The true spirit of the season.

It’s dark out for the drive home from work. But it makes me smile. The colourful lights in the tress. Houses decorated from the simple to the Vegas-style marquee. Funny how a simple show of twinkling colour can instantly put you in the spirit of the season. I do love this time of year.

In our house, the kids are frantically waking in the mornings to see where Sam the elf is and to open a LEGO Advent Calendar. There are gifts being wrapped and the house is filled with the sweet aroma of cookies being made. The kitchen becomes unrecognizable with sugar dust in the air and cookie dough matted onto the floor. The girls laughing. Everything just seems warmer. 

It can be hard to grab a breather this close to Christmas. In your head, you’re basking in the glow of the lights from the tree, but the reality is errands, chores, last-minute gifts, and more shopping. But even in all that, there is some fun in the chaos.

Today, I had a moment awake before the rest of the family. Out in the cold, spraying some water on the backyard rink and back inside to a mug of tea, the kids still tucked in bed before the madness of the last few days of Christmas started. It’s quiet in a place that’s rarely quiet. Just the white noise of a bit of wind outside. The hum of the fridge. Peace. Makes my mind wander with it.

Tranquility is sipping on tea while looking out over Conception Bay as the sun rises. How Bell Island lifts darkly out of the water and the tree tips glow green orange. I think about the African skies when we visited the rural area of Goba, Ethiopia. That trip was amazing. Team Broken Earth provided its first trauma training course there last February. I remember when we arrived there were still Christmas decorations in the airports and in the homes. Ethiopians celebrate Christmas on what we would call “Old Christmas Day,” January 7th, like many orthodox cultures around the world. 

One thing that really stuck with me from that trip? The sky. That rich, bluer than blue expanse is my first thought, followed immediately by the people on the streets and in the markets and the farmers guiding their cattle at sunrise. That trip was Team Broken Earth’s first trip to Africa. Given the impression it made, it won’t be our last.

The hospital we visited in Goba and how bad I felt at the time seems to have blended in with the memories of other hospitals in low-income countries. I remember fearing I was becoming immune to the despair as I have seen one dark corridor after another in hospitals that seem as far from hope as you can get. But that’s not true. Not true at all. Because I remember the team of nurses in training and their eagerness. And in every doctor we met there was the drive to make things better. It makes you see beyond the physical. Forget your assumptions. Be the farmer. Be the sky. Hold every positive thought in your heart.

Haiti’s been on my mind more than usual. These last months have been tough there and the teams really felt it. They were often frustrated and angry about not being able to set schedules or having to change them at the last minute. It’s ok to think that way. People have rearranged plans, workloads and given up vacation time for these missions. But we can’t forget that while it is our inconvenience, that it could mean it’s someone else’s life. That could be a badly needed surgery missed in Port au Prince. Or an accident that goes unaided because we weren’t there. Haitians have to live with the unrest, the uncertainty, the protests and gunfire at their doors every day. And while we had to evacuate a team at one point, we were able to leave. Our patients cannot. This is the tough reality, the guilt that often comes with this type of work.  

But we cannot lose hope, lose sight or perspective of the positive things that are happening around us. Every now and then you get a little reminder from the universe. A glimmer of hope pierces the negativity. For me this Christmas season, it was a simple text message.

The text was actually an update from a nurse in Haiti. It was a picture of a patient in a wheelchair giving the thumbs up with a big smile. She asked if I remembered him. He came by the hospital for a checkup and to say thank you. Remember him? I haven’t been able to stop thinking about him. He was a young man from a motorcycle accident that came into the hospital’s emergency room. He was unstable with no pulse in his leg and a broken pelvis. The team sat with him and discussed amputation. He cried the tears of a child (he was only in his early twenties) and said he would rather die than have his leg taken from him. 

Over a series of conversations, we explained to him and his sister how he would die if he did not have this procedure. Through her tears, his sister conveyed with a simple look that she trusted us and she convinced him to be treated. The young man’s tears didn’t stop. I won’t forget the look of resignation on his face as we rolled him into the operating room.

The surgery of the amputation went smoothly and without incident. When we went to fix his pelvis however, he became unstable and almost died on the table. We had to stop the surgery midstream and close his wounds as fast as possible. It is a scene you read about in your training but hope you never execute. The young man’s blood level dropped to the lowest I have ever seen and would have thought was incompatible with life, considering there was no blood to transfuse. If he survived this, it would be a miracle.

He did make it. When we left Haiti that week, he was just starting to breathe with the tube out. I had often wondered if he survived and if he ever regretted his decision. But here, on my phone, here he was smiling and getting ready to be fitted for a prosthesis and thanking the hospital for saving his life. It was the best Christmas gift I could ever get. It meant the world.  

There are so many more stories like that from teams from Barrie, Vancouver, Calgary, Montreal, Halifax, Corner Brook and more as they change people’s lives around the world. Stories from Guatemala, Nicaragua, Bangladesh, and Ethiopia. Together, our impact is something more than the volume or the reach. Sometimes it is simple as one individual story. One life changed. That becomes the bell we ring for all to hear. And when they do, they’ll know that change is possible. Optimism grows as big as the smile on a Haitian amputee’s face and as wide as an African sky. And that too my friends is the true spirit of the holiday season.

If you have been a volunteer, a supporter, a donor, or a cheerleader. If you attended one of our fundraisers, tossed an axe, drank a pint, or danced well past midnight at one of our events, we can’t thank you enough. New decade. New challenges. With your love and support, Team Broken Earth will be there.

From my family to yours, from our family at Team Broken Earth to yours, happiest of holidays to you all and all the very best in 2020.



PS. I know this time of year can be tough for some, some sitting at home frightened alone or depressed. Know there is help out there, you are not alone, and you are loved.