An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Chaplain's perspective: Where there is death, there is Life

  • Published
  • By Chaplain (Capt.) Eusebia D. Rios
  • Joint Special Operations Air Component Chaplain
Editors note: This is part four in a series of four commentaries .

Perhaps it was our time to experience the horrendous chaos in our lives. Perhaps it was an opportunity to grow in our appreciation of all the blessings in our lives. Perhaps it was merely to be a witness of how fragile life is - to this day, I am not quite sure.

It was a busy day like every other day up to this point. It was day five, and the amount of carnage and pain we had witnessed humbled me as I walked to the Special Operations Medical tent early that morning. We all sat around eating breakfast -- our morning choice of Meals Ready to Eat. No real complaints just weary faces chewing with the occasional smile and laugh. Then, as peaceful as it was in that moment, the rush of chaos and adrenaline took over -- incoming patients. The medics rushed to their equipment, and we all prepared for the flow of humanity.

At first, the cases seem no different then the others - broken arms - legs - and then there was a pause. Then the driver of the medic truck was flashing lights and honking the horn got all of our attention.

One patient, a male, he was in cardiac arrest. I rushed with the medic team to the truck and carried the litter inside the tent. We plowed through the bystanders and paced the patient on the floor. Immediately, they started cardiopulmonary resuscitation. This was a "CODE" -- every medic, every doctor working to save this man's life.

Minutes passed by - no breathing, no heartbeat. The medics had "the look" on their faces. One of them looked at me and said, "Chappy get ready to do your thing." I knew what that meant - this man had died.

As I pulled out my stole, my prayer book and oil, I stood and watched as these heroes these medics and doctors did everything they possibly could for this man - a stranger.

The moment arrived -- they made the call -- "Time of death 11:37 local".

As I approached the body, they all pulled back. They didn't leave. They watched as I anointed the body, leaned towards his ear and offered a prayer of Absolution. The stillness in the room was thick and long. What was merely a minute or two felt like an hours.

The determined looks upon the medic's faces melted into a moment of vulnerability. Then it was quickly interrupted by the rush of several more patients in route.

Throughout the day, I went up to each doctor and medic placed my hand on their shoulder smiled. I tried to let them know, without words, how much I loved them. Throughout the day, I had to remind myself that no matter how far I may feel from God - He is still here.

It was two hours before the next med-evac arrived with two more patients at the medical tent. It was two women, both with two children. When I walked in, their kids were huddled around our medic.

She looked like a nanny with four kids attached to her arms and torso. None of them wanted to let go - well, except for Jonathan. He stole my heart. He came to me and I held him. He was two years old and adorable. I found some chocolate pudding and started to feed him and he became my best friend.

His eyes were big and brown. Two teeth filled his grin - he tugged my heart strings. I gave him the pudding and some water -- then the inevitable happened, the sugar kicked in.

So right there, in the med tent on one of the cots, Jonathan and I started to play. We pretended we were fighting the pillow monster. We hugged the pillow and, with no mercy, slammed it until it gave up. Laughter and excitement filled the tent. Soon, his eyes grew heavy, and the pillow monster became our friend. He curled up on the pillow and fought sleep.

Jonathan was going to go to America with his mother and sister on the next med-evac flight out of Port au Prince. The doctor came up to me with some ear plugs and said, "Put these in his ears". I did, and Jonathan leaned into my chest a bit timid but so comfortable.

It was time. So I carried Jonathan to the plane -- careful of my every step -- guarding his adorable sleepy face from the wind. I walked him into the plane and handed him over to the attendant. I looked into his eyes for the last time and kissed his forehead. As I walked off the plane every fiber in my heart began to weaken and I wiped two maybe four or more tears off my cheeks as I made my way back to the Med Tent.

It was empty. It seemed so very strange. In the very tent - the very place we had experienced death earlier that day, that we also experienced the joy and innocence of new life.

Jonathan was just right size of band-aid the medics and this chaplain needed after a tough day in Haiti. Amen.