Emergency medical services in Folsom, CA are 3,180 miles away from the seaside village of Labadee, Haiti that sheltered me at Norm’s Place a few years ago, but it may as well be light years away. The contrast in care came crashing into real life this week as we tended Grandma Toby during her emergency surgery in Folsom.
I told Grandma my Labadee story, in part to distract her from her pain and in part to remind myself of the 50+ Haiti boxes Luke just dragged up from storage today, the first step to packing over 1,000 lbs. of medical, sports and school supplies that our Children’s Hope 2017 team will hand-carry into Haiti later this month.
I started slowly earning her attention as more details came flooding back. “Oh, yes, ‘Norm’s Place’ – that’s the place that Norm runs up in Labadee. He’s about your age, Grandma, an American, who once in Haiti fell in love with it and with a woman there. So, he just stayed.”
Her interest grew as I described Norm. And though I was on a daybed next to hers, our air-conditioned hospital room faded as I told her about Labadee that night. Over my shoulder, she had a12-foot picture window view of oak woodlands from her $40,000 hospital bed, but now, it was as if she were watching me in Labadee, Haiti that night.
Though I had been to Haiti previously doing human rights work, that night was the first time I was given the ok to get into the Caribbean water “free of floaters” (here they don’t have to push raw sewage directly into the sea).
I jumped at the chance, literally. Leaving my clothes in the boat we “borrowed” to get to the village, I dove off the back of the dingy. The nearly midnight moon danced on the cove’s gentle waves, washing the salt and sweat and grime of the day to the bottom of the sea. Glorious, warm water…never had a swim felt so free. For a few moments, the squalor of nearby Shada slum faded. It was just me and the moon.
A bit sheepishly, I made my way up the village path to Norm’s Place. What would he think of me and my long wet hair dripping all over his place?
“I just couldn’t resist,” I offered.
“Now that’s my kind of girl,” he said, handing me a shot of rum and a tiny lémon (lime). We toasted.
My friends, Maco and Sasha found their way to their rooms while Norm and I chatted. He asked about my medical bag and my picture based book, Where Women Have No Doctor. As a sociologist I have no medical training, but, bit by bit, (or tipa tipa), I have evolved into a deliverer of such supplies, I explained on our second shot of rum.
Just then, Norm’s wife escorted some villagers begging transport for a young relative into the room. The girl kept her eyes downcast, and except for her furtive hand resting on her belly, I would not have known she was in labor. The village’s Cuban doctor was away and the midwife felt she couldn’t handle this life-threatening delivery.
Norm’s wife, protective of her 80 year-old rum-sipping husband said, “No way.” But, Norm had the only truck capable of managing the mountain road on the other side of the cove and to get to the truck he’d first need to navigate his small boat through the bay around a rocky point, all with a 15 year-old in intense labor...
“No way,” Norm’s wife repeated. “Not unless ‘she’ goes with you!”
Who did ‘she’ mean? I wondered then realized, ‘she’ meant me.
“I’ve got to finish my rum first,” quipped Norm, with a decided twinkle in his eye. So, it seemed we would go.
My heart raced as I tried to act confident all the while sneaking my way through pages of my picture book guide to delivering babies on the go. The last thing she needs is to see me nervous.
We bounced mercilessly, through the waves I thought calm an hour ago. How circumstance changes perception!
After what seemed like hours more, we got to the maternity hospital in Cap Haïtien before the baby came. At first relieved, then, as my eyes adjusted to the dark, I was appalled at the sight. What seemed like shadows on the ground were actually pregnant women not yet admitted to the maternity hospital.
Now what? I collected my thoughts. Still feigning confidence I took the girl to the door at the top of the steps and firmly knocked. Eventually a stern nun peered out a barely cracked door. Please, let my whiteness be a benefit!
It worked, my whiteness opened the door and at least this one girl was allowed in. Next morning, we got word that the girl delivered a child to be named after Norm, by emergency cesarean section. Norm or Norma, I never knew.
Checking to see if Grandma Toby’s eyes were glistening like mine, I recalled other medical moments in Haiti. The contrast with Mercy Folsom is beyond words. For example, three days after the 2010 earthquake, Paul and I got into Haiti by donated seats on a teeny plane that landed in the grass with 900 lbs. of donated medical supplies. That day Doctors Without Boarders was trying to treat patients without their medical supplies, which hadn’t arrived with them. We supplied the medicine; they supplied the skill. Doctors did treatments even amputations on the hostel’s kitchen table. An artist later memorialized the moment by painting the tableau on the table top at Matthew 25 House.
In Haiti hospitals won’t admit patients unless they have a doctor’s note and all their medical supplies in hand. Often hospital beds even lack sheets. The contrast with 3-patient per nurse “Progressive Care” is light-years from medical care in Haiti. Once, Madam Bwa, a mid-wife, cried when I gave her a re-cycled pair of scissors to cut umbilical cords, “Oh, I needed scissors so! Sometimes they only have a rusty knife!” she exclaimed.
I am so grateful to have my loved one resting in such a gracious place, where “humankindness” is not just their motto, but has been our experience.
I have to wonder – aren’t we all human? Doesn’t everyone deserve human kindness? Does human kindness too often stop at our shore? Can’t it wash up on Haiti’s shore like I did that night in Labadee?
Each one of my 30 plus service trips to Haiti has been dependent on your kindness, your generosity and your support. You are a member of Children’s Hope Team whether you physically help carry duffle bags, help run medical clinics or drop a check in the mail. No one person is more important than you. Without your support our students would have no sports, school or medical supplies to carry in. Tipa tipa, step by step, we carry the load.
Peace, always and all ways,
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