The art of the long-distance run.
I needed a few minutes to myself. But that’s an almost impossible ask in hospital as busy and as open as Bernard Mevs in Port au Prince. Funny how the conditioning kicks in. As soon as the team touched down here in Haiti this week it was like we heard a starter pistol and the sprint began. And it hasn’t stopped yet.
On the plane ride here, I was going through the long list of things to do but felt unusually uneasy about what lies ahead. It’s been a long six months. Probably the longest time I’ve spent away from Haiti since I first started coming here after the earthquake. The political situation here isn’t helping. It’s relatively calm now but can turn volatile at any given moment. I feel like any delay in coming here directly impedes the nine years of hard work we’ve all put in here. Momentum is all about moving forward. Stalling has consequences. Casualties even. Hope itself can be one of them.
The arrival in Port au Prince was different this time. There was tension in the air. Not the same kind of tension as in those trips after the quake. People just seemed edgy. It was quiet. It’s never quiet there. And there’s this feeling that something may happen. I notice even more police around than usual. As we load up our vehicle, I notice that there are no cars around. This time of day in Port au Prince is like the Friday before a long weekend on the 401. But there’s nothing. No cars. No tap-taps (local transport). No vendors about their trade. No school children in uniforms. Nothing. No one. It feels abandoned. Nothing but the remnants of a tire fire and some barricades.
The empty streets are the direct result of a gas shortage here and the unrest that accompanied it. It almost derailed the trip, but we made all appropriate inquiries as to team safety and decided we should go. We’re all glad we did.
The lack of traffic makes the quick trip to the hospital even quicker. Coming through the gate, we could see the smiles of our old friends waiting for us and it’s such an uplifting vibe. There are long warm hugs and more than a few tears. God, it feels so good to be here.
The crew gets down to work straight away. The hospital is buzzing and there are already more cases than we can handle in the time we are here. The streets may be quiet, but the hospital didn’t get the memo. The healthcare situation here still has a long way to go. There are patients with broken bones confined to hospital beds with nowhere to go. People with injuries that would have been treated in 24 hours at home are waiting for months at times for rudimentary care. This isn’t a situation, it’s a crisis.
The team answers as they always do. They operate all day while seeing a hundred patients in the clinic. It’s a busy start and my heart sinks as I realize that there isn’t enough time to care for all the people who need it. I get that feeling every time I’m here. We’re making progress, yes. But when I see the length of line I sometimes falter. Watching the nurses working so hard gives us all a lift.
That was all just day one. Day two began with Dr. Rideout operating on a child with a cleft lip. He’s done this type of surgery countless times in many different countries. Each operation directly helps someone who would struggle in life. Struggle to eat, struggle to grow. Be bullied and struggle to smile. With Art’s careful hand, a life gets changed in as little as an hour. One life. One change at a time. A little reminder that this isn’t a sprint. We pace ourselves for the long-distance ahead and know we’ll get there eventually. It’s good to be back. I’ve got this inside joke with my son, Mark. I ask him “what would Batman say?” He gives me that big smile of his and says, “I got to go to work!” Off we go again.