By Karen Lantz
If you have a hard time “connecting” to our fellow children of God suffering in Haiti, please listen to a true story – because their loved ones can’t cry enough tears to make up for what will happen if we don’t do enough.
We were a couple of American college kids riding our bicycles through Jamaica in 1977. Jamaica is a Caribbean country next door to Haiti. It’s just as full as Haiti is of descendants of the black people the Europeans enslaved to work their sugar plantations in the “West Indies”. To maximize profits, conditions on the slave-ships were so bad that only two-thirds of the Africans actually made it there alive.
Sorry to disagree, Reverend Pat Robertson, but the slaves DIDN’T make a “Deal with the Devil” in 1791 that led to their descendants being punished by this quake. Maybe you’re thinking of Robespierre in that OTHER French-speaking place; and maybe that’s why the similarly misguided Rush Limbaugh is urging listeners to “Let them (the suffering quake victims) eat cake.” What IS undeniable is that, as Dickens would say, for the Haitians it IS “the worst of times”.
Back to 1977: We were riding at night to beat the heat. In the jungle night, we stopped to hang out at a gas station with the friendly natives. Our 10-speed bikes didn’t need any gas, but, as an old man at the airport told us, “Get in with the natives, Mahn!”
Soon, we reached the top of the mountain. We gratefully whizzed downhill through the tropical steam.
Suddenly, in the jungle darkness, we hit a “hairpin turn” (“90 degrees”, for those of us who haven’t been sexually stereotyped out of high school geometry classes).
Dave hit the dirt – and I DO mean DIRT. He was hurt. REALLY hurt: a lacerated skull and a shattered collarbone.
My instincts told me to drag the bikes out of the middle of the road – but DAVE was in the middle of the road. I threw myself in front of him and tried to wave the next car down. The driver swerved and passed us. He wasn’t crazy enough to stop for a couple of sweaty, bloodied Americans in the middle of the jungle.
Finally, in desperation, I threw my body out in front of a passing van. If Dave was going to die, I was going to die, too.
The van turned out to be part of a caravan of Americans. One van/couple had a male paramedic from Wisconsin. The next had a female nurse – a FRIEND of theirs from Wisconsin.
They rushed us to a jungle clinic. Then their job was done, and they were off to resume their respective agendas. They were, after all, on vacation. They’d already risked their lives in a violence-stricken nation to avoid running over another couple of Americans.
But Dave was bleeding to death. The nurses called the local doctor, but it was the middle of the night. He didn’t answer his “page”.
The nurses changed Dave’s blood-soaked bandages. I knew from my American university first-aid class that it was one of his cranial ARTERIES that squirted blood a few feet onto the neighboring wall. He wouldn’t make it out of that jungle alive.
I knew I had to get Dave to a REAL hospital. The nurses who had frantically called for the doctor reached a man who had a car. For a reasonable, non-inflated price, he agreed to drive us the 22 miles to the modern hospital in Montego Bay. I cradled Dave’s bandaged, bloody head in my hands the whole 22 miles, to cushion it from the countless potholes.
At the “MoBay” hospital, they rushed Dave in past the extremely black, extremely poor, but less-in-need-of-urgent-care patients sitting impatiently on the ground outside the emergency room.
I nearly passed out in the operating room – but I had to stand by, to assure my American friend’s survival. I didn’t know at first with whom I was dealing.
The cheerful Jamaican surgeon, trained at the University of the West Indies in the capital of Kingston, was very skilled. He didn’t mind my presence. He snipped away routinely at the otherwise-life-threatening injury.
“How’s it goin’ up there, Doc?”, Dave quipped, eyeballs rolled upwards trying to see, as his flesh and hair was being cut off for good. It was just as well that he couldn’t see what I saw, as I nearly passed out. The localized pain meds the doc shot into his skull apparently didn’t hurt in that department, either.
The happy ending to the story is that I delivered Dave safely to his folks back in the U.S – and they never again complained about paying a fraction of a penny more for their aluminum foil because it’s made from “bauxite” mined in Jamaica, another former British colony like us but paradoxically more advanced than we are – a country with health care for everybody – even “bloody” Americans …
Jamaica never sent Dave or the U.S. a bill. Maybe it SHOULD finally send it, 33 years later, marked, “payable to Haiti.”
As the Gospel of Matthew said, “Whatsoever you do for the least of (blank).you do for ME.”
It’s up to US to fill in the blank. Please fill in the blank by texting “90999”, then “Haiti.” It costs ten bucks off this month’s phone bill.
Maybe someday Dave and I will track down that Jamaican doctor – and thank him. And maybe someday the rest of the world will find a way to thank you.
Karen Lantz is a Hollister resident and collaborated with her husband on this guest opinion.