By Kevin Carney, IHSJ Intern
Each summer, interns for PIH's Institute for Health and Social Justice (IHSJ) get an inside look at how PIH operates, and hands-on experience working with PIH programs. This blog post is part of an on-going series following their experiences this summer, and does not necessarily reflect the views of Partners In Health.
Esther’s tired laugh filled the hall as we slowly circled the 15th floor corridor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Five minutes prior, she awoke from a nap to find that two complete strangers— Evelyn Linares, PIH Director of Development Operations, and I—had infiltrated her room while she slept. Groggy and probably a bit confused, the 19-year-old woman from Haiti greeted us warmly as we introduced ourselves.
As she woke up, Esther’s nurses asked if we’d like to go on a walk with her. Evelyn held her hand and I followed behind pushing the I.V. pole as we slowly made our way through the hallway. Neither Evelyn nor I speak Creole, and I speak only basic French, so we communicated primarily by pointing, smiling, and laughing. Our parade—a small, Haitian woman, followed by a Latina from Boston and me, a tall, lanky white boy from the Midwest—was certainly a sight, but the knowing smiles from the nurses on the floor as we passed made it clear that PIH’s work is both known and respected.
Halfway through our journey, Esther commented that her stomach didn’t feel well, and the pain was obvious on her face. “Veux-tu retourner?” I managed to ask. Esther replied with a feeble but firm no, and bravely continued.
Though I’ve never stepped foot in Haiti, I felt that my experience with Esther and her Haitian nurses provided a small ethnographic glimpse into the spirit and pride of the Haitian people. Esther’s illness and pain were a testament to the suffering that continues in Haiti in the wake of a devastating earthquake and cholera outbreak. Moreover, her determination to keep walking and her willingness to smile and joke with strangers amidst excruciating pain demonstrate a resilience that can survive even the most destructive of disasters.
As I walked with Esther, I couldn’t help but think of those in Haiti who weren’t as fortunate as her. Partners In Health’s Right to Health Care program gave her the opportunity to receive life-saving treatments that are unavailable in Haiti. Reflecting on how fortunate Esther was to receive this care forced me to contemplate my own privilege. That I initially thought of her as “lucky” to receive such life saving care speaks to how global health inequality has hastily been accepted as the norm. If Esther had been fortunate enough to have the basic health care I’ve had all of my life, she would not be so seriously ill in the first place.
When we expect that the poor will die from easily preventable diseases, treatment such as Esther’s is lauded as a great gift of charity. In reality, the fact that Esther is one of a lucky few should make us angry. Is it not disgraceful that an entire nation of people is suffering because they lack the health care and infrastructure that we take for granted in the United States?
This is mindset that we can strive to dismantle, one patient at a time, with at least as much determination amidst hardship as Esther displayed that afternoon. We will know our work is done when people like me tell of the one Haitian who did not receive healthcare rather than the one who did.
Kevin Carney is a summer intern for PIH's Institute for Health and Social Justice (IHSJ). He is working with PIH's Public Sector Development Team. Check out blog posts from and about IHSJ interns.