Thursday, March 27, 2008

Haiti - 2 of 3 Benson

It's hard to know when exactly this story begins. There was a boy on a table. His father wearing a yellow hard hat and baseball jersey. Was it of the Dodgers or am I remembering it wrong? I will never forget the boy. He was dying. The closest to death I think I have ever seen somebody. His eyelids parted slightly. His eyeballs were misty and as alive as marbles. His head flopped lifeless when his dad tried to prop him up. He had a temperature of 105. They don't have thermometers but his fever had been that way for three days.

The night before I was lying in bed when I had this sudden sense that I was alone. Sensations were taking on peculiarities because I had been wearing ear plugs. One has to in Haiti. Not for the snoring, but for the dogs, the turkeys, the braying of donkeys. But as I opened my eyes, I noticed I was right. Lia was gone. And as I dislodged my plugs I learned why, as my naked ears heard the retching in the bathroom. It was the first of a half dozen such waves poor Lia went through throughout. She spent the morning until noon in bed trying to recuperate. She was weak, but she rallied. Her one patient was a boy.

His name was Benson. I don't know how old he is. I don't know if his parents do either. By the time I checked in on them (he and Lia), Anita Skena had put in an IV for fluid. Lia and the other doctors felt that based on his symptoms, Benson was likely suffering from cerebral malaria, a disease which if left untreated is fatal within days. Since he was unconscious, their only hope of saving him was by giving him liquid quinine or chloroquine intravenously. They didn't have any liquid quinine or chloroquine. In desperation, they decided to rush Benson to a hospital to purchase the necessary medication. Convincing Pastor Charles Amicy to drive turned out to be more complicated than they expected. He had received death threats; there had been a rash of car-jackings lately. In fact, when the father saw Charles getting behind the wheel, he could not hide his astonishment. Bill Petty got into the passenger seat. John Phipps reached in his pocket and gave Bill all the money he had. He hoped it be enough.

The hospital was closed. The doctor gone. A nurse who happened to be there refused to help them. Charles pulled off the road in front of a cement shack. It turned out to be a pharmacy. That's what he called it. They did sell drugs. They bought what they needed. And they needed to get back, back to a place where they could get Benson his medicine. But there was traffic, and stuck there, somehow Benson opened his eyes. Quickly, they purchased a bag of water (water comes in bags in Haiti (don't drink it)) and Benson opened his lips. Dad quickly administered medicine. By the time they reached home, Benson was sitting up. He was strong enough to tie his shoes. The transformation was so dramatic, Bill felt comfortable allowing Benson's father to take him home. They would come tomorrow to check on him.
It had been quite apparent that a miracle had just taken place.

Charles Amicy told us that night how touched the father was by their courage and faith. He gave glory to God. And only then did he tell us that the father was an assistant priest in the local Voodoo temple. That Benson's grandfather is the witchdoctor for that area. That it was the Voodoo priests who were the danger to Charles' life. It was dead silent as he spoke. "I hope to serve God every day of my life," he said. Tears were running down his cheeks. "I want to die serving God." He ran out of the room. We let him go. We were too stunned to follow. To speak.

The next day, Lia, John, Bill, Anita, and Charles drove the rutted road to the sugar cane field which marked the border of Arnold the witchdoctor's compound. Charles had never been there before. He was nervous now, but they went anyway. Lia admitted, the place had an oppressive feel.

Arnold met them warmly. He was less than five feet tall, but he had a charisma about him. He was very excited they were there. He showed them the "hospital", a black room full of spent candle wax. It had been where Benson had been until they had giving up hope. Three nights earlier, I had heard drums as I was walking back to our room. Yelling and drums. I had told Lia about it as I was changing into my pajamas. Down the road some party was going on. "We should go," I said. She looked at me, the way Lia only does. "Ned," she said, "that's not a party. That's a Voodoo ceremony." As it turns out, it was a ceremony for Benson. Arnold showed them where he listens to the spirits, where they do sacrifices. He clarified, we stopped sacrificing children several years ago. Speaking of children, they were everywhere. Arnold has 32 offspring. 14 of his grandchildren go to Charles Amicy's school. The oldest sang a solo at church on Sunday.

And then, out came Benson. He was smiling. Lia checked him thoroughly, explained how and how often to administer his medications. Anita snapped a photo. The one at the top of this log. His fever was still above normal. But he was better. He was running along after the other children. It was a miracle. An honest to God miracle.

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