Frontline sharing of Haiti earthquake relief work (26/1/2010)
Jan 27, 2010
In any tragedy there are always miraculous moments. A couple of those moments occurred today. The first was a privileged and lengthy discussion with the young man who works for us as a driver. We’ve been on the road for the last two days towards the north east part of the country, to assess the health needs of Haitians who escaped Port au Prince. The exodus from Port au Prince happened in the days following the earthquake, as thousands of people fled to rural hospitals in search of the health care which the overwhelmed capital could no longer offer. Our driver Christobal and I had a moment to chat this morning before we got back on the road. I asked him as I asked all our staff, about his experience during the earthquake. He explained that although his house had been destroyed, his wife and two young sons survived, and they now sleep in the street like everyone else. But he went on to tell me an incredible story. The day after the earthquake, when he showed up at the MSF office, he learned that one of our expats was buried alive after the house she lived in was destroyed. One of Christobal’s colleagues had heard her muffled yell from deep in the basement, below the two floors that had crashed on top of her. Christobal with three other colleagues convinced the head of mission to let them dig her out of the house with their bare hands. The alternative was to wait for a clean-up crew with a crane and truck but the probabilities of that team showing up were at best 48 hours, at worst, several days. They could not accept to wait that long when they knew they could roll up their sleeves and try their best to pull her out. There was a big risk that the removal of pieces of concrete could further destabilize the structure and kill them. But time was of the essence. So at 11 am on January 13th, 15 hours after the earthquake occurred, they started pulling away the concrete pieces and twisted metal and debris, one by one. They created a tunnel that was only wide enough to allow one person to crawl on their stomach and pull themselves forward inch by inch. At one point during the digging when one of his colleagues was in the tunnel, an aftershock shook the building though luckily nothing moved. Eventually, about 5 hours after they started, they made contact with the expat, and slowly pulled her out. She escaped with cuts and bruises and fortunately no broken bones. Her survival was a true miracle. But Cristobal and his colleagues bravery, and potential self sacrifice trying to save her, is humbling. Not once did he or his colleagues think twice about risking their life to save hers. I don’t know if I would have the courage to do the same. As he said to me this morning “There is no tomorrow. There is only today, and living for today. Because we just don’t know what can happen tomorrow”. The second miracle happened later that morning. I was in the Dajabon hospital, in the border town in the Dominican Republic about 10 hours drive from Port au Prince, visiting the wards with my colleagues. We are assessing the needs of patients who may have come to the Dominican Republic after the earthquake. As we stepped into the post operative ward, a young sickly woman gestured to me to come to her bed. When I approached her she barely whispered something in Spanish, but I quickly understood she was Haitian. “I’m a nurse,” she said, “I was working for MSF in Port au Prince when the earthquake happened.” “You were working at the maternity hospital?” I asked her. “Yes, I was injured in the earthquake, but my family found me and brought me here to Dajabon.” This very morning MSF had a moment of silence in the memory of our missing staff, for those who had not been accounted for after the earthquake destroyed our hospitals. The chances were incredibly small that I would find one of our missing staff in the Dominican Republic. I was so grateful to be part of chain and reconnect a missing link. And to witness these little miracles.