Our last day in Haiti upon us, I was up before sunrise. Several other volunteers were up, Bible reading, preparing for the day. I walked out of the guesthouse compound past the parked ambulance and clothes washing basins and drying lines, to a small clearing. I had stood here before. Looking southeast, the pre-dawn sky opened up wide over the lights and glimmering harbor of Port au Prince. The city itself wraps itself further east then around the bay, and north up towards the foothills. The sun broke over the horizon spilling orange onto this vista and our camp, illuminating the beauty of this place. I sat and prayed to God, in thanks for this moment, for this week, for our team and the others, and for Haiti. Lord, hear our prayers.
We savored breakfast, for each of us French toast with peanut butter and cut mango. Coffee. Our bus ride to PAP airport was to leave at 1:00, and we all had projects to complete this day, in preparation for Team 4’s arrival Sunday. We also had ward rounds and final chart documentation, list making, to assist the incoming team. The second day of continuous prayer and worship for those lost in the earthquake continued, and we all wandered over to the worship center as we could. If the Haitian parishioners were fatigued from the 8 hours of worship the day before, they didn’t show it. But I sensed more desperation in the kids and people I met today, several children, young teens, coming up to me as I entered the outer reaches of the packed pavilion asking for money, to be sponsored. One twenty-something polite young man with broken but effective English walked up with his toddler son and wife, and handed me his name written on notebook paper, asked if I would be his friend for life. I took the paper, hugged him and walked with him towards the church. A 10 year old boy in a bright green shirt, dusty Sunday best, came up, took my Sharpie marker out of my surgical scrub top chest pocket, asked me to extend my hand, and wrote his name “CLEO” on my palm. He asked me to please call him, he needed $100 for tuition for school. As he walked away, I prayed that he does get to school, that he reaches his dreams and that he becomes one in a new generation of Haitians that will re-build their country.
As I stood clapping and swaying to the Haitian hymns there for the last time, I noticed a ward patient laying on a mattress in a side aisle, her IV bag draped over a pew back, not dripping. As I inched up to check on her, a same-aged young girl led me up to show me her IV was backed up. Walking back to the ward to get some saline flush, the nurses told me she insisted on going to worship, as did many of the other patients on the ward this day. Back in the aisle, her line flushed clear easily, and her normal saline drip resumed. I stood, turned and walked out of the pavilion starting the half mile trek back to the clinic, knowing that I have been moved by my week here, moved closer to God, closer to my roots as a physician, closer to understanding my place in this life with my own family and friends.
Our flight did leave PAP airport, we did land safely in the Bahamas for refueling, and we did land safely in Fort Lauderdale, the brightly lit coastline a very welcome site to all 9 of us sitting in our small, Metro 3 prop plane, not least of all Dr. Adrian, who sat in the co-pilot seat and had his eye on the fuel gauge registering below empty the last fifty miles of the flight. As the next weeks and months slip by, I will try to get my brain around all I’ve seen and learned, there are still many stories to tell about the week we spent here.
Robert Wills, M.D.
Austin Pain Associates