It has been four years since I have been in a cholera treatment center in Haiti and five years since the United Nations infected the Mirebalais River by dumping raw sewage from the Nepalese encampment into the waterway. The river system is forever contaminated and cholera will never be eradicated from this island nation that had never before experienced the deadly disease. What followed was lying, an attempted cover-up by the United Nations, and a slow response to a disease which has now killed almost 10,000 and infected 731,000 since October 2012. But truth won out with the help of a courageous Brazilian Ambassador who was fired from the Organization of American States for speaking out.
I stood outside the Nepalese camp on the banks of the Mirebalais River in 2010 and saw the sewage pipes before they were buried with rock. We knew then what was going to happen and also knew we were completely powerless to stop this new plague.
So I found myself again this morning feeling completely helpless as I stood before THE BOOK of numbers at the hospital in St. Marc’s, where five years previously I walked through buckets of bleach to disinfect my boots before entering and leaving cholera ward. The ward is still there and it is still receiving patients—196 admissions so far this November and two deaths. The book holds twenty names per page and is several inches thick. I hate that book. It is an evil book, and I walked through bleach again today on my way to see it.
The charge nurse and I were looking through the names and dates and adding numbers when my friend and translator, Andre, called me into the ward. A young girl suffering two days into the disease told Andre, in Creole, that she wanted the angel (me) to come and speak with her because God sent the angel and if she could only speak with the angel she would be healed.
For only the second time in my career of witnessing these things I felt emotion. Usually I feel none and fear there is something wrong with me because I am numb most of the time. Maybe it is a blessing for those who are sick and dispossessed and wounded that witnesses do not cry. The last things they need are more tears.
Seeing someone on a cholera cot is to see someone completely exposed and vulnerable. There is a hole cut in the center for the constant and interminable diarrhea and a bucket nearby for the vomiting. The hospital gown is stained because it cannot be changed fast enough.
All I could do was hold her hand and say that there was nothing I could do, but that I would tell her story. There was nothing, nothing I could do and I looked her straight in the eyes and said so. She said it was OK and that she felt better already. Maybe a lie; maybe the truth; I don’t know.
I am fulfilling my promise by telling you.
Millions and millions of dollars sent to Haiti and a few boxes of rehydration fluids stand between these people and the morgue.