I had the pleasure of spending a week at Hôpital Albert Schweitzer Haiti in March, 2011, working with the Anesthesia Department. As I have learned so many times in life, things don’t always turn out as planned; there are so often unexpected outcomes that I have not foreseen. As I anticipated, I had a wonderful time, worked hard, met incredibly kind, dedicated people and advanced my love of Haiti. What I pleasantly stumbled upon, much to my surprise was the realization that my American definition of “rich” was severely myopic. The Haitians’ kind, determined, family-oriented and soulful happy spirits fortunately broadened my understanding of life’s riches.
Kindness abounds everywhere in Haiti from morning passersby, who always greeted me with “Bonjour,” warm eye contact and illuminating smiles. Hugs of appreciation from so many patients and their families filled my days…and nights.
“Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.”
Determination flows freely in Haiti. Surviving such harsh, raw living conditions has created some of the hardest working, strongest people I have ever met. Everyone seems to carry their own weight, literally and figuratively! I went on a beautiful, star-filled walk one evening with Dr. Robert Carraway and Dr. David Markham, two of my interesting colleagues from Alumni House who were volunteering their time researching a specific post partum cardiac myopathy that occurs more commonly in Haiti than any where else in the world and continually treating the women that have it. We walked all over the HAS campus with Dr. Carraway, who is the consummate tour guide. As a former Medical Director who has been involved with HAS for years, Dr. Carraway freely shared with us his vast knowledge of the rich history, workings and happenings at HAS. As we walked and talked, dusk fell and a few sporadic street lamps came on. Under each lamp gathered a tight circle of four or five children. Curious, I asked Dr. Carraway what the children were doing. He quietly responded, “Their homework – it’s the only light they have.” That is undoubtedly one of the greatest examples of determination I have ever witnessed.
“One who gains strength by overcoming obstacles possesses the only strength which can overcome adversity.”
Family abounds everywhere at HAS. In every ward of the hospital, family surrounds the patients. In the halls, outside, everywhere, there is family. Family washes their loved ones’ clothes, and their own, outside in the courtyard. Family brings homemade meals in for the patient and feeds them lovingly. Family pushed the stubborn-wheeled old beds into the pre-operative area if the patient needed surgery and helped to return the patients to the surgical ward post-op. Family surrounded the incubators in the nursery, rocking the babies all day and night. I read in an article at Alumni House about HAS co founder Mrs. Mellon, she was a remarkable woman indeed. She purposely selected iron beds that sit higher off the ground, so that there would be more room for families to sleep under the beds.
“Help life where you find it.”
The hot, humid, dusty air in Haiti was oppressive in March. I can only imagine how difficult it would be to endure the elements during the summer. Somehow giving relief to the humidity, the air was sweetly filled with the sound of laughter and cheerful conversations everywhere. I heard laughter coming from the kitchen at Alumni House as every delicious fruit-filled meal was graciously prepared for us. I heard parents conversing outside when they were walking to work and their children laughing while being accompanied to school. Every where I walked, worked or went I heard friendly warm voices.
“Joy, sorrow, tears, lamentation, laughter — to all these music gives voice, but in such a way that we are transported from the world of unrest to a world of peace, and see reality in a new way, as if we were sitting by a mountain lake and contemplating hills and woods and clouds in the tranquil and fathomless water.”
— Albert Schweitzer
My sincere thanks to HAS for allowing me the opportunity to work at your remarkable hospital. And my appreciation to Dr Exe and Dr. Ernst for helping me to witness and value the importance of being exemplary humble servants. My collective experiences in Haiti graciously offered me riches beyond my expectations by witnessing the simple yet priceless gifts of kindness, determination, family and laughter.
“You must give time to your fellow men — even if it’s a little thing, do something for others — something for which you get no pay but the privilege of doing it. –”
— Albert Schweitzer