I learned of the unexpected death of my father, Verneille Pepe, while I was on a relief mission in Port-au Prince, Haiti. When I stopped by to see him on my way to Haiti, he was neither sick nor in pain but proud and happy that I was able to make the trip. His concern for my safety was reflected in his words: Jocelyne, wear a mask and be careful over there.Two of the many patients treated in makeshift hospitals.
As much as I dreaded the day I would bury one of my parents, being in Haiti when I got that phone call helped. I was in the midst of the worst disaster to occur in my lifetime. Seeing the strength and determination of people who lost so much helped me to put my own loss into perspective and get on with what needed to be done. Everything I saw and heard during that time, including the news of my fathers death, was surreal. Coming from a large family, it was hard for me to imagine not having anyone around to grieve with during a time of tragedy. Yet that is what I saw in Haiti. How do people cope with losing every member of their family, along with some of their closest friends, and then bear the pain of losing a limb? Imagine also the pain of the mother whose life was saved but whose four children lay dead within the rubble of her home. She herself had a fractured hip and lay helplessly on a cot, seemingly drained of tears. There was a constant sound of moaning and crying as we tried hard to respond to all the calls.
I was re-starting an IV for one of my patients when the call came in at about 3 a.m. At first I felt numb and drained of energy. I had to leave the tent to regroup and to confirm what I had heard. After several calls to other family members, I allowed myself to accept the reality that my father had died. I wanted to run home at that moment, but I could only stand there, motionless and silent, as I mourned my fathers passing.The nurses station for the makeshift hospital.
Even in that state, I could still see and hear the cries of pain in the tent where I had been working. My two nurse colleagues went back and forth from one patient to the next passing out medication, fixing IVs and answering calls as best they could though neither spoke the language. We had 75 patients, including new amputees, those with traumatic injuries, and some who needed intensive monitoring. I did not have the heart to walk away, so I went back in and finished the night. As I re-entered the tent, I, too, felt like a casualty. I had suffered a tremendous loss equal to the victims of this quake, but somehow my pain paled in comparison to the totality of this disaster.
My father was my inspiration, my encourager and my adviser. There was much for us to discuss about this trip as we do after every medical mission that Ive gone on in the past. This time he wont be there to hear my stories or see my pictures of destruction. Could it be that this devastation was too much for him to bear? I know he was asking himself what will happen to Haiti now. So much of what he knew of Haiti, his home country, had been lost through political unrest and now much more has been destroyed with this earthquake. Where do we go from here? If this country is to be saved, we who are left behind and are able must join together to instill hope in the hearts of those who have been broken by this terrible tragedy.