Wednesday, January 13, 2010

More Than We Can Imagine

There really isn't anything a blog about trauma in the news could cover today besides the earthquake in Haiti.  As most of you know, a quake registering 7.0 on the Richter scale struck just off the coast.  Communications are sketchy, and it will certainly be a while before we know the full extent of the damage and deaths.  Estimates put the loss of life at 30,000 to 100,000 people.  Pictures coming out of the country show entire neighborhoods of buildings collapsed.

Every tragedy has a potential to really "get to" us.  Anything bad that happens could strike us in a particularly poignant way.  Similarly, some things that upset most people may not bother any given individual.  Everyone is different, based on their own past experiences, and different elements of traumatic events trigger different people.  This earthquake has certainly gotten many Americans' attention, as it should.  Whether or not it "gets to" you, this one is bad enough that even understanding it intellectually is enough to know it's really, really bad.

This earthquake was not getting to me last night or most of today.  This afternoon, however, CNN sent out a breaking news update (which I have gotten via e-mail since 9-11), that read,
President Rene Preval tells CNN that Haiti lacks capacity to hospitalize quake victims, asks for medical aid.
Now, I certainly knew that Haiti was a very poor country.  I also knew it was very small.  But something about the idea that the entire country lacks capacity to care for the number of injured they have struck me. 

If there is a major earthquake in San Francisco and the hospitals are overwhelmed, help comes from Los Angeles and Sacramento or from neighboring states.  The idea that something would happen that is so bad that we as a country would not be able to handle it is not even on our radar screen.  That is the privilege of living in an affluent, large country.  That is also what made the response to Hurricane Katrina so shameful -- we have the means if we have the will.

Haiti does not have the means.  They are on a tiny little island that they share with the Dominican Republic.  78% of Haitians live on less than $2 a day.  They had nothing before the quake.  Now they have nothing and they are injured.  Something about that, coupled with the closeness of Haiti to the United States, really gets to me.  They are less than 700 miles from Miami.  They are closer to the United States mainland than Puerto Rico is.  They are our neighbors.

It will be a long time before it's appropriate to start trying to help with the psychological impact of this calamity on the survivors of the earthquake.  Right now, all that's relevant is keeping people safe and getting them healed.  It's interesting to consider what the psychological impact on us here in the United States will be, if any.  It's also interesting to consider that it may be, morally or ethically, better to suffer that impact than it would be to not feel it at all.

Many fine charitable organizations are already on the ground helping in Haiti.  Two of my favorites are Doctors Without Borders and the American Jewish World Service.  If you are able to, I hope you will make a donation to one of these or one of your choice.  The help is truly needed, and the time is short.


Colleen said...

The Yarn Harlot (Stephanie Pearl-McFee, the biggest craft blogger on the American Continent) has relatives that work with MSF (Doctors without Borders), and she raises money through her blog for them. They told her (since she is probably their biggest grassroots fundraiser) that they needed money, to not designate it, or else just list "greatest need" or "disaster relief", since Haiti might not be the only disaster to happen, and that they are shipping in inflatable hospital equipment. Their hospital building was damaged, so they have to have all the patients in the courtyard.

MSF also has not accounted for all of it's staff, yet.

Today's Yarn Harlot blog is about Haiti and MSF.

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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
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