Thursday, June 15, 2006

Haiti Mission Trip Part I

Late January 2006: A Month Before Departure

Why Haiti? It is a question frequently asked as word gets out that I’ve signed up for a medical mission to Cap Haitian, Haiti. Elections are upcoming and violence is escalating. Many point out that there are kidnappings; I am aware of this fact, and don’t add that there are some 30 a day. I am comforted somewhat by the fact that there is a 5,000-foot mountain range between my group and Port-au-Prince. At 200-plus pounds, I’m a fair amount of person to lug over a 5,000-foot anything, and I’m hopeful that the kidnappers are lazy.

My team will stage in an area called Cap Haitian, in northern Haiti. In addition to "Cap," as the locals call it, we will be working in the villages of Borde, Juchereau and anywhere else we are needed. I will be accompanying an internal medicine doctor for adults and an obstetrician. My job is pediatrics and adults secondarily. Our group will also have several nurses to help get the job done.

I was advised not to have any expectations entering this trip, and yet those who have been there cannot help but share their experiences. I am told that a banana tree will likely be our office, and that the locals have no idea how to form a line. There is excitement among team members and unspoken trepidation as was pay attention to the upcoming elections.

So the question remains, why Haiti?

The truth is: I don’t know. I’m going because there is a need. I’m going because my parents taught me that you have to give something back in this world. I’m going because I have a remarkable wife, Shannon, who made it possible. I’m going to Haiti so that my daughters know that being a physician is not about privilege, but rather about service.

I’m aware that visiting Haiti for so short a time with 50 pounds of medical supplies on my back isn’t likely to change a whole lot. And yes, I know the story about the man chucking starfish back into the sea. It goes like this: An old man is walking on a beach littered with countless starfish stranded after a high tide. He sees a younger man busily throwing the starfish back into the water. The older, presumably wiser man tells the younger man that he can’t possibly make a difference amidst the unending numbers. The younger man picks up a starfish and heaves it into the water and replies, "It made a difference for that one."

Emergency doctors have a great ability to figure things out as they go. Perhaps once I get there, I can figure it out.


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