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.