By Cindy Strodel McCall
Psalms 118:17 I shall not die but live; and declare the works of the Lord.
To get to Hôpital Sacré Coeur (HSC) from Bonedigal outside of Cap Haïtien, Rosemène Jean and her small son Jouben take a motorbike taxi. Both mother and son are amputees, and the tap-tap vans have high doors and crowded seats difficult for the two to navigate. Rosemène, who lost her left leg in a motorbike taxi accident three years ago, lights up with a wide smile when asked if she’s afraid to ride a motorbike. She says a prayer and leaves her worries to God, she tells us. “He watches over me,” she says simply.
We are talking together with the aid of Tennor Wilfin, translator and friend of Rosemène, who works as a cast technician at HSC‘s Club Foot Clinic. With her 3 year-old son Jouben, Rosemène has returned today to the Prosthetic Laboratory at HSC for outpatient treatment.
Jouben was 10 months old at the time of the accident; Rosemène and baby Jouben were on their way home from Justinian Hospital by motorbike taxi, where Rosemène had brought Jouben to be treated for a high fever. The collision involved a speeding car, a crowded bus that overturned and an 18-wheel tractor trailer on a traffic-choked street in Cap Haïtien, and resulted in four fatalities and more than a dozen injuries among pedestrians as well as passengers of the numerous vehicles caught up in the crash.
Rosemène saw the crash coming. She and Jouben were thrown to the sidewalk in opposite directions. As she lay on the ground, calling to Jouben, Rosemène felt a bright light fall upon her, and she knew the Holy Spirit was with her. Through the Holy Spirit, God told her she was going to live and that Jouben was going to live too. Since that moment, she says, she has given all her trust to God, and lives every day through her faith in Him. She tells us her talisman, Psalms 118:17, and says the Holy Spirit told her, “You shall not die but live.”
We sit in the warm shade of the newly roofed open air Physical Therapy Center outside the Prosthetics Lab. Rosemène’s prosthesis is a year old, and needs adjusting. Her stump has reduced since she was last seen at HSC, and she’s wearing four pairs of socks to ease the discomfort of walking. The stump has been examined and measured by HSC Prosthetist Oscar Bermudez, and a new prosthesis will be ready for her on her next visit. For now, she needs the socks to pad the socket of her old prosthesis.
|“Do the socks help?” she is asked.
“Yes,” she says. “But not very much. That is why I am here!” and she laughs. She is glad, she says, to be at the hospital, and little Jouben is glad too. Jouben is doing very well on his prosthetic and will be outfitted soon with a new one. An active toddler, he enjoys running and playing with other children. Like his mother, he has lost part of his left leg; however his leg was amputated below the knee, while Rosemène lost her leg above the knee at mid-thigh.
It has taken them all morning to travel today from Cap Haïtien. Rosemène takes out the meal she’s brought for Jouben, chicken and rice. Jouben picks up his fork eagerly but asks first if we’d like some food, his large dark eyes alert on our faces. When we say no, we have eaten already; he nods gravely and begins to eat. Rosemène laughs to see him eat so quickly. She thanks God, she says, that he is happy and well. It gives her strength to come to HSC where people care about her and help her. “When I need help, they are there to help me.” Sister Ann, Tennor Wilfin, Patrick Etienne, and the medical staff at the Prosthetics Workshop: she says she is grateful to all of them for their kindness to her and Jouben.
After the accident Rosemène was taken to Justinian Hospital where they amputated her leg above the knee. She was then referred to an outpatient amputee clinic in Haitïen. The clinic was expensive, and had no physical therapy program or prosthetics for its patients. Rosemène was using an amputee cart, and a pair of crutches, while Jouben went from crawling on the ground to teaching himself to walk on his knees. A pair of child’s crutches was sent to him eventually from the US, and Jouben began to use them to walk on one leg. Rosemène knew they both needed better care. Amputees in Haiti, numerous since the earthquake, have little chance of a normal life without a prosthesis. They can’t take care of themselves or others, and find it nearly impossible to find work of any kind.
About a year after the accident Rosemène ran into Patrick Etienne, a friend of hers in Cap Haïtien, who worked at the newly-opened HSC Prosthetics Workshop. Patrick told Rosemène about the Workshop’s free outpatient clinic for amputees, and arranged for her transportation to Milot.
The HSC Prosthetics Workshop is the only facility in the north of Haiti that provides amputees with prosthetics and physical therapy. Founded by Dr. John Lovejoy in May 2010, the Prosthetics Workshop is operated by skilled medical personnel and consists of a well-equipped Prosthetics Lab where artificial limbs are constructed, and a Physical Therapy Center for patient rehabilitation. Medical volunteers are essential contributors, but a program is now in place that trains Haitian medical staff to operate the clinic as Certified Prosthetists and Orthetists. Dantus Gilles and Daniel Etienne, who both live in Milot, are the first students to benefit from the training, which is directed by Salvadoran Oscar Bermudez.
Dantus is working on a cast, and the grinding noise of the cast machine makes it hard for us to hear each other. We shut the door to the Prosthetics Lab, and now have only the noise from the school next door to deal with and the usual street cacophony by the hospital compound.
Rosemène attended school in Cap Haïtien until 9th grade. She loves learning, she says, and she loved school when she was young. She still continues to pursue learning when she can. Her dream is to learn how to use computers, and she has a CD that taught her how a keyboard works. Her husband has died, and she has made ends meet by working in an orphanage near Bonedigal, cleaning and sweeping. She also works at a hospital in Cap Haïtien taking care of children who are recent amputees. She likes to help others, especially children. The children see that Rosemène can walk in spite of her injury, and learn that they too can recover.
Her prosthesis has changed her life, she says. There is nothing now, she says, that she cannot do. She can climb stairs, walk while carrying what needs to be carried, work at the orphanage, and take care of her family at home. Before her outpatient treatment at HSC, she couldn’t keep up her job at the orphanage.
Sweeping and cleaning are difficult for someone who needs crutches. Carrying little Jouben, cooking, hanging out the laundry: most of the household tasks a mother must do to take care of her family were difficult.
As for Jouben, he doesn’t want to take his prosthesis off, even when he goes to sleep. “He feels as if it’s part of him,”Rosemène tells us. Jouben still has crutches that he rarely uses. Last May he needed surgery due to bone growth but he recovered quickly. A normal childhood of running and playing, and the chance for a better future, have been restored to him through HSC Prosthetics Workshop.
Jouben sees Sr. Ann coming in through the gates of the compound and runs to her. Everyone smiles to see this but Tennor Wilfin is particularly moved. “I can’t believe he can run like that,” says Tennor. He remembers when little Jouben first came to HSC two years ago. “He was walking on his knees, and didn’t want
Jouben hangs on Sr. Ann’s skirts as she greets Rosemène with a hug. “He’s a fine child, isn’t he, Rosemène? Healthy and strong,” says Sr. Ann, as she takes toy trucks and sweets out of her pockets for Jouben. She makes sure Rosemène has a return ride arranged that will take her and Jouben back to Bonedigal. “This is why Rosemène likes to come here to the hospital, “says Tennor. “She likes how Sr. Ann takes care of her.”
There are still challenges for Roseméne. Her amputated leg hurts, especially when it rains. She can’t run well, which worries her in case an emergency, like an earthquake, occurs, and she needs to get her family to a safe place. However, she says, she trusts in God and the comfort of prayer.
She will be glad to have the new prosthesis soon, which will fit her correctly. Her gait has become uneven and is affecting her posture. An uneven gait causes pain in other areas, as the body compensates for the weight shift that occurs. When the new prosthesis is fitted, PT will be provided at the Physical Therapy Center. For both Rosemène and Jouben, the rehabilitation training will be essential for learning how to use their new prosthetics effectively.
Dr. Lovejoy, the driving force for establishing the Prosthetics Workshop, met Rosemène and Jouben for the first time just a few days ago. “When I saw the mother and child walk through the gate, and I looked at them, holding hands, the child skipping along smiling in his prosthesis, the mother holding his hand with a crutch in the other, I was glad I had dark glasses on, so they could not see me crying. It was the culmination of what we were trying to accomplish with the PT building we’d just finished. “
A new prosthesis, a new hope for the future. As Rosemène says goodbye, Jouben rides his toy truck along the wall by the stairs, hopping down the sidewalk ramp as the truck descends.
With the help of HSC, Dr. John Lovejoy, and the staff at the Prosthetics Workshop, Rosemène Jean and her son Jouben are ready to face that future together.
|Cindy Strodel McCall is a writer and teacher who lives in Cazenovia, NY. She served as a volunteer on Dr. Brendan Brady’s surgical team in April 2012. Her work experience includes teaching at Cazenovia College, and doing freelance writing for local newspapers. She is currently employed by Cazenovia Public Library where she co-coordinates an adult literacy program that brings volunteer tutors to rural Madison County through partnerships with local area libraries and community food pantries.|