Thursday, February 25, 2010

To improve something with nothing

Walking around the university hospital, chaos surrounds me. Patients arrive from miles away with health problems; some from the earthquake and some just seeking care.

I come across a young boy who taps me on my leg. Looking down, I am met with sad, hollow eyes. He points at his ankle. I stare at a horrible wound, covered in filth. I ask through my interpreter, "where is your family?" He responds that he has none. "Who did you come with?" I inquired further. Again, he responds "with no one." A series of questions follows; how old are you, what happened to your family, where are you living? The interpreter explains that the boy was 12 years old, his family had died in the quake, and that his home was now the streets. The wound on his ankle was from a wall that had fallen during the earthquake.

I couldn't help but to stare at the child. His eyes were sad and lackluster. All he owned were the clothes he was wearing and a dilapidated crutch. He had nothing, had no one, but had known how to find help, and possessed strength atypical of a 12-year-old child. I set to work cleaning and wrapping the injury that was healing quite well. We then told him to put his shoes back on and come back in two days. He stated he had none. I was speechless.

We came to Haiti to help people in need of medical care. I came to give 100% effort to improve people’s lives. This young boy, his story, and his strength quickly touched my heart and became the most difficult task that I have came across: To improve something with nothing.

Leaving the hospital that night, I noticed the boy with the crutch lingering and watching from the periphery. His sad eyes met mine for a moment before he focused on the ground. I hoped to myself that he would be safe that night and that he would be able to find his way back for further medical care.

I returned the next day to be greeted by the same chaos now characteristic of the hospital. As before, eager patients flowed into the unit. The line of people to be seen stretched down the street. I created an efficiency of care between the sick and the rest of the medical team. I smiled, I comforted, I medicated, and I consoled.

The hours passed and at noon that day, an interpreter said a little boy with the broken crutch was waiting outside, asking for Rocky. I stopped everything I was doing and went to find him. There, sitting in the courtyard was the boy, looking up to me. His bandage from yesterday was soiled and falling apart. I set to work changing his dressing and cleaning him up.

Lazar, as I came to know him, came everyday for the next week and we became close. I thought of him when I wasn't at the hospital and worried for his safety.

On our final day in Port au Prince, our medical team was rushed from the hospital to an awaiting helicopter that would transfer us to the Dominican Republic. My goodbye to Lazar was brief. I hugged him and was overwhelmed by emotion. A translator in the vicinity explained that Lazar wanted to come with me. I could hardly look the boy in the eyes.

I left the care of Lazar in the hands of a medic from the 82nd Airborne Division until he leaves Haiti. When the medic leaves I asked him to please pass the word on to others. Lazar fills my thoughts everyday since leaving Port au Prince. What is he going to do? Where is going to stay? Who is going to take care of this innocent child that is left with nothing? Could I have done more?

Conditions in Haiti were bad before the earthquake, but now it has left many people with strength and faith. Some have faith in God that everything will be alright. Some are lost as what to do now. But for some, like Lazar, an inner strength has filled the spots that were once filled with family, homes, and moments of childhood.

Rocky Cagle, RN, BSN

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