As I was traveling to a conference last month, the usual travel issues followed…. delayed flights, no luggage, lost taxi drivers, found and broken luggage the next day.
I was standing in line at the Miami airport hotel, tired, frustrated, cranky and without luggage I had just walked half a mile for. My next flight was leaving at 7am and it was midnight and the check in line had not moved an inch in 15 minutes.
That’s when a random stranger came up to me and asked if I could witness some legal papers which were needed to allow him to go to Haiti. This was day 3 after the devastating earthquake in Haiti and I had already noticed the “FLIGHT TO PORT-AU-PRINCE CANCELLED” all over the boards at the airport and the number of rescue teams that gathered all over MIA.
So the three of us standing in line signed this strangers papers and he thanked us profusely, offering to answer any medical questions we would have in our lifetime, which made me laugh and share the fact that I have four very adventurous kids, which made his offer significantly bigger than he might have anticipated.
I watched him as he went to get his papers faxed. He looked so scared. I wanted to give him a hug so badly, but alas, he was a perfect stranger and we were in the lobby of a hotel and it was midnight.
But you know, sometimes it’s ok to step outside your limits and I just couldn’t walk away without somehow re-assuring this man, without letting him know how much the entire human race appreciated what he was about to do.
So we started talking and Paul told me that he and his team of four doctors and four nurses had made the decision to go to Haiti just hours ago and he was going early to survey the situation. I told him where I live and we talked about both of our families and his passion for diving and the look on his face changed, even if just for a few minutes.
By the time his papers were faxed and I had a hotel room key it was 1am and I was brave enough to ask for Paul’s email address as I wanted to make sure they all came back alive and well. I also gave him that “random stranger” hug hoping it would take off at least a fraction of the weight he was carrying that night.
Turns out my silly travel issues and lost luggage didn’t matter anymore and I was embarrassed I ever cared about such insignificance.
Turns out Paul is Dr Paul Auerbach, Professor of Surgery, Division of Emergency Medicine, Stanford University, School of Medicine who ended up staying in Haiti for 13 grueling days, becoming the chief medical coordinator of all NGO (non-governmental agencies).
You can and should read his blog from Haiti here, more amazing re-counts of the Stanford ER medical team here and more interviews with Dr Auerbach here, including the heartbreaking account of his collapse on his last day in Haiti.
I got an email last night from Paul thanking me for helping him when he needed it, which is completely embarrassing after you read the above.
And I do think we all need to read all of the above and somehow share this burden with both the victims and the countless people who went there to help. I don’t really believe in random events and would like to think that in everything hides something we can learn if you just bother looking. Reading about how much of a difference a smile, holding someone’s hand or getting offered a cracker from a triple amputee child can make is now making me feel completely silly about worrying if giving some guy a hug in a hotel lobby was appropriate.
At the end of the day, we’re all vulnerable, we all deserve compassion, it’s what makes us human.
I continue to be amazed to learn of the extent of our limits as human beings, how adaptive we really are when given a chance/not given a chance and how much we can accomplish if we just try to go above and beyond our fears and step outside our comfort zone.
Thank you Paul, for all that you have done and continue to do. I am incredibly glad and honoured that we met!