Note: this post won’t make much sense unless you’ve read the previous posts in this series. Start here.
Between the late night jaunt to the UN doctor, and having to get up to catch a 6:50 am flight back to Port-au-Prince, I got only about 4 hours of sleep the night of the crash. Given the the huge figure-8 cast that still enveloped my upper body, and the virtual immobility of my right arm, getting dressed was quite a chore. My efforts to put on my shirt probably would have resembled some sort of tribal ritual to an innocent bystander.
Soulouque and I left to go to the airport at around 5:30. When we arrived, the airport wasn’t open yet so we had to wait outside for a short while,, along with other passengers, . Perhaps when I say ‘airport’ it is giving you a misleading mental image of Cap-Haïtien’s Hugo Chavez International Airport. It is, in fact, a small building composed of two or three rooms, next to a runway. So it was a bit like waiting outside a bus station.
In any case, the workers inside finally opened the door to the airport and we filed in. I noticed someone at the counter checking a collection of cardboard boxes with the words “Live Animals” stamped on the outside.
After I paid for my ticket, I received a laminated card with a number on it that was to serve as my boarding pass. I award them points for waste reduction!
I then bid Soulouque adieu, and went into the other room in the airport. And waited…
At around 7:10 (remember when the flight was scheduled to leave?), an airline staffer came in and announced to the assembled passengers that there was a technical problem and that, hopefully we’d be able to leave in an hour or so.
An hour came and went. At one point I got a call from the embassy nurse, who was waiting at the airport in Port-au-Prince. “Are you on the Sunrise Airways plane that just landed?” she asked. I told her that we hadn’t left yet and explained the situation. “It must be a Sunrise Airways flight from somewhere else that just landed,” I suggested.
And so I returned to waiting…
At around 8:30 or so, two fellow passengers got up and wandered into the airport’s other room. When they came back a few minutes later, they were shouting at some poor, official-looking fellow who was trying to backpedal away from their anger. “Let’s go” he shouted to the rest of us, and motioned us to follow him out on to the runway.
As we climbed up the short stairway into the little prop plane, the discontent was spreading to other passengers. I found out that the reason we had been delayed almost two hours was not, in fact, because of a technical difficulty. Rather, the airline had sent the plane ahead to Port-au-Prince with the boxes of live animals, and then came back to pick up the human’s separately.
“Kouman yo ka mete bèt yo avan kretyen vivan?!” demanded one fellow passenger. The basic translation in English would be “How can they put the beasts ahead of human beings?” but ‘kretyen vivan’ is a little bit stronger than that. In any case, people were unhappy, and were already scheming to demand refunds for their tickets once we arrived in Port-au-Prince. I knew I wouldn’t be able to join their efforts, as I’d already been told I would be met at the airport by the embassy nurse and whisked away to yet another hospital.
Thankfully, the flight was short and we were soon on the ground. After I’d collected the two backpacks that I’d packed for the weekend trip, we drove to Hôpital Bernard Mevs.
As I’d said, the ER at the hospital in Milot looked rather chaotic inside, but this hospital looked chaotic even from the outside. There was a huge pile of rubble in the parking lot (not all that uncommon in Port-au-Prince), wheelchairs were strewn about the exterior, and half the compound seemed to be under construction.
There was no room in the ER, so I was instructed to go sit outside in one of the wheelchairs lined up along the exterior wall. So I went and I sat. Whilst I was waiting, the US ambassdor came to meet me. “Oh my god, how are you?” she asked, worried.
“Oh uh, I can still walk; I mean, I’m just sitting in the wheelchair while I’m waiting. It’s just my clavicle that’s broken, I think,” I said. Or something like that.
She then asked me exactly what had happened; she had probably heard the story many times already, but in the less than 18 hours since the crash, all manner of rumours and speculation had circulated, and a lot of people were operating with less than complete information.
Soon, I was led to an empty, under-construction room where a doctor checked my vitals and tested my finger and hand strength to see if there was any other as-yet undiagnosed damage in other parts of my arm. The doctors decided that I needed to have a CT scan to make sure that, when my collarbone broke, it hadn’t swung and hit a blood vessel or punctured my lung. But in order to do a CT scan, all sorts of preparatory steps were necessary, including giving me an IV that would put red dye in my veins to make the scan clearer, and checking my kidney function to make sure they could process the red dye etc.
An interesting note (mostly for its foreshadowing value): Many of the doctors at Bernard Mevs were Canadians (there was one Brit) who were in Haiti on short assignment.
Meanwhile, the ambassador and the embassy nurse (and perhaps others; I don’t know who all was involved) had decided that I still needed to fly to Miami that afternoon to go to yet another hospital. The purpose of the current hospital visit would just be to make sure I was cleared to fly internationally. Moreover, as Erika still was not stable enough to fly there, they’d realised I could act as a courier, and bring her CT scans with me to give the doctors in Miami some lead time on her case.
The embassy nurse was insistent that, by the time I was discharged from the hospital, I wouldn’t have time to go back to my apartment to grab anything before going to the airport. I mentally inventoried everything I had in my two backpacks, which would apparently be all I would have with me in the US: one backpack was mostly filled with snorkelling gear, which I hadn’t ended up using during the weekend, and which would be even less useful to me now. I had the shirt I was wearing, and one other that was still intact — the shirt I was wearing during the crash had to be cut off me at the first hospital. Let’s see…I had two pairs of shorts, if you don’t count my swimsuit: the one I was wearing, and the one I had been wearing during the crash, which was now dirty and blood-stained. Not many pairs of underwear…Did I mention yet that I was going to have to go to my father-in-law’s funeral after I got back to the US?
After my kidneys were tested and the IV implanted, I was led to the repurposed shipping container (or perhaps it was a trailer?) which housed the CT scanner. I’ve (thankfully) never had a CT scan before, so I don’t know how long it normally takes, but it seemed I was lying there for a long time before I even went under the scanner. Interestingly, the recording instructing me when to breathe, hold my breath, etc. was in English.
The assistant, who came to retrieve me from the scanner, told me how to get up in Creole. He was apparently surprised when I understood and responded in Creole, and thus we struck up a conversation.
(As a side note, I always find this odd – when someone speaks to me in Creole, and then is surprised when I respond. Why initiate the conversation if you don’t think there’s a chance the other person will understand?)
As we waited for the scan results to be recorded to the CD (hospitals still use those!), the other assistants joined in the conversation, happy to hear a blan speaking Creole. They told me that the true sign of being Haitian was being able to tell jokes in Creole, so they asked me if I had any. As I started telling the joke, the ambassador and her second-in-command walked into the trailer.
They asked me how I was doing, and, even though my collarbone was broken, the issue that most preoccupied me was how few clothes I had in the two bags I would be taking to the US. “Maybe you could send someone to my apartment to get some of my clothes, and bring them to the airport!” I responded to their queries about my well-being. They seemed amused, but also assured me that it would be done. Shortly after they left, the CT scan finished recording, but as we were about to go, one of the assistants insisted that I finish the joke I had started. Oh, Haiti!
We were almost ready to leave for the airport. All we were waiting for was the doctor’s discharge notice, clearing me to fly. I decided to ask, “Can I go see Erika?”
The nurse nodded and pointed toward the ICU building. “She’s in there.”