It’s easy to die in Haiti. Excuse me, I don’t mean to sound too grave. But it’s a reality. I actually started writing this blog before cholera had spread to Northern Haiti and more specifically Cap Haitien. But now, it’s here, and my statement becomes even more poignant.
Here are just a few examples.
I thought I was helping a newborn baby whose mother was too sick to breastfeed. I gave her aunt a can of formula and told her to return when the can was empty if the mother was still ill. I would reassess the baby then. I didn’t get the chance. The baby died later that week.
I was briefly acquainted with a young woman by the name of Deliverance. She came seeking my help about a week after she had an operation at the local hospital. She needed her surgical site dressing changed daily. I did so for about a week. At the age of 21 she probably weighed 60 pounds- at the most. She had diabetes but had neither the money for insulin nor syringes. I dumped my whole bin of insulin syringes into her purse one day. But really, that would have only provided a few weeks of daily injections. I found out last week that she is no longer with us.
Last month we rushed a neighbor, an elderly man, to the hospital in our truck. He died in the truck in front of the hospital.
I was in the “emergency department” at our local hospital. I was there with dehydrated twin 8 month olds and a nanny waiting to see whether they’d be admitted for IV fluids. Things were taking longer than usual. I was told that the woman occupying the doctor’s attention was “very sick.” Eventually, we were seen by the doctor and just one of the two babies was admitted. When I arrived at the hospital the next morning to check on her I was told by our nanny that the sick woman had died during the night as had the child in the bed across from our baby’s hospital isolet.
A few weeks ago I had the privilege of doing wound care for a man whose face had literally been ripped to shreds in a motorcycle accident. My cleaning and bandaging each laceration happened to be a convenient way to show this broken man that he was still worthy of love and attention (which is just one more reason I’m grateful that I’m a nurse of all things). I knew he had to be in a lot of pain and was probably embarrassed as well. He seemed so depressed. It wasn’t until the next time I changed his dressings that I came to find out his newborn baby died in the moto accident. He was the driver.
I was at the hospital a week ago today. Checking in a child who was scheduled for an elective surgery the following morning. A woman was sitting in front of the nurse’s station holding a lethargic, febrile baby. The nurse was reprimanding the mother for bringing the child to the hospital so late in the day. The mother replied, “please excuse me nurse, I simply didin’t have the money earlier in the day. And too, my child just died. I was at his funeral.” The woman’s son was just 5 years old. He’d only just complained of a headache the previous day. His death was sudden. But on with life she marches hoping that someone at the hospital will show mercy on her and this baby will be spared the same fate.
Many of COTP’s children find themselves living in the orphanage because one or both of their parents have passed. Cause of death? …fever, unknown, earthquake, childbirth, infection…
I personally have buried six babies, children that I took care of here at COTP that died either suddenly or didn’t make it after being hospitalized for various reasons. Actually, it was the recent passing of one of these children that prompted me to write on this topic.
Just this morning, we were called upon by a friend to take a woman to the hospital. Our red truck is commonly called upon to make hospital runs to the town of Milot just 25 minutes away. The woman was vomiting blood and died in the hospital later that day. She was the biological mother of one of our kids.
So where does that put me? How do I process the realities that surround me? What’s my response?
Well…it depends. Sometimes when I hear about these situations or personally go through the agony of sealing a casket I find myself face down, broken, crying out before the Savior. Not because of the loss of life itself. No, if we’re honest, it’s way better for a suffering child to be running, skipping, and laughing in Heaven in the presence of Jesus than here on earth with the pain and limitations of their illness.
The actual reason my heart hurts (that’s really the best way to describe it) is because I just wish that the people I’m living amongst, and serving, and have grown to love didn’t have to live such hard lives. I wish they didn’t have to worry about losing a child, or a brother, or a mother to things like hunger and preventable disease. To put things in context, a child with a congenital heart defect in the United States would be diagnosed at birth and carefully monitored in the hospital until surgery was performed and recovery was complete. I’ve “lost” two babies who didn’t have such an opportunity. I shouldn’t say that I lost them. I shouldn’t say “I lost” for two reasons. First, because I did not lose anything. Rather by knowing these two children, and all the children that have passed since my arrival in March, my life has been greatly enriched. I’m thankful for my time with them and I am thankful that God is in control. “Bondye fe sa li vle” is a common Creole remark in response to the loss of a loved one. God does what he wants. He calls the babies home. His timing is sovereign and perfect. Secondly, it really wasn’t me but a mother, a sister, and a brother, and an aunt and an uncle that had to say goodbye to their “petit.”
So it’s hard. And I don't so much mean the loss of life itself. Which isn't what I'm addressing in this post. It’s the seeming ease of death that is a ready reminder that life is hard for Haitians in poverty. Really hard.
Our nannies spent hours the other night singing and praying, beckoning God to deliver this country from disease (cholera) and the recent violence (riots in Cap Haitien). As I fell asleep to their voices echoing from the baby house I was reminded why these people are able to push through their trials. It’s because they give their burdens to Jesus. He’s their everything. Their peace. Their sustenance. Their protection. Their comfort. Their help. Their strength. Their guidance. Their provider. Their healer. “Bondye ka fe tout bagay” is another common phrase that roll off our nannies tongues in response to every seemingly insurmountable situation. God can do anything/everything.
So please join me in prayer. Bondye ka fe tout bagay. He can heal this country of its political unrest. He can stop the spread of cholera and preserve the lives of the millions who live here. Mesi Bondye pou tout sa ou fe pou nou. Thank you God for everything you do for us.
It probably seems a bit out of character for me to write something that’s not bound to make you smile. But this shouldn’t be depressing, that’s not how I feel at all. I just wanted to share some of the things I wrestle with on a weekly, and every once in awhile a daily, basis. Playing with kids is fun, but this is another side to life in Haiti.
I'll be sure to show yet a different side of life in Haiti in my next post. Sorry it's been 4 months since my last one!
1 Peter 5:7 “Cast all your anxiety upon him because he cares for you.”
Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are tired and heavy –burdened and I will give you rest.”