I am still getting used to the climate here (endless sweating every day, unless I can get to a fan) – this has been the toughest problem for me during the first two weeks. However, I am gradually becoming better acclimatised, making it easier to get things done. I also really like the food, which was something I couldn’t have imagined would be the case, as I was still in Germany awaiting my departure. At first, I thought I wasn’t going to be able to work at all in the humidity. I often wear a headband made of Tubigrip material while working, so I don’t drip sweat all over everything.
Many of the materials used here (adhesive, plaster, the way the impressions are made…) take some time getting used to. Reto Weder, my colleague from Switzerland, has shown me the basics and has done a good job of familiarizing me with all these things. Reto is a skilled “tinkerer”: for example, clasps are simply fashioned out of PP if none are in stock.
My first job on arrival was to replace the piston housing on our compressor, which had finally arrived after a 2-month delivery period. This was no easy task, since we immediately noticed that there were some leaks in the compressor casing that first had to be welded, which took a further two days. Then we needed a new distributor, which Jimmy (a sort of local caretaker from the U.S., who has lived here for quite some time) wants to obtain and install for us. It also turned out that the exhaust ventilation for the machines was not working properly and Jimmy wants to repair that too. Until then, we’ll just use the brand-new one that happened to be lying around somewhere…
The four local craftsmen at the centre are very nice – everything really goes much better if it is done with good humour. We also have a translator, who also looks after the patients, an administrator and Rosaline, the pregnant Secretary. Together I think we make a good team. I have already learnt a few words of Creole. My French is appreciated and I don’t necessarily need a translator to work with the patients.
Normally, the prosthetic patients arrive from CMMB in Port-au-Prince on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but this is not necessarily always the case. Prosthetic patients from the local region also turn up frequently and more and more orthotic patients are coming in. We took a trip to Lioncourt (about 15 km away) to take care of 15 patients last week. Silvia Ernst, long-time Medical Director of HAS, often assists me with organizational matters. I have taken upon myself the rather daunting task of doing everything in an orderly fashion here. Mark Ashford, the new Hanger Volunteer, helps me whenever our work with the patients allows.
Otherwise, the way things are stored here is a bit like a game of “hide-and-seek”. I have posted a list of missing equipment (e.g. clasps, casting resin,…) for our technicians. The most important items are ordered and I just hope the rest will turn up at some point. This often works itself out somehow. Ten reamer bits that were to be ordered are suddenly found – you just have to be patient and keep looking…
Currently (this week), two of the craftsmen (Alex and Joe) are in Port-au-Prince for some vocational training in thigh prosthetics. Yesterday I was asked to donate blood, since a child needed my rare blood group and no other donor could be found. It took some willpower on my part to overcome my reservation, as I had never given blood before. My American colleague came along too.