Time stand still.
Thirteen. Thirteen. Thirteen. Caught myself in a moment of staring at my hands today. It’s been busier than I remember here at the hospital in Port au Prince. Non-stop. Case to case. Meeting to meeting. Like a river of issues and answers flowing through this place and you’re trying hard not to let the current take you. But here I am, leaning against a stack of supply boxes. Staring at my hands as the number thirteen keeps ringing like a distant bell in my head.
Everyone’s feeling it. You can see it in their faces. A mixture of adrenaline and exhaustion. The heat doesn’t help the situation. Never has. But everyone’s sweating through it. My phone slips in hands as I find a moment to type this. Yet, through it all, as everyone has sweated through every article of clothing the have through long shifts and even longer lines of patients, no one complains. More often they throw you that smile that says we’re in this together.
Subtle reminders come up, letting you know you’re a long way from the hospital in St. John’s. You don’t have a safety net here. When things go wrong, it’s literally life or death and you realize what little control you have. Late night and we were operating. It appeared to be a fairly straight forward case until we got into surgery and the patient became very unstable. There was far more blood loss from his injury than expected. We needed all hands scrubbed in on this one. The entire team showed up and like an orchestra kicking into full performance, everyone had a place, everyone had a job. Any hint of exhaustion was gone. No one looking tired or overwhelmed despite the fact we were 14 hours into a shift. Because of that, the patient survived to fight another day. A motorcycle accident tried to take his life, but tonight “was not his time” I overheard one of the Haitian nurses saying.
But then comes that odd reminder of balance. Another motorcycle accident. This time a young woman was riding when the bike was hit by a car. Her leg was incredibly damaged, and she had travelled here in the back of a pickup truck with a belt around her thigh serving as a tourniquet. There was no option here. She could’ve been at the best hospital in the world and the answer would’ve been the same. Her leg was clinging to her body by a small piece of skin. She needed an amputation. It’s never easy to get consent from someone for an amputation in Haiti. Apart from the suddenness and the shock, the patient knows the even harder reality they now face.
What an odd sense of timing. This all happened the same day that Team Broken Earth started a new prosthetic program. The inspiration for this came from patients we have seen and treated in the past. Young children unable to navigate the hills of Port au Prince on one leg. Young men unable to return to work because of a missing limb.
Our new program will make a big difference for people like our bike accident patient. It will allow someone like her to be fitted with a basic prosthesis that provides the help needed to take the first steps in recovery. It’s hope for a better future. But for that patient, this is of no comfort. She woke up this morning with two legs. She’ll go to bed tonight as an amputee. Easy to see the silver lining when it’s not your decision to make.
My shirt is soaked through. The phone slips in my hand again and it snaps me out of a moment of staring. I flip through some pictures I was tagged in. Maggie turned thirteen the day after I left to come here. We celebrated beforehand but I still feel guilty for not being there. The number kept coming back to me down here. A little reminder of how life moves forward no matter what. In Maggie’s case, she’s a teenager now. I still remember how tiny she was in my hands. Her biggest concern right now is that her best friend may miss her birthday for the first time in ages. The innocence of that is a beautiful thought. The reality of the bike accident patient is something different. But I got to see the positive. I have that luxury. That yes, she’s at her darkest point. But because of our new program, she will have the chance at a normal life. The loss she feels now will be answered with an opportunity to able to move forward.
How quickly does a week go here? Almost done. I can’t wait to get home and hear Maggie’s birthday stories in person. Thirteen. Maybe it’s the mad pace around me or the age I see in my hands, but I’ve become more aware of time passing. It reminds me that there’s still much to do here. It also celebrates how far we’ve come.
Back at it.