Wherever You Go, There You Are

Medical Volunteer Opportunities Abroad

June 4, 2010. Petit-Goave, Haiti.

Dad and I looking at a rare X-ray

At long last, my dad and I got to practice medicine together! Dr. George La Brot, was just with us for ten days working in the clinic alongside me. This was a big deal for me; ever since I was a child and I knew that I wanted to be a doctor, I dreamed of working with my dad. Over 25 years have passed and here, a continent and an ocean away from where we started, we saw patients side by side in the clinic and in our mobile clinics. It was a wonderful experience to consult with my dad, and to be consulted by him when we had troublesome cases to figure out. I really wanted to show him what all his and my mom’s support and encouragement on the path to medicine and then to Floating Doctors had wrought.

I talked to my dad on Hughes’ phone as they were driving from the airport; my dad said that PAP looked like a lot of places he had been, but with more rubble—the wholesale destruction is much more striking in PAP because that’s where the biggest buildings were. He is right—anywhere I have been in the developing world, many things are exactly the same. As different and unique as each place is, there is always a strange sense of déjà vu that accompanies walking down a dirt road through an impoverished neighborhood watching children bathe in the gutter or a woman cooking something over a small wood fire. When he arrived at the clinic, we worked that first day, and in the afternoon all of us headed into town to run errands. We had to go to the bank, get bread from the bakery, get some produce from the market, get laundry detergent, get gas for the skiff, get some phone credit for our Haitian cell phone (indispensable for anyone planning to work in Haiti), exchange some glass soda bottles and collect our deposit, etc. For the afternoon, the clinic had arranged for us to have a driver with a beat-up old pickup truck. We all piled into the truck bed and headed into town, and as it happened, we met nearly every single person we knew while we were in town. Everywhere we went, we had people hopping on for a ride, stopping by to chat and trade gossip and news, waving as we passed by and trading inside jokes with us—and I thought “dad, judge what we have accomplished here by the reactions of the people we have come to help and whose lives we have connected with.” I was very proud to show him what we have accomplished here. My dad is at home anywhere—he has done medical missions in Madagascar, Sierra Leone, Mother Theresa’s Home For The Dying in Calcutta, Northern Cambodia, you name it. He was pretty fluent in Creole (he did start with some French knowledge) in about 10 days! He is at home anywhere because of his attitude—no judgement and no expectations, just accepting what he sees, rolling with the punches, and rising to the challenges of working and living in developing nations. It made me think about people who never seem happy no matter where they are, or who always find some fault with every place they are that is to blame for their dissatisfaction and unhappiness. Noah said yesterday, ‘wherever you go, there you are.’ We take our demons with us wherever we go, and you can run to the far corners of the world but they will be right there with you.

I took my dad instead. He is WAY better company. And the crew really liked him as well; since we work together AND live together in such confined quarters, and in such circumstances that in a thousand small ways you regularly put your life into each other’s hands, the crew are very particular about who they want to have onboard and working with us. In order to a) stay alive and b) complete our mission, a really hard work ethic and consistent reliability and coordination with other crewmembers has to occur all the time, and my dad slotted neatly into that category of person.

They said he was missed both personally and professionally, and they gave one of the highest compliments given aboard our vessel “He was a real asset;” i.e., someone whose presence augmented our ability to do our mission and enriched the personal lives of the tightly-knit family all of us onboard represent. They liked him because in this environment of a constant battle against mountainous waves of entropy, his presence made the calm little island we try to create wherever we are—whether in a community suffering from disease, on the boat floating at anchor, in our cabins or sometimes just within ourselves—much easier. And here amidst all the disease, suffering, striving, hoping, victories, tragedies and small miracles of kindness, my feet still really feel like they are firmly on the right path and I feel peaceful—even when I am multitasking a thousand things. At the center of hurricanes, the Eye is always peaceful.

“Do you not find a strange analogy

To something in yourself?

For as the appalling ocean

Surrounds the verdant land,

So in the soul of man there lies

Our insular Tahiti,

Full of peace and joy.”

–Herman Melville

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