TO MY PARTNERS in MINISTRY
to the PEOPLE of HAITI
January 13 & 14, 2010
Another disaster continues to prove what a resilient people the Haitian people are! Haiti has seen riots, coups, political unrest, food shortages, gas shortages, kidnappings, hurricanes, mudslides, and now the earthquake (tranblemandtè) of Tuesday, January 12, 2010!
On Monday, January 11, when I arrived back in Haiti, friends greeted me with “Bonne Anne!” (“Happy New Year!”) Little did we know that, in mere hours, life in Haiti would change dramatically. In just one day, a terrible scar was left on Haiti.
Léon and I returned from the United States and traveled the road from Port-au-Prince to LesCayes with an incoming team from the state of New York. Partially because there were many team members coming to Haiti for the first time, our driver took us to see and take photos of the Presidential Palace. Those photos would quickly become some of the last photos taken of the Palace before its collapse during the rumbling of the earth beneath it!
In the midst of all the chaos, I clearly saw God’s mighty hand. During the morning hours of Tuesday, I had walked the team to view downtown LesCayes and to visit the people’s market. Upon our return, the overwhelming fatigue that I have experienced following my illness reared its ugly head. I pulled the team leaders aside and through tears explained to them my struggle of having to “cop” out on my liaison role to sleep off my weariness and the mental confusion that had set in. I slept for over 3 hours and woke up feeling much better. I started unpacking my luggage that was still strewn all over my room. I was putting something away, when I lost my balance. At first, I thought it was dizziness. Then, I looked around and saw the building swaying and listened as students, attending classes in our building, started screaming and shuffling through the courtyard rocks as they scurried out of the building. I thought that perhaps they had gotten rowdy and had made the building vibrate from their excitement and jumping. But, all too quickly, I realized this was an earthquake and everyone needed to be out of the building. I herded as many of the students and mission team members as I could, out of the school courtyard and into the open lot next to the church. The school court yard was too dangerous of a place to stand, as buildings surround it on all four sides. Out in the open, we starting making a head count of the team members andthe children of the orphanage. It was then that the first aftershock materialized. We could visually see the big ole yellow school bus dancing in the church lot. The wave of movement started and ended quickly.
In the rush of students leaving the school, it appeared that one student had hurt herself. Out of thecorner of my eye, I watched as this young woman was helped to a sitting position on a spare tire laying in the yard. Assisting her was our deaconess intern, Allysa. Since so many things were happening at once and it appeared that Allysa was handling the problem, I chose to place my attentions elsewhere. Because many of the team members and orphans were unaccounted for, I placed my efforts there. Everyone was relieved to learn that the remainder of the “missing” were in the soccer field on the opposite side of the church compound. Knowing that the boys of the orphanage may be in danger, two team members walked down to the boys’ orphanage to bring the boys and their caregivers to the church compound where everyone could be together. Once we were certain that everyone was safe, the team members in the church yard decided it was best for everyone to be together in the soccer field.
For some reason, I felt I needed to stay with the students in the church yard. A short while later, the Pastor came over and asked if I had an aspirin as a young lady was having a heart attack. Léon and I gingerly made our way into the pharmacy, locating aspirin and sanitary wipes. We made our way back through the crowd and found Allysa still sitting with the young lady that I had seen her with earlier. The student was terrified and was hyperventilating. We tried to work with her by having her slow down her breathing. But in her panicked state she would not listen. After several unsuccessful attempts to have her slow her breathing down, she passed out. I asked for several people to lay her down on the uncomfortable ground of rocks and gravel. No other more comfortable choice was in sight. The young lady was no longer breathing, her eyes were rolling back in her head and she went limp, with no heart beat. Allysa and I teamed up to do CPR. Although we both had taken CPR training in the past, neither of us had ever had to use it, until this day! Later, I named the two of us “CPR Sisters”. Allysa took the breathing part and I took the compression part. We asked the surrounding crowd to pray. I prayed that God would spare someone so young! After several thrusts, her heartbeat resumed with a strong rhythm. It took several tries to get her breathing again. Although we may not have used the most perfect technique, she came back. Of the dozens of people gathered around us, I am certain there were many who did not even know what CPR was. Some gasped as they watched what we did. If nothing else, this was going to be a demonstration that CPR can make a difference. We knelt in the rocks for a long time, giving her breaths each time she stopped breathing on her own. The first impulse was to call 9-1-1! But, there is no 9-1-1 here. We asked Pastor to call for his car, which was in the shop being repaired. After some time, the car arrived, spinning rocks under its tires in the hurry to get this young woman to the hospital. Several people carried her to the car and placed her on the ridged floor bed in the back of the suburban. As we raced to the hospital, we careened over speed bumps and through the crowded streets. Upon arrival, it was instantly evident that the General Hospital already had more people than it could handle. We turned around and headed to a hospital up in the mountains. We called ahead for someone to notify the hospital that we were on the way! Once again, we sped down the road with the horn honking the whole way. We encountered many obstacles….throngs of people in the streets, car accidents, traffic jams, and detours. We took an alternative route to the hospital. Our patient was lying on the hard metal floor bed, as her sister held her hand and prayed. Allysa knelt beside her and I continued to monitor her heart beat. The pavement ended and we took a flying journey over the bumpy, rutted dirt roads that lead to the hospital. We were actually happy to hear our patient cry out in pain as her body bounced on the floor bed of our vehicle. At one point, we had to stop the vehicle to give her respirations. And then the speed mode resumed until we arrived at the hospital, where doctors were waiting!
The staff searched for a paper bag for the young lady to breathe into. At first they had to use a gauze sheet for a make-shift bag. Finally, someone was successful in locating a paper bag. An IV was started and anxiety medications were administered. It was then when we felt like she was going to make it. The doctor stated that more than likely we had saved her life.
I could not help but know that God’s hand was in all of this. In my fatigued state of the morning hours, I would not have had the strength to perform CPR. God had provided me the rest I needed to perform the work that God later would need me to do for Him! I had recalled my CPR training, even though it had been years since I last took the class. It was just like learning to ride a bicycle all over again … it all came back to me quickly. I believe God brought me back to Haiti to be here during the earthquake, just so He could use me to save this woman’s life! It was by the Grace of God that I was able to do so. Thus, it seems so appropriate that this young lady’s name is Graciana!
Upon returning to the church compound, I learned that the UN had asked people to sleep outside, away from the compromised building structures. It was feared that another earthquake would strike during the night time hours. During the next several hours, I lost track of the number of aftershocks. There were at least six.
All of the mission team members, the Izidor family, the orphanage staff and children and some community members slept on the rocks in the church yard. Haitians are used to sleeping almost anywhere. They took sleeping on the rocks in stride. God provided a light breeze and a sky clear and bright with a multitude of stars. There was no rain.
The following afternoon, we returned to the building, still on guard for any swaying of the floor beneath our feet. We were able to get some news from television and radio. Phone service was not available for many hours. As of this writing, internet service is still not available.
We learned of the extent of the damage in Port-au-Prince and Jacmel. As more news unfolded, we soon realized that soon we will be facing power outages, food shortages, gasoline shortages, money shortages and chaotic business operations. Desperation for medical care and supplies has already sparked clashes among people vying for what is available.
The aftermath of the earthquake will continue to have long term effects. Your prayers are cherished now more than ever! THANK YOU for caring about the people of Haiti!
Nora Léon Missionary to Haiti & the Dominican Republic Until next time. God willing..