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Monday, August 1, 2011

10:42 pm edt 


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August 6, 2011
St Mary, Star of the Sea
A hospital we are making with the people of Cite Soleil. It is a desolate area, and pigs almost predominate.
 We will take the pigs far from this waterfront, and make the waterfront a social and commercial setting for people.
 And we will build 100 houses (we are starting the first thirty before the hospital is even built).
The Bells of St Mary's Hospital chapel will call to the fishmen as storms approach, will alert the community to disaster,
 call everyone together to town meetings, and toll for the dead with each death in the hospital.
 May this last sound be seldom heard.
But the bell tolls already, for a five year old named Jean Louis. We sent him for surgery for a large hernia, ripe for
strangulation. He died seven hours later, from a disastrous diarrhea that overcame him in his recovery. Rice water diarrhea. The diarrhea of cholera.
I regretted, as did Conan, that we had sent him to surgery. Not that he didn't need it. But somehow it makes us instrumental in his death. His young, tatooed and pierced dad definitly sees it that way and came to let us know that, together  with a lot of other tatooed friends.
In the end we sat and shared remorse and sorrow. What else can be done. The funeral awaits us soon. It will hurt again. It must.  

About 18 years ago, when H was 10 years old, he fell out of a tree. He must have broken his leg very badly, and probably the bone was exposed (this is called a compound fracture). His dad was a country "leaf doctor" as they say in Haiti, and he tried to cure H with leaves. It didn't work, and in fact the leg must have gotten very infected since in time the whole leg was amputated very high above the knee.
H came to live at our orphanage, even though he had a mother and father, at the request of the nearby Baptist Mission who knew his family. They asked us to accept H because the familiy lived deep in the ravines, where their gardens and livelihood were, and H could not climb up the ravine to school every day with one leg. We gladly accepted him at our orphanage. He was always a very quiet and polite boy, and he went to our schools. 
We were able to send him to friends in Seattle shortly after, for a prothetic limb. It had to be adjusted over his growing years, cut completely through, with a wedge of wood glued in. As with knots on a rope and kinks on a chain, the places that had been cut through were the weakest parts of the leg.
Yesterday, as H was walking along, a site on his leg that had been cut through to receive a lengthening piece of wood, completely gave out, and H's lower leg just fell off from mid calf.
Johanne came to find me, telling me about the accident and how inconsolable H was with distress. Since we recently had in our trauma center a man whose foot broke off and a woman whose arm was torn off, I assumed H was in a terrible accident and now lost his only real leg. I esecially thought this was the case, when I heard of the strength of his grief.  
As soon as it was clear through my questioning that it was the prothetic leg that broke, and since I was doing a job with a bulldozer that I could not easily abandon, I asked that H be brought to me with the pieces of leg.
It was a tender moment, I could see how broken and despondent H was. What happened must have reawakened all his original memories of the first loss of his leg. I am sure there are humiliations that have to be overcome from being without a leg or an arm in the company of the the lucky normal limbed people. I can imagine also that even with the very good prosthetic leg, there is still some humilation due to the limitations of movement and the limping.
Even though H is well into manhood, he was very much a small boy again for a little while, during this incident. A small boy who had lost his leg.
I don't know what other feelings overwhelmed him as part of it. Maybe resentment of his dad for not seeking better help, maybe resentment of the separation from his family that was obliged of him in order to study.
In any case, I saw that H was consoled by my presence and care. I could see he felt stregthened. So I took the pieces of leg into my hands, and studied them as I spoke with him, and bound them together with duct tape (we have a prosthetic shop that would be opened the next day, so I didn't want to do more than get him walking again at the moment). I worked carefully with the plastic as if I was setting bone. I took my time with the many layers of taping, as if I were suturing an injury.
I looked at my work, redid some, smoothed parts over with my hands, pressed and bent to test for strength, and then I asked H to walk with me to the gate and back. It all went fine.
Then I asked H if he was very fond of this leg after all these years, and wanted it repaired, or if he thought a new one was in order. I told him how hard it must have been, with all whirling emotions, for this leg to break. I told him how relieved I was to hear that I was wrong in thinking there had been a horrible accident to the good leg.
One plastic leg temporarily repaired. An old heart wound was redressed a bit. The tears had dried up. Breathing was back to normal.
Sometimes the most heroic thing someone can do in life is take the next step, especially under the weight of hard and sad memory.

Walls Fall hard again. 


Marie is 15 years old. As with many people, we met her only because of tragedy.


She came to our St Philomena trauma center, the same days as a 55 year old women named Marthe. Both of them, for different reasons, came to us with broken backs and paralysis of the whole lower body.


It was a lot for us for one day. But of course, it is a lot for them for the whole future.


I say it is a lot for us because we truly absorb, to some degree, the tragedies that we witness. It is something we had to keep a constant vigil on, the toll that tragedy takes on our team.


Marthe came out of the door of her simple house just as winds knocked loose a huge rotting limb of a coconut tree. It fell on her shoulder. Life is fully changed for her as a result.  Haiti is a tough place. It is not “user friendly.” Even for the healthy , strong and able-bodied it is a tough place.  The challenges that lie ahead for Marthe are enormous.


Marie’s story is equally hard. Their small, family house was destroyed by the earthquake. Fortunately no one was hurt. The family continued living in the ruins of their simple house because the tent cities are notorious for crime, violence, and rape.


Marie was doing well in school, a pride for the family. She was studying for her qualifying exam for “Retro”, the equivalent of a junior in high school. Home sweet home, even if in ruins. From a crumbled home, there was still a future to prepare for.


Marie’s family bought a dozen cement blocks every month, over the past 18 months since the earthquake, so they could rebuild their house one day. That’s what they could afford. Even with the billions of dollars given to help Haiti since the earthquake, this is what they could afford. I heard enough money was raised to help Haiti that every single Haitian would be able to receive US $30,000 if this money were simply divided for the people. I can assure you, if this had been done, there would not be one person in a tent city, and Marie’s family would have repaired their house long ago.


Now that rains are starting again, Marie’s family used the accumulated block to make a wall against the bad weather. They could not yet afford cement. So they just used block on block.


Tarps were added, attached to the block. The rains were strong. Then came wind. The wind was strong enough to uproot all of the tents we use for school at our orphanage for earthquake victims. Marie’s wall was no match for the wind and flailing tarps. Marie was studying for her exam, away from harm, but her small brother was within wall fall. As the un-cemented block shook and dislodged in the winds, she jumped to cover him with her body, down came the wall. And suddenly…….


Marie is a 15 year old, paralyzed girl lying in a hospital bed, patient and trusting, as her mom reads the bible to her, and listens to radio broadcast sermons together with her. Her mom braids Marie’s here, applies moisturizing creams a few times a day, gives her light massages, and watches like a hawk for any time I enter the hospital. Then she comes to me, humble and polite, asking me what is next.


The CT scan showed a bad break. The country’s 4 neurosurgeons all gave the same bleak prognosis. I explained to the mother, that many people in the USA get used to living with paralysis. It was important to have Marie start learning how to get out of her bed and into a wheel chair.  How to bathe herself and put on her clothes. To show her that she can still study.


The mother looked at me with empty eyes.


Lift herself out of bed? What bed. Come and see where we live.


A wheel chair in our house, in our slum?  Come and see where we live.


Bathe herself? With what water? Come see where the water is.


Study? How will she get to school? You know our roads.


The mom said to me: “You are trying to give me bad news in the kindest way. You are a very kind man. But we both know this is sad beyond words. It is a disaster”


Disaster or not, Marie’s family continued to give the most noble example of sticking together, sacrificing for each other, sleeping on hard floors in crowded rooms void of any privacy, drenched in sweat and chewed by mosquitos. These people are worth fighting for. And that’s what Wynn did.


Taking advantage of the visit of the next team from Mayo Clinic, and seeking options also as far away as Montana, and as near as Miami, Wynn investigated all options and possibilities for the best care for Marie. Finally, within a fortnight ago, Marie went to Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, has had surgery on her spine, and is getting the best therapy and care. Mom sleeps in air-conditioned private quarters, in a real bed, on the grounds.


God be praised! Mayo be thanked! And let us keep praying!


This is a glass cross made from the broken glass
of the earthquake destroyed Cathedral of Port au Prince

Tent Clinic St Mary Hospital

Tent Clinic St Mary Hospital