Alleviating Suffering through Community and Commitment

by Robbie Patterson, outgoing SBHF Hospitality and Communications Coordinator

It’s 2:00AM and the blue and red lights cast long, fleeting shadows across my dorm room as an ambulance rolls to a stop beneath my bedroom window. A patient is being rushed to St. Boniface Hospital’s emergency room. Though a 1:00AM phone call awoke Emmanuel, the SBHF driver on call tonight, I know that he turned off his siren as he passed through the gate out of respect for other, sleeping patients. He makes sure that his charge is safely in the care of the emergency room physicians and nurses before he turns to leave.

The engine revs and the ambulance begins to move, but I hear someone call his name. “Emmanuel! Talè!” He stops. There is a muffled conversation. Emmanuel agrees to something and I soon hear a succession of metallic clangs as Erick from Maintenance Support loads empty oxygen tanks into the back of the ambulance for transport to the hospital’s oxygen concentrator depot for refilling. Erick, too, could have been asleep. Instead, he made the walk to the hospital to check on the number of available oxygen tanks for patients like the one brought by Emmanuel. Erick won’t sleep until he is certain that every patient has a sufficient supply of oxygen. He will spend the next two hours filling oxygen bottles before he walks home to rest for a couple of hours before sunrise.

As I fall back asleep, I can hear the upbeat voice of Dr. Guerrier, the SBHF obstetrician and gynecologist, as he works with the nurse anesthetist to move a patient to the operating room for an emergency C-section.

While these sights and sounds may be routine at St. Boniface Hospital, they reveal the heart of SBHF. Employees— from groundskeepers to administrative to medical staff—not only work here, but are deeply committed to the organization’s mission. Many have also been personally touched by it. Parents have been employed, brothers have received treatment in the wards, and sisters have delivered nieces and nephews. In many cases, nurses and physicians have cared for fellow staff members themselves. 

Robbie Patterson enjoys some time with schoolchildren from the Chacha school outside Fond-des-Blancs. SBHF friends like you support teacher salaries and scholarships that enable many of these children to access education that would otherwise be out of reach. 

The hospital is woven into the fabric of the community of Fond-des-Blancs in myriad ways. I spent the entire month of February installing equipment for the new Maternal and Neonatal Health (MNH) Center alongside a team of Fond-des-Blancs locals. By April, one of these men was bringing his wife in for prenatal check-ups there. His excitement was palpable as he walked her through the halls of the new facility, showing her how he helped build the walls around the very room in which their child would be born. 

SBHF has taught me lessons about the importance of people, the power of community, and commitment to a very tangible greater good.

The evening of March 30th held the most meaningful moment of my time here. A woman was in labor in the newly inaugurated MNH Center. I hovered outside excitedly, waiting to take a photo of the first baby to be born in the largest maternal and neonatal health facility
in the Southern Peninsula. The woman pushed through her labor with a hopeful determination. Beneath the warm lights and enclosed by the soft blue curtains, the moment came and Wordta was born at 10:23pm. Even at 5 pounds 2 ounces, the beauty of her new life dwarfed the impressive infant warming beds and shining white walls that had been labored over for so long. Head nurse-midwife Ms. Toussaint allowed one of her infectious and illuminating smiles at the sight of the healthy baby. 

As I prepare to leave Haiti, I know I will be taking away lessons each person at SBHF has taught me — lessons about the importance of people, the power of community, and commitment to a very tangible greater good. These are lessons that I intend to keep with me as I begin medical school. In my future work in global health, I aspire to treat people with the same compassion, respect, and love that I experienced at SBHF. It has been an honor to work with the SBHF staff and the Fond- des-Blancs community. 

Robbie Patterson served as SBHF’s Hospitality and Communications Coordinator, based in Fond-des-Blancs, through May 2015. He begins Tufts Medical School in the fall.