- How was Haiti?
"She smelled of milk and urine. Chacko marveled at how someone so small and undefined, so vague in her resemblances, could so completely command the attention, the love, the sanity of a grown man."—Arundhati Roy from The God of Small Things
Father and Son
Twenty minutes before I was to be taxied to the airport in Port-au-Prince, the baby boy handed to me did not breathe continuously. He didn't breathe at all. Born a few hours earlier at home—probably in one of the hundreds of make-shift tent cities. I did ask if the baby cried after he came out of mom. Yes. He didn't suckle well and stopped crying. Dad decided to get help. Climbed onto a moped with his baby wrapped in a blanket. Must have tucked him under one arm and rode between piles of rubble to the closest health care facility.
People at this other place tried to help his baby boy breathe. They pushed air into his mouth like you are doing. After a few minutes, they said that they couldn't help anymore.
"Go to the University hospital."
From a shirt sleeve pocket, he pulled a crumpled white piece of paper with some writing scribbled on it. I gathered it documented this last visit. They took the time to hand him a note before they sent him on his way.
What did Dad think? Thanks for the note. Okay, now what? Swaddle my baby. Tuck him under one arm. Hop on my moped.
L'Université d'État d'Haïti has been the main teaching hospital for all of the country for decades. Many, if not most, formally trained Haitian health care providers have spent some time in Port-au-Prince at this institution. As important as it is, it has suffered from neglect over many, many years. The earthquake made matters exponentially worse. [End Page 98]
Dad must have been directed to the pediatric service when he arrived. There, a few Haitian pediatric residents and nurses were doing what they did every morning. Tending to an overcrowded patient population of babies, children, and parents. The pediatrics building was left uninhabitable. All inpatient and outpatient care took place on a street where the tents had been erected.
In the ICU, tent twenty beds filled a space probably meant for ten military style cots. Metal cribs and full adult hospital beds were jammed next to one another to fill every possible nook. Parents slept on the adult beds with their sick children or underneath the cribs. Siblings too. Outside, hundreds of parents would line up starting at six a.m. and stand in line for hours so that they could get their children seen in a couple of smaller tents that were used to run the outpatient clinics. Moms would fan their kids under the shade of trees on the side of the road. Feed them some milk or juice while they waited. Smile at us passers-by. They seemed to possess a bottomless well of patience.
Power cords with extension wires littered the street-hospital floor under the canopy.
When it rained, we were only modestly concerned about electrocution. A single 1950's style metal desk with two worn out chairs greeted visitors to the entry way and was usually occupied by some of the medical staff. A single, large metal fan that had collected enough dust and soot in its circular cage to look bearded hummed a breeze toward the desk.
A bottomless well of patience and resiliency. In the popular media, this last word has been thrown around a lot to describe the character of the Haitian people. It is insufficient. Their adversity is truly absurd. Sense cannot be made of the scene in the pediatrics tents months after the earthquake struck, nor elsewhere on that campus, let alone outside its walls.
The local medical staff hadn't been paid a dime in many months even prior to the earthquake. They suffered unimaginable losses during the earthquake. They still came to work.
"We love our children. They love us too."
What so many of us think of as charity...