In late October of 2009, Dr. Edward White traveled to the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, laden with hundreds of pounds of donated surgical supplies as part of an annual medical mission. Having done this since 2002, he was prepared for the challenge of a makeshift surgical suite because of a fire last year that burned St. Jude hospital in the town of Vieux Fort, his base of operations.
What he and many of the Island’s residents weren’t prepared for was Hurricane Tomas.
During a recent medical mission to hurricane ravaged St. Lucia, MDI Hospital orthopedic specialist Edward White, MD, befriended many locals and learned lessons about graceful acceptance of adversity.
The category-one hurricane struck the Island on October 30th, two days after Dr. White’s arrival. “There were fifteen deaths from the hurricane,” said Dr. White. “People were buried by mud slides. There was no electricity for two days and no running water for three weeks.”
Living conditions for Dr. White and his wife Daria, a play therapist and counselor who traveled with him, added to the challenge. “The main hardship was no running water,” said Dr. White. “Sometimes we got our water from a mountain spring for bathing, laundry and toilets. We had to purchase drinking water.”
Despite the devastation and personal hardships, Dr. White put in long days in the surgical suite, now located in a nearby soccer stadium because of the fire. “The stadium was flooded but they cleaned it up pretty quickly,” said Dr. White.
“I went to the hospital every morning and saw patients,” said Dr. White. “I’d perform surgery or do consultations. I scheduled surgery and saw people at the Hospital as necessary.”
The supplies that Dr. White brought with him, all donated by Maine hospitals including MDI Hospital, included splints, light sources for arthroscopic surgery, and other surgical hardware.
The variety of things that Dr. White treated weren’t particularly remarkable, except for the occasional machete wound – “the weapon of choice,” he said.
One patient stands out in Dr. White’s mind as someone who embodies the spirit of the people in St. Lucia. “A guy was riding in the back of a pickup truck and it lost its brakes,” said Dr. White. “He fell out the back and it rolled over him and he nearly lost his foot.”
What struck Dr. White as extraordinary about the man was his calm in the face of a horrific injury. “He was totally cool. He hoped his foot would survive but he also wasn’t bothered by the fact that if we couldn’t, he’d have to walk on crutches.
Dr. White saw the same attitude everywhere he went in St. Lucia. “They’re used to adversity,” said Dr. White. “This hurricane was just another slam. There weren’t any riot or complaining. They know they can’t control everything. There’s this acceptance that is graceful.”
It’s a lesson that Dr. White has come to appreciate. “I always take away more than I bring.”
Dr. White and orthopedic specialists Stuart Davidson, MD and Burton Pearl MD provide state of the art evaluation and treatment of sports injuries, disorders of the joints, bones, and associated muscles at MDI Orthopedics, a department of Mount Desert Island Hospital. For an appointment, call 288-0242.