Written by Ashton Pike ’21
In early September, while I was in West Palm Beach, Florida, for my obstetrics/gynecology clerkship at St. Mary’s Medical Center, I prepared for Hurricane Dorian barreling towards us. Since it was my first storm, I made certain to take precautions. I stocked up on water, canned foods, and even holed up in the medical center for a few nights. In the end, the storm ended up moving northeast of Florida’s coasts and missed my city.
But this came at the expense of the Bahamas, where there were homes underwater, yachts littering the land, and general devastation. It was all over the news. Several patients of mine had mentioned having family in the islands, and I could not help but wonder what had happened. By sheer coincidence, I heard of a group of healthcare providers mobilizing to respond to this crisis. Before I knew it, I was emailing the group coordinator and talking on the phone asking what I could do to help them. Within two hours, I was boarding the Grand Celebration cruise ship, heading on a relief mission to Freeport. I had never been part of a crisis response team. But it did not matter to me what I had to do; I just knew that I was going to help in any way possible.
Boarding the ship, we met almost immediately with our medical team. None of us knew the situation, and even those in contact with government in Freeport had no idea what would happen when we arrived. Everything would be on the fly, and we needed to be ready for anything.
The morning after our arrival in Freeport, we gathered any supplies tailored to obstetrics and gynecology. Some of us were running on only a few hours of sleep (myself included), yet we somehow managed to scramble and build a pop-up clinic on one floor of the ship using available furniture and linens. Just as we had finished arranging it all, our team leader got what we had been waiting for: Clearance to disembark and reach out to residents of the Bahamas.
I was assigned to the ob/gyn team. We were tasked with providing support to a clinic that was seeing pregnant patients. On the drive over, I noted forests that were now fields of barren, brown sticks, some of which had toppled over while others had been decapitated. Fences had been barreled over and building walls shredded down to the studs. Lines for gas stretched right into the street. My mind was running constantly: If the destruction was this bad, how critical would some of the patients be?
However, arriving at Sunrise Medical, there was little apparent damage. We went inside and were greeted with our first gust of air conditioning. We were fortunate; none of the other clinics had any power. When I met the doctor running the office, I was puzzled by how brightly she smiled and how welcoming she was towards us. She and the staff were incredibly appreciative of what we brought, but they were even more excited about us being present for them. I noted heavy bags under the physician’s eyes, which could not begin to describe what she had done in the last three days, as I would later find out. We asked her if she would like a break. She politely declined, but after encouragement from her staff, she left us to go rest. It was go time.
Not even five minutes after she left, the power shut down. No lights, no air conditioning; only whatever tools happened to have enough juice left in them. Two women were now in active labor. I turned on my flashlight to illuminate one woman who had the head of her child just beginning to crown, and in five minutes it was done. We had delivered a beautiful baby boy without power. I checked in on the remaining patients, all of whom were stable. Curious, I asked for the stories of the staff and patients. They recounted misfortune, yet they focused on moments of happiness and positivity. This was in addition to the immense respect, friendliness, and compassion that each Bahamian demonstrated towards my team. They shared their water with us, though there was little clean water available. They asked how our day was going, though they themselves had been scrambling for days to help their community. Despite all that had befallen them in the past 72 hours, they were living and breathing an energy beyond what I had known back in the U.S.
Leaving the clinic, we hugged one another and said our goodbyes. We shared in moments of joy, laughter, and sadness through the few hours we had spent with them. The Bahamians were manifesting the very values and traits that I hope to have for myself and share with others. Their resilience, positivity, sense of community, and respect for one another in the face of such tragedy was, put simply, incredible. I hope that in the future, I can honor those values manifested in the Bahamian people. I have no doubt that bringing some of that island love will touch others in much the same way that I was.
- Watch a CNN segment focused on the work of Ashton Pike’s team in the Bahamas.