A view from a roof in Port au Prince


The Tap Tap Accident

It was shortly after lunch. The morning had been busy with surgery, but the afternoon was projected to be a slow one. Over lunch, a team leader asked if I had other tasks for their volunteers to help with. They planned on helping organize things in our pharmacy. About an hour after this discussion, I was sitting in my room and the door blasted open as a volunteer haphazardly ran into the wrong room looking for supplies. There had just been a bus accident, she declared.

I directed her to the correct room she was looking for, grabbed my things and headed towards the hospital ER which is run out of a small room in the back of our last standing hospital tent.  As we neared the tent, there was a lot of commotion. I saw a group of Haitians huddled at the entrance of the ER. They looked worried and were quietly discussing what was happening. I squeezed past them and the many others that crowded the tent entrance. The small room was stuffed full of patients, transporters, translators, and both Haitian and American doctors and nurses. The first person I laid eyes on was an elderly woman on the floor to my left. Her bone was sticking out of her calf at a right angle. It was obviously broken. To my right, lay a young man on a bed, his face seeping blood. The energy in the room was high. Our room was tight space and more patients were still waiting to enter. Each of the exam rooms (of what is usually our outpatient clinic) was taken up by patients waiting to get into the ER. We were unsure of the injuries still waiting to be seen. There was an estimated 17 people involved in the accident. In the midst of the chaos, I was relieved to see the familiar faces of the volunteer doctors I had started getting to know over the past few days. I looked to them for direction. I knew that they would know what to do next. Our first task was to transport people on stretchers into the ICU area of the hospital.

With such an array of talent, our patients could not have come to a better place to be treated for the trauma they had just endured. We had pediatric doctors and nurses, surgeons, ICU nurses, OR nurses, Anesthesiologists, Orthopedic specialties and a flight nurse. We later reflected that it was God’s providence that we were so well equipped. In fact, just the day before, a team had completely re-stocked the ICU. That same ICU now had every single bed occupied with a serious injury. The energy in the room was high, but the striking power of the room was the teamwork, the leadership, the swift decisions that were made that bought us precious time. I wished I had my camera. It seemed like such a silly thought, but I wanted to capture the beauty of the mess that was in front of me.I snapped a quick one with my camera phone. I was so proud. Each person was in their element and their strengths and specialties were saving lives. Their previous patients and cases, the time  together at Crudem and the sights of Haiti would all be memorable events of their experience here at the hospital, but there is no doubt that this would be the defining event of their Haiti experience.

Within a couple of hours, patients were being extubated and moved out of the ICU. They were stable enough and they could be moved to another area of the hospital. There was only one who did not make it. He had a severe head injury and was just barely alive when he made it to the hospital. I stroked his forehead as the ventilator was the only thing still keeping him alive. His blood pressure was 40/20. I closed my eyes and imagined whose husband, father, brother, or friend this must be. I said a prayer and asked God to save him. He died shortly after. As we began cleaning up the ICU and moving patients out, I noticed a young man standing at the side of the patient we lost. I walked over to him, spoke to him in Creole and asked who he was in relation to the patient. He was the son. He said he was sad and could not believe his dad was dead. He said that just the night before, he was talking on the phone with his sister who lives in Port au Prince and when she asked about their father, he told her that he was well. What would he say now? I slung my arm around his shoulders and continued listening. His dad was a pastor, he explained. He was going into town to do some work for the church today and on his way back to Cap Haitian the accident happened. I just stood there with him, listening and grasping tightly onto his shoulder. My eyes were tearing up and I wished I could give him his father back. I wondered what I could say that might make him feel better. Suddenly, it was obvious. In the midst of this terrible event, there was something to rejoice in. I looked at the son and told him his father was in Heaven. He smiled and said it was true. I know it didn’t take the pain away. As I left the son, the thought that made me the saddest was that I knew that today was just the beginning of many days that he would miss his father.

Today put life in perspective for me. I reflected on the little things I had wasted time worrying about in the past days and today they meant nothing to me. Today taught me about the fragility of life and reminded me to be thankful for each day. 


When Poverty Consumes Me

I'm going on three months of living here in Haiti. Each day I see this country a little different than the last. Each week I learn a new word in Creole. Each day I have a slightly different perspective on life.

I sat at the airport today and had some time to think. I had just dropped off one medical team and was waiting for the next to arrive. It was one of the few hours here I found myself sitting doing absolutely nothing. I had time to think, to process, to question and to search for answers from what little I know of life. I must mention that while I was having these very deep moments by myself, the driver was fast asleep in the back of the truck, and my thoughts were frequently interrupted by little boys knocking on my window asking for food or money. The first knock was lucky and received the granola bar I had stashed in my pocket to get me through the morning at the airport. After that, I didn't have anything to offer. I wished that their pleas didn't make me feel so uncomfortable. It made me feel guilty for being annoyed. I didn't want to look at them, I wanted them to go away and then I could better ignore the poverty around me. All I could say in return to their plea for a gift of food or money was "Mwen pa gen" translated into English- " I don't have any." Although it may have been true for the moment, it seemed we both knew I was lying. How could I sit in a car, well-dressed, well-fed, shaded from the scorch of the day and possibly say I didn't have anything to give while the little boy in front of me stood in his tattered shirt and shorts, shoes with holes in them, and a shoe-shine box attached to his hip? I looked into his eyes  and the eyes of the many other kids that came after him and wondered what Jesus would do. I knew he would do it better than I could.

Life in Haiti has so twisted my views on what poverty is. I look at Baby Michelet and his family and I want so badly to help them. I am overwhelmed with a list of what they need- a house that doesn't leak, a mattress to sleep on, a crib for the baby, diapers, food, baby formula, clothes for the kids and mom and dad, a job for dad so he can provide for his family, a bathroom... The thing is, that most Haitians do not have these things, so I can't figure out what is a need and what is a luxury.

 This past week I brought some volunteers to see Baby Michelet and his house. On their last night here, they shared with the group the highlights of their trip. One man said his was seeing where Baby Michelet lived. He was amazed at how little the family had and how they were still smiling.

 I had started brainstorming of fundraisers and ideas of how to raise money for his family, and it exhausted me because I couldn't figure out what to help them with first. I made an agreement with God, that what he puts in my hand to give to them, I will give. Last week I was going to visit Michelet and I wanted to bring diapers for him. I asked the Sister that lives here if she had any diapers and she did not. I was planning to buy diapers on the side of the road on my way to his home, but I didn't.  I did my home visit and found the newborn wearing toddler size undies, stuffed with cloths to absorb his pee. The underwear were so big, they went all the way up to his arm-pits. The next day the Sister called me and said she had a bag of clothes, formula and diapers that a medical team had just brought her. I could bring some of these things to Michelet. I guess I've come to the conclusion that I can't figure things out on my own. I can't solve Haiti's problems or fix the poverty the nation suffers from, but I can give what I have and I can do what I've been called to do.  So from now on, I sit in patience and when something is given to me, then I am all the more equipped to give it away, and to be able to bless other people.

I wonder what it would look like if I had this same reliance for my own needs. What if I stopped planning, saving for and predicting my future and instead lived my life for each day. I wonder what treasures would lie in that complete dependence on God and his provision for me. The Haitians have a phrase that they say after every statement they make about the future. That statement is, "Si Bondye vle"- If God wants. Sometimes it almost seems robotic the way that they religiously repeat whether they are talking about the next day, month, or year. I guess life has taught them that God's plans prevail and that tomorrow will be whatever God has planned for them. At first the sentence annoyed me because I love planning and I felt like that statement meant my plans might not happen, then I thought it was kind of funny how they always repeated it, and now I have respect for the statement and I admire the Haitians for their fear of the Lord.

So that's the mental mess that I'm going through in the midst of this awesome life experience. I think that this is my life, that Haiti feels more like home than any place I've known before.For some reason I'm more content with less food options, volunteering instead of having a real job, dirt on my feet, and playing with kids on the street than the luxuries and comfort of life in America.  I don't know how long I'm supposed to be here, or what I'll be doing next and I'm trying hard not to focus on these unknowns. I don't want to be distracted from now- from the babies in the NICU, the Haitian kids of the doctors that live on the same compound as me, from baby Michelet, from the volunteers I'm looking after, from the responsibilities I have here and the chances I have to make a positive impact on the great things happening at this little hospital.

Walking home from church on Sunday