Buried In Haiti
by Dan Woolley
I spit out the blood and dust that coats my mouth, but I can’t spit out the fear. Buried beneath six stories of rubble, the remains of what was once the Hotel Montana, I’m hanging on to the realization that I lived through an earthquake. I survived! But I also know that if I want to make it out of this black tomb alive, if I ever hope to see my family again, it will take a miracle—a series of miracles.
Miracles I’m not sure I have the faith to believe in.
In the complete darkness, I can’t see a thing. The dust in my nose prevents me from smelling anything but concrete. I rub my arms and feel flecks of dust and debris sticking to the hairs. Wiping debris off my face, I can feel a paste where dust mixed with sweat. My body feels weak and broken. The fine powder collects on my eyelids, making them feel heavy. It would be easy to just close my eyes and drift off—to sleep, to death. But one thought keeps me awake and motivated: I have to live so I can get back to my family. How will my wife, Christy, react when she finds out I am buried in Haiti? It turns my stomach to think about her and the boys learning about the quake.
I need a place to rest and think about what to do next, but the elevator floor I’m sitting on is covered in jagged blocks of concrete and debris. I try to extend my legs, but the car is too small for my six-foot frame, and my feet touch the opposite wall. I try to adjust my body so that I am sitting diagonally to give myself room to stretch. I keep my legs spread apart so my knees don’t touch and cause more pain in my leg wound. I had hoped that sitting still would diminish the pain, but with each beat of my heart my leg throbs with intense pain. I adjust my balled-up sock, putting it between my head and the wall to keep pressure on my wound. My thick hair feels sticky and warm to the touch—not a good sign. It means my head is still bleeding.
I’m getting tired, but I’m afraid to fall asleep. What if I slip into unconsciousness? Sleep feels like a significant threat—especially if I have a concussion or drift into shock. Even in the best case, sleep means giving up control of managing my circumstances. I’ve survived an earthquake; I’m not going to die in my sleep. I fumble for my iPhone and set the alarm to go off in twenty minutes. That way, even if I fall asleep, I won’t nap long.
A poem by Dylan Thomas comes to mind. I had read it in college but hadn’t thought of it in years. “Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
That’s what I am going to do. I will rage against anything that might keep me from returning to my family. I take an inventory of my resources: my camera and iPhone, my passport, my journal, and a pen or two. Not much. I wonder if it is even possible to survive. And more importantly, if I don’t, what might happen to my wife, Christy?
Sitting in the darkness, I had to admit—things didn’t look good.
I didn’t sleep. I set my alarm again. And again. And yet again. That gave me the chance to assess my situation every twenty minutes. I wasn’t sure I could hold on until rescuers arrived. Even in the worst disasters in the United States, buildings collapsed one or two at a time, not a whole city at a time. When people are trapped, professional rescuers—police, firefighters, and specially trained search and rescue teams—are on the scene in minutes, hours at most. They have trucks, equipment, extensive training, and experience. They have emergency plans, backup plans, and worst-case scenario plans.
But I wasn’t in the United States.
I was buried in Haiti—one of the poorest countries in the world—and they had nothing. I was trapped in the wreckage of my collapsed hotel in an elevator car the size of a small shower. Despite all of that, I knew I was fortunate to be alive. I suspected that my colleague, David, had died instantly.
In order to survive, every decision I made had life-and-death consequences, but only one had eternal importance. Could I trust God for whatever came next?