Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Money Shot

The storm has passed. The night's whirling wind, thrashing rain, and sliding mud has given way to spatters of blue sky and even the lightest dabble of the sun's rays. Like a dreary watercolor painting that elicits hope as forcefully as it does regret, Hurricane Tomas has left its stain on Carreis.

I'm on the plane now, taking off for Miami then back home to my TV, hot water, self-help meetings, and Trader Joe's - all the things I've grown to need to achieve serenity that I happily did without for the past six days. I don't know that I can articulate with words what I've seen. What I now know and can never unknow is equal parts trauma, tristesse, and triumph.  Everyday we were exposed to a deeper level of poverty and lack.  Every night, like the clockwork of an after dinner nightcap, trauma struck with a chaser of adrenaline never before tasted by anyone on the team. This last night, the trauma arrived in the six-foot, slender shell of D.J., the brother to Sami, one of our translators.

As the wind whipped the waves of the Baie de Gonar up and over the steps of the Oceanview Hotel's patio, the staff scurried about securing lawn chairs and moving vulnerable appliances. D.J. was just visiting Sami.  He only wanted to help. So he did, picking up debris from the beach and moving lounge chairs with his brother when suddenly a sting shot through his foot and up through his mouth with a bitter scream.

"Owwwww!" A sharp blade of glass that had washed up with the tide now found itself splitting D.J.'s underfoot and bathed in a steady flow of crimson.

We were having dinner when I heard the scream. Dr. Jasmine had made a killer rice with garlic and onions and pork.  I was barely half-way finished and already fantasizing about my second helping.  it was delicious for missions or any other work, and I was hungry having spent our final day in Carries packing up and doing final interviews with the team.  As had become our routine, at the first sound of distress, the medical personnel jumped into action while others either ran over to witness the emergency du jour or continued their conversations about iPhones and dodgy Internet connections or the recent Republican takeover of the House. I grabbed my camera from under the table, took one last bite of Dr. Jasmine's rice, and pressed record.

Sami looked worried, which worried me because I'd just interviewed him not thirty minutes before and he was calm, happy even.  His brother seemed deceptively calm, which also scared me since the prior night's emergency had also brought to our evening a calmly blood-gushing young man and he had nearly died.  Certainly lighting wouldn't strike twice, I thought. But this was, after all, Haiti.

Dr. Jasmine took a good look at her new patient, asked him calming questions, triaged the situation and sent the crew that had assembled into action. She went upstairs to fish sutures out of what was left of our medical supplies, while the staff went to fetch water to splash clean the debris of the storm from the patio surrounding the pool table that had become our hotel O.R. Within the blink of an eye, a staff member slogged back to the patio and passed a huge bucket of water off to Sergio, who threw it around and underneath the lounge chair upon which D.J. was writhing in quiet agony.

"I thought that was to wash his foot?" I whispered.

"No. They wouldn't wash it with that water. it could infect his wound." Ashley replied. Ashley was twenty-two, sweet, smart, and adorably naive, but just one week in Carreis had her witnessing a makeshift emergency medical team and spouting facts about the transmission of bacteria and infectious disease via contaminated water...a far cry from her old days on the UCLA volleyball team, and the mom and dad she had been missing so much on day one of the trip. Up until this point, Ashley had been a bit of a looker-on. She wanted to do so much more than she felt equipped to do and that drove her crazy.  She wanted to connect and relate to the people we'd met, but she couldn't speak the language. The communication gap sometimes felt as big to her as the Atlantic Ocean that surrounded the island and regularly brought her to tears. So, since she could not talk to the people, she talked to God in prayer and He spoke through her. She was angelic, but she was always in my shot, which drove me crazy! I wanted to tell her to do something dramatic or get outta the way, but I just politely asked her, over and over again, to step aside. Anything more would have meant the unleashing of certain character defects of mine that I had not seen in six days since we left L.A.  I shared a room with Ashley, and though I was ten years older than she, had already learned a great deal from her. Hours-long gab sessions about God and struggle and heartbreak had revealed to me that this tall, beautiful young lady with a heart for Christ unlike any twenty-two year old I'd ever met was indeed adding to every frame of my camera in which she appeared. Ashley brought the light of God, while in this moment Judith, our team nurse, brought the flashlight that allowed Dr. Jasmine to suture D.J.'s ripped open flesh.  'The face or the foot, Jess...choose your shot!' I thought.  The face is where I could capture this young man's soul - quiet and exposed, stoically trying to be a man while certainly wishing for his mommy.  But the foot is where the money shot was - obvious pain and medical skill, tugging and gushing blood.  I chose the foot.

"What do you like to do? Do you play sports? Who's your favorite soccer player?" Dr. Jasmine asked in her famously sweet and soothing lilt. Kassy, Haitian-American and our official team translator, repeated D.J.'s creole reply in English, "I can't really answer your questions while my foot is bleeding like this." Nurse Judith explained that Dr. Jasmine was trying to ease his pain by distracting him long enough for the local anesthesia to kick in. Neither Kassy or D.J. looked convinced of the efficacy of this approach. Suddenly, another prick of the syringe.

"Does he feel it?" Dr. Jasmine asked.

"Yesssss!!!" Kassy replied so frantically that I wasn't sure she'd even asked D.J. or if she was just responding out of her own rushing adrenaline and blood shock. Finally, D.J.'s foot went numb and Dr. Jasmine could finish the suture. She worked quickly and efficiently, but clean. Just like the floral arrangement she made every week back in L.A. for Sunday church service, trauma was an art for Jasmine and her stitch work was inspiring. Her calm helped Sami calm down, but must have had the opposite affect on the storm. Though Hurricane Tomas was ramping up to a feverish pitch, Kassy, Ryan, Felicia and Ashley were all joking and laughing. It was undeniably surreal. Had I really just forgotten what it was like to be in my twenties when decorum and respect for traumatic situations were never as important as a good laugh? Or had we become so accustomed to traumatic situations at the Oceanview Hotel that the laughter actually was a sign of respect - a way of subliminally telling the patient that everything was indeed going to be okay? And it was...for now.

Dr. Jasmine finished up and passed the patient off to Ryan, the EMT in training, to wrap the foot in bandages and plastic to keep it dry from infection. We returned to the quiet before the storm, and I finally got my shot of the patient's face - sweet, grateful, longing. As it turns out, it was the money shot after all.

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