Pals Hang out, Color, Heal at Haiti Hospital

Haiti hospital

A doctor from the University of Maryland bandages the leg of Sylvania, a 14-year-old Haitian who broke it during the Haiti earthquake. Photo by Lane Hartill/CRS

Sylvania and I are coloring today.

She’s giving a butterfly yellow wings, and I’m laying down a nice shade of orange on some mushrooms.

Sandalie book

Sandalie, a 9-year-old Haitian, colors in a book given to her by CRS and Caritas. Photo by Lane Hartill/CRS

She’s lying on her bed in the pediatrics tent at St. Francois de Sales Hospital. She has a broken leg, right at the hip, and she’s in traction. She’s been lying on this bed for the last month. She hasn’t moved.

I try chatting with her a little bit–about her red toenail polish, what she and the other kids do all day in the pediatrics tent–but mostly we color. I like Sylvania, because she’s not your typical 14-year-old girl. She talks to you with her eyes, the occasional whisper, and through body language.

Right now, she’s adjusting the blue pajamas that are knotted in a sarong around her, and shifting a little. It isn’t easy for her to sit in this position. She shows me, slightly embarrassed, the physical therapy she does to keep her muscles active. She smiles, then, flat on her back, she does a few half-hearted leg extensions.

Soon the giggles end the workout.

Sylvania bandage

Sylvania was pulled from her collapsed home by a stranger and brought to St. Francois de Sales, was reunited with her mother four days after the earthquake. Photo by Lane Hartill/CRS

That’s a good sign. Because a few weeks ago, when I visited her, smiles weren’t so easy to come by.

I’ve been visiting Sylvania off and on at the hospital, which CRS supports, for a few weeks. I got to know her and her little sister, Sandalie, and Dory, a 12-year-old boy, their friend, in the next bed. Dory’s mom, Marie-Laure, who sleeps on a cot next to Dory, and proudly shows off pictures of him graduating from Kindergarten, whispers Sylvania’s story to me.

The afternoon of the earthquake, Sylvania’s mom, Marlene, had left the house, leaving Sylvania alone. Sylvania wasn’t able to get out of the house when the quake hit and was trapped in the rubble. A stranger pulled her out and brought her to St. Francois de Sales hospital. Marie Laure, who was there with Dory, saw the medical staff lay her on a mattress.

“She cried a lot and didn’t really talk,” she says. Marie-Laure started caring for her, talking to her, feeding her. She comforted her the best she could, not knowing if Sylvania’s family was dead or alive. Marie-Laure had decided that if a family member didn’t show up, she would take Sylvania as her own daughter. “If she would accept me,” she says, quietly.

I remember seeing Sylvania in those chaotic days after the earthquake. She was stone-faced and had a highway map of lacerations on her back. Here was a teenager with a broken leg, lying on a mattress, remembering a house that had fallen down on her and not knowing if any of her family was alive. No little girl should have to go through that without her mom next to her.

Four days after the earthquake, four days after frantically walking around the city and asking people, Marlene decided to try St. Francois de Sales. Maybe, by some miracle, Sylvania would be there.

She was. And Marlene has hardly left her side since then.

A friend is caring for Marlene’s other children, including 2-year-old twins, so she can be with Sylvania. Marlene sleeps under Sylvania’s bed, right next to Marie-Laure, and gives Sylvania a sponge bath, helps her go to the bathroom, and holds her head when the doctors clean her wounds. But the toughest job she has might be finding ways for Sylvania to fight off the boredom.

Today help shows up in the form of three social workers from Caritas Lebanon who are helping out at CRS. Mia, Carole and Noha, it is quickly evident, have a way with kids.

They jump right in, moving from bed to bed, chatting with them, handing out coloring books and colored pencils. They sing with them. At one point, Carole plants a big kiss on the cheek of Sandalie.

Before you know it, Sylvania has forgotten her broken leg. And is intently working on the body of that butterfly.

Sylvania coloring

Sylvania colors while she recuperates at the CRS-supported St. Francois de Sales hospital in Port au Prince. Photo by Lane Hartill/CRS

Lane Hartill is a CRS regional information officer reporting from Haiti.

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One Response to “Pals Hang out, Color, Heal at Haiti Hospital”

  1. Noha Roukoss Says:

    Thanks Lane,
    for sharing with us what you felt, I and my colleages, we won’t forget this experience that we had near the most needy persons in Haiti, especially the children among them,
    keep the good work going,

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