The Not-so Subtle Art of Balance

I get a lot of thinking done at 30,000 feet. There are one or two lights illuminating the seats of my fellow insomniacs. I’m sure even the stewardess is catching a nap. The elevation and isolation of this flight gives me perspective. To say it has been an unusual week would be an understatement. I’ve tried to balance fears, expectations as well as life and death decisions, all the while maintaining the balance of the pressures of home and a hard anniversary.

It all started with the protests happening in Haiti. They’d turned violent and the situation was getting worse by the hour. We had two teams on the ground, one in Port au Prince and one in the north. Frustrations by citizens and police alike exploded on Monday and this was all raging outside the gates of the hospital.   

We needed to move quickly. All volunteers went to immediate lock down on a secured second floor of the hospital. While I cannot imagine the stress level of the team involved and am in no way trying to equate my stress to theirs, I could not help but feel it. These are my teams. My people. Rapid assessment with our partners on the ground in Haiti and at home in Canada led us to the decision to evacuate early. 

On an organizational level, we had talked before about the possibility of evacuation and it is something we have planned for but hoped to never have to use. We made the decision to bring the team to the airport. This would mean travelling in heavily armed vehicles at the crack of dawn. Team members had to put down their tools and immediately get ready. Within two hours, the decision was final and tickets were booked to come home.  

I was so focussed on getting our folks out that I had hardly considered what happens in the aftermath of asking people to stop working. It was clear it was not safe for our team to be in an open area of the hospital, and they needed to be locked down. But what happens when someone comes in who is sick and needs help? Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened.

On the phone with the team from their secure position, there was a man brought in whom had been shot. He needed urgent, critical care. But the violence was still growing outside the gates. The question came from one of the surgeons: “can I go down to help him?”  It hung heavily in the air. All sound disappeared and I could hear the depth of each of my breaths, the click of each thought. There was a life in my hands. And I was thousands of miles away. 

Surgeons do not often struggle with decisions. The good ones make them efficiently, not necessarily quickly, but efficiently and effectively. But I was struggling with this. I was there but I wasn’t there. God forbid if something happened to one of our volunteers. But this man’s fate was in my hands. And my heart sank hard and fast. I know what needed to be done. I just hated having to do it. Evacuate. As soon as possible. The phone felt like a 50-pound weight in my hand.

The team got out. I was relieved but I knew that it came with a heavy price. I’ll carry that for them. They were the ones on the front line. They were the ones with so much to lose. The violence continued to escalate. The Canadian Embassy had been closed. Evacuations were occurring. Leaving was the right thing to do. It was also far from the easiest thing to do.

It’s not a very Valentine’s sentiment to say but it seems the second week of February is cursed in Newfoundland and Labrador. It was during the early morning hours of February 15th, 1982, that an oil rig, the Ocean Ranger, listed heavily off the Grand Banks. They began to take on water and a mayday call was sent out. Eventually they had to make the decision to leave the ship and there was an eerie correspondence that turned out be the last words heard from the rig: “there will be no further radio communications from Ocean Ranger. We are going to lifeboat stations.” 

The rig was lost, and all 84 men died in the chilly dark waters of the North Atlantic. Most Newfoundlanders knew someone, or knew someone who lost someone. It is one of those moments that defined who we are. A nautical disaster that dances in our frightened minds, and flows through our very veins. It’s hard to think of roses and chocolates.

Closer to home, it was February 15th just 2 years ago, again in the middle of a vicious snow storm, that I got a panicked call from Allison’s mom. Between the sobs and gasps, she was saying she could not reach Allison and that Rick, Allison’s father, had died suddenly and unexpectedly. Rick had a super human heart, just not the arteries to hold it. He was a larger than life man who loved his family, loved to golf and, above all, loved life. As much as I will miss Rick, the thing that brings the biggest tear to my eye to this day is seeing his sense of humour and his smile in my son, Mark. 

A small rumble of turbulence wakes no one. A few of the lights have disappeared as we insomniacs dwindle in numbers. There’s a thin glow on the horizon. Yeah, it’s been a tough week. One thing I’ve learned by the example of Rick’s life is to always look for the balance. Yes, these decisions are hard. These anniversaries are heavy. But look for things that will balance it all out. Despite the protests, Haiti is a country that is changing. There are good people there making a difference. And though we had to leave, we are far from gone. We’ll be back. Again. Again and again. Even the tragedy of the Ocean Ranger has meant that today, thousands of offshore workers are safer by this sacrifice. And then there’s Rick’s smile on Mark’s face. Balance.

My eyes are getting heavy. This is a long haul flight to Ethiopia and what promises to be a busy but productive trip. Another step on another continent for Team Broken Earth, I feel good about that. I know there are tough days ahead for Haiti but this violence, like the earthquake before it, will change the place. But not define it. Maybe I’m naïve for thinking that. But I’ve enough of the world to know that balance will be achieved. Funny how everything seems peaceful from 30,000 feet.

Best,

Andrew

18 Responses to “The Not-so Subtle Art of Balance”

February 19 at 9:15 pm, Paula Flynn said:

You listened to your heart and head. You did the right thing. As a mother-in-law of one who has served with Team Broken Earth, I know you and others do your best. Rest well; enjoy your family. We will continue to support you.

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February 19 at 10:23 pm, Marilyn Warford said:

I love reading your blogs Dr…..you guys are human too…but in making your decision with your team I think you made the right one…you all have families home who need you too. I’m like you in your thinking…I know you people will return to Haiti many more times. You dont start something and not finish it!!!! You people just dont do that! Stay safe in all you do! I cant praise you enough!

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February 19 at 10:33 pm, Gerard said:

Andrew you are one terrific and the correct decision was made ,I really feel that Broken Earth would give up functioning without you

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February 20 at 5:08 pm, Kelly said:

Hmmn let’s not put that pressure on one person. Broken Earth is a team. There are always people who invariably step up when required…… Great admiration to Dr. Furey and his team:)>

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February 19 at 11:07 pm, Ethel Frampton said:

What an amazing piece of writing done Mr. Fury. You sir have summed up life very well. It has made tears roll down my face. We all have our griefs and joys. God Bless you and everything you do. I have admired the work you do, especially in You Broken Earth efforts. Safe travels. Safe return to your family.

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February 20 at 2:48 am, Lillian Buffett said:

Dr Furey.. You say that Allison’s dad had a super human heart. I have read all your blogs. I have been one of your patients and I say that you too have a super human heart and I am sure Mark will not only have his grandfathers sense of humour and his smile but he will surely have a compassionate heart being raised by such great parents in such a great family. Stay safe, the world needs more people like you!

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February 20 at 5:10 am, Stephen said:

Your a Angel walking on earth and so is your team always making a difference in everyone’s life you touch 💞💞 thank you for everything you do for me

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February 20 at 5:36 am, Ruth Rose said:

You are a wonderful man Andrew, never doubt that!! Life happens around us and sometimes we have no control…. it is God’s will. However, I know you will keep on doing what you do and you WILL make a difference! I lost my husband a year ago and although he struggled for life since he lost both of his kidneys at age 26 he always looked at life as the glass half full. I am sure your father-in- law was cut from the same cloth!! I hope your mission is successful and you get back home to your family safely!! God bless you and your fellow Broken Earth parterners😊

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February 20 at 6:14 am, Sharon Collins said:

I am so very proud of the work you do, Andrew. Your Aunt Carm is my aunt by marriage and I know she is, also, very proud of the work you do. You are a born leader and sometimes leaders bear a heavy burden for the decisions they have to make. But, weighed against all of the life saving work that your team will be able to accomplish in the future, you have found your balance. If something had happened to your team you would bear an even greater burden. They live to help so many more individuals. One of the ladies in my sorority went on a couple of your Team Broken Earth trips as an orthopaedic nurse. We are so proud of her for giving of herself to help others like this. May God bless you in all of the work you do. Stay safe and continue in your wonderful work.

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February 20 at 10:53 am, Jill Morris said:

Amazing words , Andrew you have a huge heart and are giving people an opportunity that they would never have . Haiti will survive And you will be back on the ground before you know it doing the thing you do best changing lives .
Thank you to you and your amazing team
Jill

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February 20 at 12:12 pm, Linda said:

Hard decision Andrew. But the right one. Your “team” will carry on the beauty of caring for others. You are a pioneer in a crazy world of unbalance. You’re dedication and determination are remarkable. To keep balanced in all you do is a great accomplishment in itself. Be proud.

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February 20 at 12:30 pm, Lori Ann Campbell said:

A prolific piece of writing! Such difficult decisions to make but the common welfare of team broken earth had to be protected and the team can now go on to save lives. Balance is indeed a difficult stance but imperative for resilience and stamina.

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February 20 at 1:04 pm, Diana Bray said:

I can’t even comprehend what you guys go through to pass on the knowledge you have to help change the lives of those people in their country. I am very proud
to know you and the man you are.

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February 20 at 1:15 pm, Florence Power said:

Thank god for you and your crew .Can feel how you must have felt when the care team could not go to the injured man ,on a smaller scale I escaped from my supervisors grasp to run to the ER parking lot to grab a woman who was been beaten by her partner ,I grabbed her ,pushed her in the door ,he was grabbing me on one side but my supervisor grabbed me on the other ,she won ,just a little note to make you smile .Its been a hard week couple week all around .You have done wonderful things and your light will shine for a long time.

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February 20 at 2:15 pm, Rosemary Finn said:

Your sense of responsibility and your account of your trip brought tears to my eyes. It also inspired me as I deal with illness at another level. There are days that seem impossible, but “One day at a time.” Please keep writing and inspiring others. I believe you were given a great gift, and you are certainly making many sacrifices. God’s speed and continue to do what you do so well.

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February 20 at 2:50 pm, Vic Lundrigan said:

Thank you!

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February 20 at 7:30 pm, Sandy Morgan said:

Andrew , you are an exceptional individual ! God bless you and the work that you do .

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February 21 at 3:07 am, Doreen Carter said:

Andrew, you are indeed a gift to the world. I have great admiration for you. May God bless you and your family and always keep you safe from harm.

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