condition has stabilized to give her the best functioning possible for her and her family.
I count myself blessed to have met Michelet and his family. They make up many of the fond memories I have from my year in Milot, thus far. The love I’ve given them and received in return gives me so much joy. I’m excited to follow them and stay in touch with them for the rest of my year and hopefully in the future.by