Friday, September 17, 2010

Finding Solid Ground Beyond Suburbia

The following entry was written in part to raise awareness for Haiti Medical Missions of Memphis (HMMoM) and the upcoming fund raiser October 1 and 2, The Tour d'Esprit. It also really captures the importance of running and having experiences outside of my comfort zone.

It seemed an odd quandary given the week ahead of me. While in the middle of packing for my medical mission trip to Haiti, I found myself asking, “should I take my running shoes?”  In addition to leaving my husband alone with our four busy kids for a week, I was headed to a place that was not only the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere; it had also been recently ravaged by an earthquake. Running shoes should have been the least of my concerns. Nonetheless, Asics in hand, I stood motionless over my suitcase.
I seldom take a day off, so when faced with the possibility of missing an entire week of running, I became concerned. Since becoming a mother, running is my sanctity—often a game changer in the middle of a day wrought with crying kids and diaper disasters.  However, the idea of running for pleasure seemed like a luxury I should forgo in a country where so many lack the basic necessities of food, water and shelter.
Oddly enough, my dirty, worn-out shoes began to look more and more like the engagement ring and shiny earrings tucked away in my dresser drawer.  In spite of this, I tossed them in my suitcase, just in case.
After several flights and a very bumpy and chaotic drive along a crude road, I arrived at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, just outside Port-au-Prince, eager to start working.  On the grounds of the seminary are the Holy Spirit Clinic and a new rehabilitation hospital, opened after the January 12 earthquake, which are both run by Haiti Medical Missions of Memphis (HMMOM).  Dr. Gordon Kraus, medical director and one of the founders of HMMOM, and his wife Susie, an occupational therapist, started the rehab hospital for Haitians recovering from catastrophic injuries sustained during the earthquake.
The grounds of the seminary are utopia compared to life outside its walls. Along with the intractable poverty that has plagued Haiti for hundreds of years, evidence of the earthquake--concrete rubble, pancaked buildings and tent cities—was everywhere. However, every morning, the walls of the seminary would open and the clinic waiting area would rapidly fill.
Starving babies, patients with open wounds, fevers and ailments not commonly seen in industrialized nations, would wait from early morning to mid-afternoon to see the doctors. As a physical therapist, I spent most of my time with the patients in the rehab center. I also treated some of the seminarians, also injured during the earthquake, as outpatients. All my patients would eventually be discharged to a tent.
Living in suburban America, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the minutiae and pursuit of what is perceived to be perfection. My time in Haiti helped me see many things in my life anew and appreciate what is truly important: love, health, laughter and the ability to pursue an education.  I am truly lucky to never have to worry about clean drinking water or feeding my children.
During my stay in Haiti, I did decide to run. Initially, I rationalized that by giving up some of the things I value, relating to the Haitian people would be easier. However, if it weren’t for the daily encounters with myself on the road, I may have never made the decision to go to Haiti.
As running at home makes me a better mother, wife, friend and in general, more whole as a person, it served me in Haiti as well. My daily laps on that rocky path in Haiti allowed me to re-connect with myself and make better decisions on how I could make the most of my short time in a place where so much needed to be done.
This year’s Tour d’Esprit will have special significance for me. While I run the mile loop through the grounds of Holy Spirit Catholic Church and nearby woods, I will not only reflect on the clinic and all the patients I had the good fortune of treating, I will remember my morning runs on the grounds of the seminary. I’ll never forget the early light on the surrounding mountains, passing the banana trees and the grave of the archbishop of Port-au-Prince who was killed during the earthquake, and hearing the heavenly voices of the seminarians singing in morning mass.
I am so privileged to have witnessed first-hand the importance of HMMOM to the Haitian people. The Tour d’Esprit is the main funding source for HMMOM and the money raised allows Holy Spirit Clinic to provide free medical and dental care to people who have no money and no other options for care. The newly started rehabilitation center continues to accept inpatients so they can receive physical and occupational therapy and the mobility equipment that will enable them to return to their families.
More than ever, I realize that having the time and energy to run is a gift. However, it is so much more than just part of a daily physical fitness routine; running is the inspiration that takes me to places far beyond my four-mile loop in suburban Memphis.

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