The preparation for Haiti was much less intense than a trip around the world, but required a different mentality. What would I need to take with me for myself that I could leave behind?
The answer to that question came from right where I worked. The crew I work with at St.Anthony’s Hospital was awesome. Let me repeat, AWESOME. From the day I walked into work and told them I was going to Haiti, they swung into action. By the end of day one I was going to be receiving donations to take from some of our vendors, and my trip was being blessed by the nuns at the hospital. I received enough scrubs to clothe myself day and night with the intention of leaving every article of clothing behind, and enough flip flops to keep my patients’ feet protected. I got Gatorade, Poweraid, Power Bars, and snacks for the therapy staff. I got kids clothes, toys, bubbles, coloring books and crayons for the pediatric department. I received a huge box of sheets for the ICU. Their generosity, as well as the generosity of other friends, was overwhelming.
And so was the packing.
I had received so many donations, that I was daunted by the task of packing. Gina and I had cleared it through Medishare that we were allowed to take 4 boxes, up to 70 pounds each. But a few days before we left, we received word that these boxes must contain items on the “critical” list, like catheters and alcohol swabs. My boxes contained none of these items. What were we going to do? So many people had donated items, and I was going to do my best to get them safely where they were intended to go.
Gina and I threw caution to the wind, and decided to take our boxes, plead ignorance at the airport, and hope for the best.
I packed a total of two boxes, one duffel bag, one “carry on” bag, and my trusty Kelty backpack. I packed and repacked these multiple times, until I had them as condensed as possible. Not one donation was left behind.
I drove to Miami on June 11th and picked Gina up from the airport. When we saw each other there, it was the first time in 13 years, but felt like not a day went by.
We swore to save our talking and catching up for the next day, so we could enjoy our last night’s sleep in a bed.
The next day we convinced the airport shuttle in our hotel to transport all of our gear to the airport. We filled the entire back of the van. Thank goodness it was only us and another couple, and they were patient as saints with our loading and unloading.
When we got to the airport, we got all of our gear loading onto a cart and headed for the check in counter. When we arrived, the counter was not open yet, but a huge pile of supplies was sitting beside the counter. Gina and I weighed the pros and cons of trying to check all of our boxes or piling them in the Medishare supplies. We decided we had a better shot if they were in the supply pile, and stealthily added ours to the mix. Ah, such savvy therapists.
Now insured that our donations were making it to Haiti, the only thing left to do was insure we got there, too. We checked in, and headed for the gate, where we were briefed on what to expect on arrival. We met with the other physical therapists, and got a general idea of our skill level and where we would be the most productive in the hospital. One of the PTs had never been out of the country before. I started to think what a hard time he would have, and how it would be easier for me since I had been to the Third World before.
As we flew over Haiti, it looked so peaceful from the sky, it was hard to believe there could be any type of devastation below.
As we entered the terminal in Port au Prince, the heat hit you like a ton of bricks. One small fan groaned angrily in the corner in its efforts to cool the immigration area. The entry way looked like a warehouse, bare and in need of repair. There was one desk, with one immigration clerk. The forms were strewn on the corner of the desk. Is this truly the airport? I thought, looking around at the sparse conditions.
We were told to exit the terminal in a group, stopping for no one, until we got to the van. We were to load quickly into the van, and our luggage would be brought to the hospital later. As we exited, we were surrounded and approached by people asking you to buy their wares, not unlike many other places I had been. As we got settled into the van, I thought I have this under control.
But as we started to drive to the hospital, and I began to get a better sense of my surroundings, I thought, you don’t know jack. Travel smugness now gone, I was ready to admit, I was in it for a week, and no, I didn’t know jack. Nothing could prepare me for the next week of my life.
Next post, the tour of Port au Prince.
To donate (tax deductible) please click here for my Medishare fundraising page.