PIH physician Evan Lyon sent this message shortly after his return to the U.S. after two weeks providing medical care in Port-au-Prince following the earthquake.
It is possible to imagine, even now in these darkest weeks, that something good may come. Many of our patients said out loud to me, sometimes for me to hear but more often just thinking out loud with another human being: “Bondye kite nou kanmpe.” God left us standing. Most still wondered if it would remain true. Would they still die of an injury, or would another aftershock take us all? I had the feeling many people couldn't believe they were still alive. But some went so far as to say: “God left us standing for some reason.”
I think this is the biggest job for all of us that care about Haiti right now: to remain open and committed. In solidarity. With compassion. With tremendous love.
It seems reasonable to me at this point to consider more than 200,000 dead and 1.5 - 2 million homeless and displaced. There is pressure on the infrastructure of the entire nation with so many fleeing the city to live with family in the countryside. Much of Port-au-Prince and Jacmel need to be rebuilt. I understand that Leogane is nearly completely gone. We need to stand with Haiti for a long time to come.
As an individual, I do not know any single faith. But I work from faith just the same. The Christian tradition puts one rule before all others: “Love your neighbor.” I have never worked with the kind of vital, intimate spiritual support I have felt over the past few weeks, beside our brilliant and fierce colleagues.
The Buddhist tradition offers a teaching that's been very close to me while working in Port-au-Prince. “When your heart breaks, it can break open or it can break closed.” I feel very sad for everyone whose heart has broken closed. The pain is serious, crippling. Everyone who has watched the news or has friends or family in Haiti has touched the edge of this pain. Everyone who has seen the broken bodies and buildings, who has inhaled the dust and stench of dying in and around Port-au-Prince knows this even more intimately. Those of us lucky enough to be alive now may have to carry some of this pain for the rest of our lives.
I know my heart has broken open enough to let me work, to stay upright and moving forward with the hope of helping. When we could not help, which was often, I still felt open to witness, to listen, to offer my presence and kindness.
One evening, about eight days after the earthquake, I stopped at the bedside of an elderly woman who was perhaps in her early 80s. She was scraped and bruised. Her foot had been crushed, but had been well cared for, and she hadn't required surgery. She had a large bandage and was clearly in a lot of pain (the hospital still had very limited pain medications beyond Tylenol and ibuprofen). But at least now she was in a tent and on a bed and receiving care from wonderful nurses and doctors. I held her face and spoke softly. She held mine back and looked at me straight in the eye. She said, “We're alive. We're alive. We're alive.” All I could think to say back was, “I know. We're alive.”