For every high, a low… living the balancing act of Haiti.
This ritual is second nature. It starts at 2 am Newfoundland time. 32 people get out of bed and tiredly make their way to the airport in the middle of a chilly Fall night. Add to that the fact that they’re giving their vacation time for this. Time away from their families too. Makes me feel a little guilty for resenting the alarm clock.
I can’t sleep on the flight. Feeling a little anxious. Excited. The team’s now made this trip many times but this will be a week full of firsts. We have, for the first time, an eye clinic run in partnership with the Lions Club and incredible Lions Brad and Mike. This will help screen and provide glasses for hundreds of people throughout the week.
Every time we are here, we struggle with head trauma and brain tumors that we cannot treat, but, this time, for the first time, we are equipped with a neurosurgeon. Dr. Englebrecht will help provide the much needed care and education.
Closer to me personally, it will be the first time my wife, Allison, has returned to Haiti since the 2010 earthquake. The birth of our little guy has kept her away. I am excited, nervous and anxious for her to see the fruits of her efforts and what the team has built. She has been a behind the scenes steady hand for Broken Earth from the beginning. She will offer a unique view on all that we have accomplished, and where we should be heading.
Our arrival in Haiti was made even extra special when we finally were able to do a walk through of the new building at the hospital. You. Us. Our many teams. Our countless donors and our most special supporters like Brendan Paddick and Columbus Communications. We ALL did this. Together, we’ve helped build a two-story building that will DOUBLE the patient capacity and provide new volunteer quarters as well.
This is a landmark moment for our team. This represents the pinnacle of three years of negotiations with Caribbean contractors, stakeholders, hospital architects, and builders (all of which was outside my day-to-day comfort zone as a surgeon!). What we do here every day, treating patients and teaching medical skills, leaves a huge impact. But this building will make a lasting impact on the delivery of care in Haiti.
For all of us, this is a true legacy.
What a great first day. I was on such a high but had no idea how short-lived it would be.
The next day started as all other do here… sunshine and the team gelling.
Our Biomed superstar, Patrick Clark, was busy fixing all the broken equipment we will need for the rest of the week. It was a busy clinic with patients and surgeons moving swiftly to get the work done.
At about midday the tone changed.
A police officer that had been shot and had emergency surgery the previous night, died while heavily armed officers kept a somber vigil at his bedside. As this was happening, a brand new baby, literally only hours old, came in and wasn’t breathing. They both lay side by side in the ER.
The team rallied to save the child. Chest compressions. Tubes in and all hands on deck. An impressive coordination of effort. Sadly, all efforts to save the officer had failed and he passed away just feet from where life was slowly returning to this small child.
No sooner than that episode was over and there was another new born who was not breathing. Without missing a beat the team rallied again, not recovered from the previous flat-lined baby. As we were doing chest compressions on this baby, another police officer with a significant head injury arrived. As if this was not crazy enough, a 16 year-old pediatric patient in the ICU coded.
Two pediatric resuscitations at once.
God dammit, if at the exact same time another gunshot victim, this time to the chest, was rushed into the ER. All of this happening while our general surgeon was treating a stomach gunshot wound in the OR.
You pause for a moment. Because a moment is all you have. This is the reality of Haiti. Struggle. Violence. Life and death, all so close and so constant.
I would like to be able to tell you that we saved everyone.
The first baby is still alive this morning.
There’s hope there.
Maybe that more defines this place than anything else. The struggle is just to live. But the hope? The hope is that things will get better. The high of seeing the new building when I arrived is now tangled among the tubes keeping a child alive. The hope is always that things will get better.
The balancing act continues.