I met Dr. Paula while volunteering at Bernard Mev’s Hospital in June. She is a great physician and a delightful person to be around, especially in such a difficult setting. We shared good times and hard lessons; and I admire her for the tireless effort she gives to improve the lives of the Haitian people.
As Dr. Paula knows, Haitians are smart. In my eyes, Haitians exercise an ingenuity that we in monetarily richer nations, to our detriment, have forgotten. Most poignantly I think back to a Haitian man peddling wares along the side of the road in Port-au-Prince. He had a small block of iron, surely pulled from the rubble, in which he had built a fire. He had placed that hot iron inside a ripped car tire in order to plastic weld the tire back together. This is one way he made money to survive.
So often we in America judge cost versus the time allotted in our busy schedules, and often would probably just buy brand new tires. Haitians, without money, must overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles with nothing. How much money would you pay for new car tires? The few Haitians with the luxury of having a job, a good middle class job, would not make that amount of money in a month. This is why I spent my money to provide medical care to the most vulnerable alongside Dr. Paula.
Despite all the Haitian people’s ingenuity they need our assistance. Many in Port-au-Prince still live in shacks made from the same UN tarps handed out after the earthquake more than a year and a half ago. More than money they need technical skills and training like those Dr. Paula provides. To only give money and not development, is in effect, like putting gas in their car, but not showing them how to drive.
Dr. Paula, like me, felt a calling to make a lasting impact in Haiti and to improve Haiti’s health infrastructure. This is why she goes on medical missions. But unfortunately, also like me, she has no multinational organizations funding her trips or stocking her supplies. There are no outside sources of supplies in Haiti, no running to the store or having a rep bring over another surgical instrument you need while you are there. The facilities have dwindling supplies but luckily are staffed with very competent people. Dr. Paula came as prepared as she could with as much of her own equipment as she could bring and subsequently donate.
She told me about bringing a really nice collapsible retractor for the OB/GYN surgeries in which she specializes. Upon arrival she had been informed that the only working sterilizer at the hospital was too small to fit this mid-sized instrument. She connected me with a surgery technician that led me to a back room in the OR where the large nonfunctional sterilizer was located. I asked him if he knew Dr. Paula and he grinned and talked fondly of how he knew from her previous trips and spoke about how much he liked and admired her as a surgeon.
Soon patient after patient would arrive with the same story of unsuccessful self-induced partial abortions performed by ingestion of local voodoo practitioners’ concoctions. Her surgeries saved their lives daily. When the power went out during surgery she worked under flashlight. As the only surgeon on staff at night she was always around when the other physicians needed her like one night when she taught the ER personnel how to do a figure eight tie off of a blood vessel that refused to stop hemorrhaging even after cauterization. By the end of her time at Bernard Mevs she had performed multitudes of operations, been integral in the ER, and even delivered a couple babies along the way. Not bad, but she still had more to give.
In time Dr. Paula got the assistance of her retractor, and the Haitian people got the benefit of her surgical skills and teaching. They also got something I’m sure none of them were expecting, a strong dose of her kindness.
She went out of her way for those around her. One Haitian staff member was pleading for any help to get additional education in physical therapy here in America. Dr. Paula spent hours giving him guidance and feedback, and went so far as to produce a video for him to use in connecting with schools. She was a mentor and friend to so many in Haiti, including myself.
She always seemed to have a smile, always engaged, always admirable. I could tell by seeing her interact with locals that they were fond of her, always remembering her by name. Her many friends in Haiti, as I’m sure she must have in her hometown, remember her nice deeds. I remember laughing over family stories.
So please, however you can, help Dr. Paula on her mission of kindness and giving around the world.
by H. Paul Goodell