Walking up the road to Hôpital Sacré Coeur to begin our day’s work during a recent visit to Haiti, just a hurried glimpse at the passersby revealed the enormity of the problems that the hospital staff faces every day.
There was an 8 year old girl leading her blind grandfather by the hand so that he could be seen and evaluated for cataract surgery to possibly restore his sight. There was an ambulance at the front door unloading a 3 year old boy with third degree burns over 75% of his body and an older woman with 50% burns suffered in the same incident. The 3 year old boy had spilled a container of gas on an open fire while bringing it to his family. The woman had sold the gas to the family.
At the same time, an infant born 8 weeks prematurely was dying because of the lack of a medicine, in common use in the United States, used to prevent the spaces in the lung from sticking together and smothering the baby.
While this sounds like a T.V. drama, unfortunately, it is real life in Haiti. There is no artfully crafted dialogue to explain all this to viewers. There are just faces pinched with worry, young children staring with blank expressions, parents wringing their hands and occasionally crying out in anguish where it becomes apparent that their loved one will not survive this crisis.
While we treasure the lives that are saved by the actions and interventions of the hospital staff we are perhaps more haunted by the memories of those who might have been rescued if only we had a different medication or an available specialist or had been able to see sooner if only they could have gotten to the hospital. These near misses and “might have beens” are what drive us to do better in fulfilling the hospital’s mission.
Hôpital Sacré Coeur is a 125 bed hospital, filled to overflowing. Unfortunately it is true that if it were a 300, 500 or even a 1000 bed hospital it would be filled to overflowing. There is a never ending stream of misery, sickness and desperation flooding through the gates.
The question that needs to be asked now is, “Where are we?” Where are we as a hospital, an organization or as individual donors? Are we at the finish line, halfway or just starting? Everything you see and hear about in Milot has been accomplished by very hard work in an unforgiving atmosphere. Construction is tough, rendering care is tough, and administration and oversight are tough. With all of them as givens, we have to answer the question, “Have we done enough?”
Is it enough to have built Hôpital Sacré Coeur into the largest private hospital in the North, which now attracts serious government and international attention both in planning and rendering indispensable aid to the populace? Personally, I think it is not enough. Where we are is not the end of the road, even though it far exceeds the fondest hopes of our founders. We have raised expectations among the people, the healthcare workers and the Haitian government to the point that it would almost be considered a failure to stop here.
If we are to continue to improve the lot of our impoverished populace we have to sustain our progress and produce more. We have to search our souls as individuals and donors. We thank everyone for all their past aid and contributions, but I cannot over emphasize how critical it is at this point, that we increase our efforts and contributions. Our collective conscience and our mission demand it.
Thank you so much for all you have done and, I know, will continue to do for the people of Haiti.
—David G. Butler, M.D.
David G. Butler, M.D. is a Fellow in the American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists and has worked in private practice in Englewood, NJ for almost 40 years. He is an attending at both Englewood Hospital and Holy Name Medical Center, both in New Jersey. Dr. Butler received his M.D. from SUNY Downstate Medical Center, Brooklyn, NY and completed his residency as Chief Resident OB/GYN at St. Vincent’s Hospital & Medical Center in New York City. Dr. Butler also serves on the Board of Trustees of Holy Name Medical Center, Teaneck, NJ. and is the former Chairman of that Board. He and his wife, Mary Ann Butler, M.D., live in New Jersey and are the proud parents of five children.