12 January, 2010
I finish a day of work at the Cure Hospital in Santo Domingo, jump on my motorcycle and head out for the evening commute. This involves winding in between gridlocked vehicles jumping the curb a few times and finding any small path to make the 2 mile commute a little more efficient. Horns are honking and buses are belching out black smoke. I stop by a café to answer a few emails before going home to see Marni and the boys. Suddenly the place begins to shake. In Santo Domingo it was already 5:53pm. (one time zone west of Haiti) My California roots keep me from acting overly alarmed in spite of the fact that a few others start to panic. It stops, I finish my business and then go home. When I arrive the answering machine is blinking indicating a message (amazing to think that land lines and answering machines were still a preferred form of communication 10 years ago). My friend from California called to ask if I was OK. Wow! What just happened? Could it be about that little shaker that I just felt? I turn on the news. They are talking about Haiti and showing some satellite images. There is no communication with anyone on the other side of our island. News reporters just keep repeating the same lines and we keep listening to it hoping to hear some new information. The worst is feared. Thousands likely dead.
I made many trips there before and know the challenges of life in Haiti. As an orthopaedic surgeon living just a couple hundred miles away there was no choice but to go. Should I go immediately or wait until we get more information and make a plan? Marni says to go. I have no choice. I gather my team and supplies at the Cure Hospital and by Thursday morning everything is in order for a chartered flight across the island. The Port au Prince airport is collapsed and things are getting chaotic. Just as we are about to leave Santo Domingo we get word that that the American military has seized control of PAP airport closed it to all inbound aircraft. We go anyway. We had no idea what would happen, where we would get our next meal, our next shower or where we would lay our head to rest. That was not really important. When we arrive our worst fears our confirmed. We stop by a few hospitals to assess the situation. There are hundreds of patients all over the place. They are all over the parking lot, all over the lawn, in the courtyards and a few brave ones in the hallways. Almost all of them are orthopedic cases. Some seriously injured, some dying, others already dead.
Today at HAH we had a service to remember that tragic day – one of the deadliest earthquakes in the history of mankind.
Every person in Haiti over about 13 years of age remembers exactly where they were at that moment. Almost all have friends and family who perished in that disaster that took the lives of more than 200,000. Unfortunately it sometimes takes a tragedy to remind us about what is most important in life. This is true for many of us on a personal level, but it was also true for Hôpital Adventiste d’Haiti. Prior to the earthquake this “mission” hospital, was suffering from financial issues, a declining reputation, and no ability to care for poor people. The last decade has brought unprecedented donations and expertise to our hospital. In the aftermath of the earthquake this allowed an outpouring of services for those with no means to pay. Now 10 years later this still remains a priority. In addition our hospital has provided services never before possible in Haiti and is now the most advanced center for orthopedics in the country. Our laboratory, imaging center, emergency room and operating room are also offering some of the best services in the country. I thank our staff for their compassion and their devotion. I thank our volunteers and I thank our donors for all that they have made possible. And most of all we can be thankful for God’s rich blessings on this hospital. As we enter the next decade I know that there are even greater blessings in store as long as we can continue to do our part.