Volunteering in Haiti, said Dr. Alan Gwertzman, was a life-altering, transforming experience.
“We were going as physicians,” said the chief anesthesiologist at Holy Name Hospital, “but as time went on … I feel I got a lot more than we gave.” Volunteering “reaffirmed the reasons we became physicians in the first place.”
The Haitians, Gwertzman continued, “are just an incredibly beautiful, selfless, and caring people, and … their behavior … really renewed my faith in humanity.”
He also had a special moment of pride as a Jew. “One of the first few patients we saw transported from Port-au-Prince” came with an oxygen tank labeled in Hebrew, he told the Standard. Seeing it, a product of Israel that Israeli doctors had sent with the patient, was “very dramatic for me. I thought it remarkable for such a small country to be using its resources halfway around the world and where they have no connection at all.”
The entire experience was so intense, with such “a positive, singular, focused energy, a strong spiritual sense that really transcended [religious differences],” that when a priest held a Mass on Sunday, Gwertzman said, everyone, “across the board, Jews, Catholics, Protestants,” attended.
“Obviously,” said Gwertzman, “I wasn’t crossing myself or taking communion, but I experienced with my teammates this positive energy and spirituality. Just to be able to see the deep commitment that everyone around us had, to deal with spirituality in their own way, was deep … and profound.”
But it was funny, he added, that “I had to go and wake up Dr. Finley so he could get there on time.”