Katie mentioned that I went on a trip. Yes. It was interesting... as I am finding everything here in Haiti is. I typed out everything that happened and it came out to a total of 2455 words. Because that is more than you might read in one sitting and because I am waiting on a few pictures I have decided post it in 2 or 3 parts. Enjoy.
I wonder how long you have to live in Haiti before you get used to the heat, before you are used to sweating all the time except during and just after your cold shower. I do not know, but it is longer than 33 days.
A few days ago I was sitting on the veranda outside the school’s command center when John Ackerman sneaks up beside me and asks, “What are you doing right now? Ya wanna get out? Go for a nice country drive?”
I know that despite what he has said, he has a little more in mind that a country drive. John is a little older than my father, with gray hair and a slight stoop when he walks. Like he is constantly expecting to duck into a hobbit’s house. However, John has the eyes of an elementary schoolboy- they instantly communicate when he is planning some sort of mischief.
One quick glance tells me something is up and I am in. I let Katie know that I am leaving and we jump in his truck.
John gives me the day’s itinerary. He needs to go to U of Miami Hospital by the airport and check on a young man who has not contacted his parents since he landed in-country to work as a free-lance medic. Then John wants to go back by the birthing-center-turned-hospital to check on everyone there. Finally John says there is a little hospital out in the boonies that needs some pain meds. John tells me he has them in the back of the truck.
He is not lying. I look in the back seat and he has a 5 gallon paint bucket full of vials of heavy narcotics and a Diet Coke. Just the kind of thing I normally do on Sunday- run stuff like this across the Haitian country side.
We stop at the U of Miami Hospital- it would make Colonel Potter from M*A*S*H proud. A compound of barbwire-topped gates, tents, and state-of-the-art medical equipment. The tents were roughly 30 yards by 15 yards, with 4 rows of cots inside. They even had a fully functioning x-ray machine. One of the few in the city, John tells me.
At the gate John flashes a smile, waves at the guard, and we are let in. No questions asked. In 3rd world countries it is amazing the power and respect shown to a white face, even if they are a total stranger. People just assume you are supposed to be there or are in charge. Amazing.
We walk in the first tent and I quickly realize we have stepped into hell. Cot after cot of injured people. Their white bandages contrasting with their black skin. Shell-shocked looks on the faces of wounded and the healthy. There is a row of people with gauze wrapped almost entirely around their heads- I cringe to imagine what horror is underneath. Family members feed their hurt loved ones spaghetti out of Styrofoam to-go boxes, and in the corner a young girl is having her leg wound cleaned. She is howling in pain. The kind of cries that make me ache for her and give me chills.
John walks halfway down the first aisle, looking around, before he quickly stops, does a 180-degree turn, and heads for the far aisle. He stops and talks to a Haitian woman who is standing next to a young girl lying on a hospital cot, an IV in her arm and long distance stare.
Following John anywhere is a challenge. He is the kind of person who is always on a mission, to talk to as many people as he can, to gather as much information as he can. Checking on everyone. Has everyone had enough sleep? When was the last time someone ate? He flows from conversation to conversation and room to room effortlessly. His conversations switch from Creole to English and back, frequently looking over his shoulder to update me on what he just said.
John and this woman talk quietly and he puts his hand on her shoulder comfortingly. He turns to me and tells me that this is the nurse who works for him at his clinic. Her daughter is lying on the cot next to us. She was buried for 5 days and has lost her left foot. Her right leg has a bad infection. John would later tell me, “Gangrene… black like that, it will have to come off too. Poor thing.”
John introduces the nurse and I. I feel so awkwardly out of place. I stammer something about being glad to meet her and say that I will be praying for her and her family. Those words feel like tiny pebbles thrown against the giant metallic machine of death and destruction that this earthquake is.
John wraps up his conversation and we head out of the first tent. The girl who was having her leg cleaned is still screaming- back outside, in the sunshine, I can still clearly hear her.
John asks a doctor about the person we are trying to find and we walk to the tent next door. Inside is more of the same, but with less blood-curdling screams. At the end of the first aisle there is a tall American in a LA County EMT hat. This is our boy. His family and John’s go back a long time. They share a quick hug and John starts asking him about how he is doing, if he has slept enough, ate enough? His standard line of questioning. Although he gives it to everyone, he is no less sincere. If the EMT had said he was hungry, John would have pulled a granola bar out of some pocket and pressed it into the young man’s hands. John agrees to email the EMT’s family and we head back outside. Past a row of 3 toddlers with both legs in casts and a bar wrapped in plaster connecting both legs to keep them stable.
We climb in John’s truck and head to the birthing-center-turned-hospital. We have been gone just over an hour and a half, and are still not even half done with the errands he had planned.