We left for Haiti on Friday. When I arrived there was quiet calm at the clinic. I think I expected excitement, hustle and bustle. It wasn’t like that. No one was saying anything about the trip. Team members were dressed in their traveling clothes but doing their normal work; talking to patients, checking surgery lists, working like nothing special was going to happen. This major thing was about to occur in our lives and we eerily said nothing about it to each other.
I went downstairs to check on the boxes of supplies one last time. Their were a few last minute instruments that Nicky and Diane were autoclaving and so the last box was left open and waiting. A Humby knife, a large surgical knife used to harvest skin grafts that looks like something you use to carve a roast and the Gigli saw, a wire bone saw to cut bone and perform amputations were the last items to arrive. Someone had anonymously placed a bag of tiny knitted dolls on the floor by the box hoping they could hitch a ride. I had to look away. Those dolls patiently waiting. Hoping to reach some baby in the very carton that we were using to transport the instruments that would operate on them. Who had left them?
Everyone was so calm. No-one was saying anything to each other. I wanted to jump up and down and run around hugging people but clearly that wasn’t going to happen. What could I say or do? I went back to my office to dictate charts, my mind clearly not on charts. Thankfully my son Michael arrived. I could hear a commotion at the front desk as he walked in and pointed out the obvious to everyone. We, who were staring at the obvious but trying to ignore it, we were going to Haiti.
I called my daughter Elizabeth and we said good bye. I told her that I had found her long lost baby blanket in an old piece of luggage. Her Blankey that she hadn’t seen in years. I thought she would chuckle in the way a person does when they remember some fond childish memory. She didn’t. She asked her brother to bring it back. Seriously. Like returning a naughty wayward child.
Michael and I went home to drop off the car and then, with half an hour left, dropped by a pub to have a beer together.
When we returned to the clinic, the reality of what was about to happen was in the faces of the spouses who had arrived and were now in the kitchen waiting to drive their spouses to the airport. Nervous, excitement, worry. Time to go. It was like everyone suddenly woke up. Earlier we had been sleep walking but now it was real. Everyone was up giving hugs and kisses. Those who were staying and had worked so hard to make it possible for us to go were kissing and hugging the few us who were lucky enough to be going. One last picture. Not just of the travellers, but of all of us. Our clinic familiy. Tears amd smiles. We were off.
We had been told to meet at the curb by post numbered 20. An Air Canada concierge was there and started talking on her walkie talkie. A porter arrived and loaded all 12 boxes on a trolley. The moment I was dreading and had known was going to happen. Separately each of the husbands came up to me and whispered “Take care of my wife.” The safety of these brave women was all I thought about every evening since we learned we were going. So brave these girls. “Take care of my wife”. Just thinking about it gives me a lump in my throat.
In the airport another agent already had our boarding passes and the baggage tags for the boxes. In the middle of the terminal our scruffy looks and mountain of cartons with 2 agents herding us together was attracting stares. We moved off toward US customs. The line snaked through the hall and out the door into the terminal. We paused while the agents spoke to the security staff who then made an announcement. The crowd parted to let us through. People stared at our boxes then back at us. It was the labels that attracted their attention. Plastic Surgery Clinic – LEAP foundation. Port-au-Prince Haiti.
Customs was difficult. They split us up for secondary inspection. I went in with the gear and everyone else waited outside. Of course I had the wrong documents. We weren’t checked thru to Haiti because we were meeting a private charter. The supplies were going to be unloaded in Dallas. Yes there were narcotics in the boxes. No we did not have DEA permission to import controlled substances. No we had not cleared this in advance. One supervisor led to another supervisor. They asked us to provide a list of our supplies. We had that. A box by box list. Can you provide purchase orders from the pharmacy? They let me call the clinic. To call my staff wonderful is an understatement. They were waiting to hear we made it through Ok. They spring into action, retrieved the paperwork, typed up what was needed and faxed it in. Well then what was a Zig they asked? Zig? He’s our anesthetist I replied. Well why is he listed as in box 4? No that’s his box he’s waiting outside. We all laughed. Finally another supervisor came over. They spoke to each other while looking over at me and my cardboard mountain. I imagined they kept reading the word Haiti that was on every label on the side of every box that had somehow been turned to face them. I overheard “special circumstances” and “agents discretion” and suddenly after 45 minutes. I was free to go. They all shook my hand and wished me luck. We would need it.