When I was 15 years old, Father came one night all beat up to tell us that he had to leave in exile. A few days earlier, he had been snatched from home, handcuffed, tortured, and taken to Fort-Dimanche, an infamous prison, to be killed and thrown into an open grave. He was spared only because a childhood friend, a high ranking tonton macoute, was present. But he got the message that they were going to be back, and this time he would not escape his doom. Fortunately, unlike the Haitians who had to leave by boat years later, Father flew to Martinique, and later to New York, where he obtained an immigrant status. But we did not hear about him for six months. Grandma found strength in prayers. Working two jobs, he was able to save and apply for my sisters Marise and Fifi to come to America, the land of opportunity as “legal aliens”.
What decided that I would be a healer occurred when I was 16 years old. My stepfather, Achilles, was the regional director for CARE and one summer, I had gone to spend three weeks in a small town where a bridge had to be fixed. The workers would be paid with bags of powdered milk, wheat, flour, and oil. My stepfather was one of the few who made sure that the food was given to the poor.
Next to where we stayed was a small clinic and the male nurse, Joseph, was there one day a week. I asked if I could help him. People would arrive from far away before the doors were opened. The clinic had acquired medications and supplies, donated by a religious group from the United States. Joseph listened with patience to all the complaints. For payment, Joseph would get a live chicken, a bag of fruits, eggs, or a little change. I learned that the people believed in injections and the more they hurt, the better! When I noticed that some patients got only painful injections of sterile water and asked Joseph about this, he said that there was not enough medication to go around and his only alternative was to give them the painful sterile water injection. Most of these trusting people would be cured just by the fact Joseph told them he was administering medication to heal them! The placebo effect!
That experience confirmed my decision to be a doctor. The plan became: Complete pre-med in Haiti, go to the United States to join my father, and then proceed to medical school at a French-speaking university in Europe.
There is more to the story. Next week you can read about my move to the U.S. and the start of my journey through medical school in Mexico.