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Over 60...and Getting Younger: February 19, 2010

Thoughts From Haiti

Let me introduce my wonderful nephew, Dr. Yevgeniy “Gene” Gincherman. He was born in Russia and came to America in 1988. He went to Middlebury College and then to medical school at the University of Pennsylvania. He married Daryl Colodzin and has two children, Maya 7 and Ella 5. Read about his trip to Haiti:

When I was growing up in Russia, one rule that I learned very early was that boys do not cry. As I reflect back on my experience in Haiti, I am happy to admit that there were a few moments when I shed a tear. Some were moments of joy, and some were moments of tragedy and despair. On my first night shift in Haiti I experienced both. When I kept a 16-year-old boy with severe heart disease alive with no X-ray, lab, and EKG available, and later found out that he was flown out to the U.S. for life-saving heart surgery, I shed a tear. When on the same night, I saw a young man bleed to death over the course of eight hours from an injury easily fixable in the U.S. with me having nothing better to offer than fluids, pain medicine, and holding his hand at times, I cried some more. Finally, I cried like a baby when I got an email from my girls saying how much they loved me and missed me. So thank you for the chance to help people in Haiti, and thank you for the chance to cry.

As all of us started to decompress a bit in the Dominican Republic, more and more thoughts came to mind. It seems that the most fundamental question is why did we all do it. The answer lies somewhere between doing it completely out of an altruistic notion of trying to help people around you who are suffering horribly or going on an ego trip to prove something to oneself. I would argue that for most of us the answer lies somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. People who are in Haiti to save the world burn out too fast, and become a liability themselves. People who go on an ego trip are unable to become good team players and destroy the sense of community that immediately develops in such an austere and stressful environment. I am proud to state that the Hopkins medical team has developed a sense of togetherness from the start, which played a tremendous role in our ability to take care of each other and our patients.

In his book, Everyman, Philip Roth uses an expression “spectacularly good people.” What does it mean? Does it mean being altruistic and caring about other people? Does it mean being a good parent? Does it mean having the guts to step forward and take on additional responsibilities that no one else wants? Probably, all of the above, and I certainly don’t claim to know the answers after being in Haiti any better than before. I do know, however, that I met some spectacularly good people in Port-au-Prince. They worked ‘til they dropped from heat, dehydration, mental or emotional exhaustion or all of the above. They gave their hearts out to the people who needed them to do that. They held hands when there was no medicine to heal the ailments. These people are now friends and soul mates for the rest of my life, for the bond that you built in Haiti cannot be broken. I am eternally grateful for meeting these “spectacularly good people.”