Fr. Scott Binet, MD, MI
The suffering in Haiti continues. Port au Prince is hot, congested, dirty and full of people whose lives have been turned upside down by the January 12 earthquake. The streets are clogged with traffic – local “tap-taps” carrying Haitians, the vehicles of foreign aid organizations, big trucks carrying relief goods, the army and UN vehicles, etc. The roads are lined with houses and business that crumbled under the force of the original earthquake. And they will remain that way for a long time.
The people have been “razed to the ground” as well. Some have nothing. Others have only a tent and a few belongings, yet are attempting to prepare for the rainy season. Many are experiencing frequent hunger. “Mwen grangout – I am hungry” is a frequent refrain. Most would like life to return to normal – but it won’t, not even a semblance of it – for a good while. That is because the rainy season is just around the corner.
I just got a taste of a Haitian rainstorm the other night – my first since coming to Port au Prince. It was 3 in the morning. As the rain approached from afar, it sounded like a freight train was barreling towards me. The sound was quite unnerving. The rains beat down on the seminary where I was staying – incessantly. My thoughts and prayers immediately went out to those people who were outside – exposed and without sufficient shelter. Surely it was going to be a rough night for them. The early storm was not a good omen I thought. Let’s hope the rains can be stayed for at least a bit – something else to pray for – another petition on behalf of those who are suffering.
The people here are filled with fear for another reason as well. Recently there were 2 aftershocks, each 4.7 on the Richter Scale. When the earth moves – and it did during each aftershock — the people run. They come bounding out of their rooms and head for an open area. Many are still afraid – a normal emotional reaction: a fight or flight response, we say, in the medical world. The moving earth is a formidable foe that no one here has been able to fight with any success. So, running seems like a reasonable response for many.
With time these people may be able to use reason to resist the emotional need to run, realizing that the structure has withstood a much larger earthquake in the past. Many will eventually do what a young woman told me yesterday that she has done: “learn how to live with the fear, which continues, and then laugh at myself when I look at how I am reacting.” This woman is on the way to successfully integrating both the trauma of the earthquake and her present situation into her life story. I pray that she, and many others, will do just that. It will take time though – each at his, or her, own pace. Healing occurs in phases, as do disasters.
The emergency is almost over, but the difficulties persist. They are only of a different type. And the work at Foyer St. Camille in Haiti continues. We are still providing medical and pastoral care for many – in a particular way for a group that suffered significant trauma during the tragedy. The newly opened patient area called Foyer C is filled with patients from the USNS Comfort that came to us through St. Damien’s Hospital. The latter institution, under the direction of Fr. Rick Frechette – a Passionist Priest from the US – has been our primary local collaborator in the earthquake response.
The patients in Foyer C are suffering from an assortment of maladies – amputations, spinal trauma, fractures that have been treated with external fixation, head trauma, etc. There are some twenty in all. We have been taking care of them for 2 weeks now — changing their dressings, providing medications for pain, sending them to physical therapy, offering orthopedic, spiritual and psychological care.
Most of the patients are young, and their lives were interrupted by a tragedy that was not of their own making. The smiles that undoubtedlhy were on the faces of these young people prior to the earthquake when they imagined their futures are now not so evident. Life is different now, and what is to come is uncertain. Many will need some sort of prosthesis. Others will likely never walk again. In any case, the road ahead will be a challenge for them.
As I write, I am at St. Damien’s Hospital. Per an agreement with Fr. Rick Frechette and the other members of CTF Central, we will be expanding the work of CTF-SOS DRS in Haiti beyond Foyer St. Camille. The activities will surely continue there – and even expand. The new opportunity to work with with Fr. Rick will give us the chance to support the relief effort of the Catholic Church in Haiti by working with the Episcopal Conference. And we will do it in a way that is consistent with our mission of providing medical, humanitarian and pastoral care.
The Catholic Church in Haiti was decimated by the earthquake. The Cathedral in Port au Prince was destroyed; the Archbishop and the Vicar General were killed; the major seminary collapsed; and most of the parishes suffered significant structural damage. Thus, the response of the local church to the earthquake has been crippled as well. Along with Fr. Rick and other collaborators, we will work in the wake of the earthquake to assist the Church and the poorest of the poor here in Haiti.
Please keep us and them in your prayers. We need all the help we can get.