Monday, February 01, 2010

From Heaven to Hell

By Saturday night the team was assembled. It would consist of surgeons (general, orthopedic, ob/gyne), family practitioners, ER doctors, RN's, NP's, medical students, pastors, paramedics, and Creole translators. They would come down over the course of three days (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday), each escorting a Gulfstream 500 full of the supplies we had collected and staged at the hangar.

Sometime on Saturday, during all the scurrying, one of the missionaries I was keeping in close touch with contacted me about their worries about a South Dakota-based team that had been in Haiti when the earthquake hit and how their rations were starting to run thin. I took a chance and contacted my new favorite airline about what would be the possibility of evacuating them from trouble. Amway jumped at the opportunity ("why deadhead home," they said, "when we could fill the plane and help folks out?") and, with no small amount of stress in retrieving the necessary customs information on all of them, we were able to get them safely home to their stressed out families.

In the wee hours of Monday morning the first wave of our mission to establish a medical presence near the epicenter of Haiti's recent earthquake ascended from a cold Grand Rapids runway.

Despite not having slept hardly at all over the previous 48 hours, I didn't feel the need during our three and one-half our direct flight to Port-au-Prince. Dawn was breaking just as we flew into Haiti airspace. From the air, the rural Haitian country side looked no different, really, than all the other times I'd flown over it. The descent into Port-au-Prince, however, would shake me.

Please understand, on a good day Port-au-Prince is a pitiful thing to see, especially if you're seeing it for the first time. Closely-packed homes of tin and cinder, garbage piled along the roads and beach. Looking over it as you fly in you wonder, "How can this be?... just 700 miles from our own country?" That's on a good day. Pre-earthquake. That's baseline for Haiti.

Adding a 7.0 earthquake to these conditions is like a very bad science experiment, combining two bad chemicals, corrosive in themselves, creating a ne'er-seen-before monster.

Pressing our heads against the windows we saw an urban landscape that looked as if it had just been bombed. Through a haze of smoke, you could see little fires and smoke billows peppering the tiny neighborhoods. Mind you, this was six days after the earthquake.

I didn't take pictures. I wasn't in the mood. The past three and one-half hours had transitioned us from heaven to hell.

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