Essay on Haiti: Social conscience should be our guide
April 29, 2010
By BALJINDER BATHLA, M.D.
When I chose medicine as my lifelong vocation many years ago, I was unaware whether I did it because of family pressure, because my friends were doing it, or because I simply wanted to do it. What I knew for certain was that medicine could be potentially fulfilling.
It was not until I grew older that I realized how significantly fulfilling the practice of medicine can be. Medicine has changed me over the years more than I could have imagined.
If I had chosen medicine as a career, my wife was called to it. She is one of those rare doctors who sincerely chose medicine to "help people." As soon as we got married, whether I wanted to or not, we were traveling to other countries through local charities: to Thailand after the Tsunami of 2004, to New Orleans after hurricane Katarina, and most recently, to Haiti after the earthquake.
None of these places has left the lasting impression on me that Haiti did. Haiti is a very special place. Each time we went, we returned with heavy hearts, but also hearts filled with joy and inspiration from witnessing the resiliency and determination of its people.
It's a country dealing with circumstances that are beyond unfair, which have only been confounded by not-so-genuine interests of other countries and, recently, the earthquake.
It was astonishing to see the poverty there and even more difficult to comprehend that these living conditions -- even before the earthquake -- could exist so close to us in the Western Hemisphere.
A sentiment I heard many times while in Haiti was "Hopefully once the dust settles, this will make Haiti stronger." It's a great thought, but it's unfortunate that it took a devastating earthquake to give Haiti some attention.
I never knew of Haiti's dire situation and history until I went there for earthquake relief.
Several things changed between my two visits to Haiti, which were about a month apart. Many of the Non-Governmental Organizations have gone back home, possibly due to lack of funding or frustration. Much of the news media that was there have also left. This leaves the Haitians with a sense of being forgotten, unfortunately, a feeling that is not unfamiliar to them.
Furthermore, it's unclear how the Haitian people will face the seemingly insurmountable task of cleaning up and rising again. No federal building or records exist anymore; therefore, no mechanism of recording or collecting taxes is available.
It appears that Haiti can only rely on international humanitarian aid and, more importantly, each individual's efforts.
The challenge for all of us now is to keep Haiti and countries like it within our sights so they will not be forgotten and lost to us. It is imperative that we don't forget; that we keep giving; that we further develop our "social conscience."
To me, developing and nurturing a social conscience entails being aware of the problems that less fortunate societies and communities face on a day-to-day basis.
Working toward greater awareness brought me to the realization that as individuals, we are not independent entities. We do and should rely on others throughout our lives to help us, and conversely, we should always offer our help to others without thoughts of our own benefits and returns.
No place has taught me social awareness like Haiti. Seeing the numbers of volunteers who left their families, comforts of home, and paychecks was not only tremendously inspiring, but humbling as well.
Baljinder Bathla, M.D. works with Continental Anesthesia and is a staff member of the Pain Management Center at Saint Francis Hospital, a Level I Trauma Center in Evanston. He is Board Certified in Pain Management and Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. The Pain Clinic can be reached at (847)433-3361.