SPECIAL GUEST BLOG: Dr. Allison Furey on returning to Haiti.
Dr. Allison Furey is one of the original members of Team Broken Earth.
Our trip to Haiti, 21 weeks after the earthquake, changed our lives. We left behind two young children (at the time), with a backpack full of DEET, mosquito nets and some Cliff bars, to help during a time of disaster to a nation in need.
Easy-peasy, so I thought.
A few days before we left, I got a little nervous after Andrew finally gave me the details on security, sleeping quarters and armed guards driving our vehicles. But I was reassured that “we would be fine” and not to worry.
Getting off the plane, with the thick, hot air hitting us like a wall and walking to the airport, I thought twice about how “fine” we actually would be. We forged on, but nothing could have prepared me for the vision I would encounter of sheer devastation, flattened homes, blatant poverty, piles of rubble, streets of chaos, miles of tent cities, unthinkable scents, helpless souls who had lost loved ones so recently and hopeless eyes in those seeking medical attention at our free clinic and surgical center. I use the word “center” loosely, since it was, after all, a parking lot with blue tarps creating examination rooms.
After a long week of hard work, our team was the last mission to provide care in that center. Imagine walking away from a hospital ward full of sick children and adults, with nowhere to go to receive the medical attention that they needed and deserved.
I was not prepared for that helpless, guilty emotion.
I can still feel the pit in my stomach on the afternoon that we packed up our supplies and equipment after emotional good bye’s and tight hugs of thanks, and simply drove away, trying to hold back my tears.
Why was I so upset? Our patients should be upset…but they weren’t…they handed out humble smiles of gratitude and soft waves as we shut the doors. I quickly realized that this was their reality…an unfair reality. A few months was not long enough to help Haiti.
Over the last 4 years, from home, I’ve watched Andrew lead more than a dozen missions to Haiti. Every time we started the routine preparation for take off: pack the red bags, buy Kraft dinner, get instant coffee, hand sanitizer, medications, find the Crocs, and prepare for a week away from home. I felt that pit well up inside. A deep desire has sat within me to return to Haiti and be a part of the team that does the work to make a difference in the lives of the Haitian people.
Here I am, 5 years later, reunited with Haiti… The streets are cleared, buildings are new, houses are not piles of rubble… I didn’t even see a tent city between the airport and the hospital! The streets are still bustling with people and street vendors, Tap Tap’s, motorcylists with no helmets and crazy drivers, but that’s normal for Haiti! It’s a relief to see that the surface of the city is improved. That is something Haiti should be proud of.
Even though Team Broken Earth is near to my heart, and in my mind, I had created an image of the hospital our teams return to time and time again. I didn’t anticipate the magnitude of overwhelming pride I felt as I crossed through the gates, made so familiar from pictures and videos. We were greeted with open, happy arms by hospital staff, just like family. Team Broken Earth has a true presence at this place, it’s palpable. I know first hand, how much time goes into sustaining the relationship between Team Broken Earth and Haiti (it is more often, than not, our topic of conversation at the supper table).
The completion of the new building, housing a new hospital wing is a virtual testament to the hard work and challenges overcome in completing a project of this magnitude in a country like Haiti. I’ve never been so proud. It is an icon of sustainability, growth and advancement in a place where all of that seemed impossible a few short years ago.
My first shift in the ER this week was the hardest I’ve ever worked, and much of our efforts were futile, in the end. We were surrounded by death in the emergency room, trauma’s kept coming in, the newborns came in one after another, and the hospital was full, with nowhere to put the sickest children I’ve ever seen.
I left that ER after 12 hours, exhausted and drained, frustrated, sad and angry. Sad that this could be the norm here, and accepted. Sad that we had to tell a father that left his wife at the maternity hospital, to rush his newborn to our hospital in hopes that he would live, that we did everything we could, and the baby didn’t make it… through an interpreter. Sad that I watched him weep in the midst of public chaos at the death of his baby, not even old enough to have a name. Angry that I couldn’t do more. Angry that there is such despair in this world and that baby would have lived if he were to be born in Canada. Angry that the only difference between me and that father, is where we were born.
I’m not used to losing patients, so it was a good thing that the next day we saved a baby, who I’m happy to report is steadily improving in the PICU, with his mama at his side. I’ll also let you know that one of the best feelings all week was giving a 6 year old boy a pair of Transformer sunglasses… he was just as excited as Mark would be, if I had brought them home to him! Kids are the same, across the world… resilient and happy… and their smiles will melt me, every time!
So, Haiti has come a long way in 5 years. Team Broken Earth has evolved from a team providing disaster relief, to a team that provides support and education to a healing country, with a whole lot of potential. I think we’ve reached some gracious health professionals at this hospital… at this point, we are learning from them as much, if not more, than they learn from us. Working and learning together makes us all stronger.
Thank you, Team Broken Earth, for providing an avenue to make a truly sustainable difference in a community that needs it so desperately. Wouldn’t it be nice to see the day that Haiti doesn’t need us anymore? I think we’re on our way!