Monday, February 6, 2017

The Mysterious Disappearance of Heather Elyse

Yes, that sounds like a Hardy Boys title. And the story that unfolded was almost Hardy-Boy-esque in its absurdity and unlike-real-life-ness.

So there I was on day 3 of my cholera recovery. I was doing quite well overall, taking it easy, trying to avoid too much contact with other people, and using lots and lots of bleach. Bleach and I became very good friends during that episode.

I had spent the night hooked up to an IV bag after receiving such kindness and great treatment from the clinic in Cabaret. In the morning, I was feeling much better due to being rehydrated, and the diarrhea had slowed way down due to the Cipro knocking it out. I still had quite a bit of abdominal pain, but I was able to drink normally and keep everything down. I didn't eat a lot, but just took it easy and rested most of the day.

One of the important things with cholera is not reinfecting yourself, and regular soap doesn't kill it, so you have to use bleach. The nurses had taught me the proper bleach-to-water ratio. By 4:00 Wednesday afternoon, I was amazed to discover the energy to bleach all my clothes, clean the bathroom, wipe down my entire floor with bleach (even moving the bed and all the furniture), and do all the laundry for my bleached clothes, bedding, towels, and cleaning rags.

Funny story--I had soaked my clothes in bleach water for the obligatory ten minutes, and I had taken them to the laundry room, where they had been through the washer and were just finishing in the dryer. When the dryer finished, I went in to pull the clothes out. Some guy I didn't know was in the laundry room, too, putting clothes in the washer. "Hi," I mumbled. "Hola," he said. "Hola," I said back. Then his eyes widened and he did a double take. "Wow! Are you ok?"

"Oooohhhhh," I realized. "I must look like a fright! I should have waited until he was gone before I came in here. I forgot what I must look like to people." There I was, greasy hair, bare feet, no makeup, and IV tubes still dangling out of my arm, affixed with big obvious X's of white tape. "Yeah, I'm ok," I said as nonchalantly as possible. "I'm going to be fine," and with that I swept my clothes out of the dryer and high-tailed it back to my room. Aaaah! Embarrassing!

For some context on what was about to unfold, a couple of Heather's staff members had come down to Haiti for a short visit. They were going to fly out early on Feb 6th, so they had left Montrouis the day before and went to Port au Prince to spend the night in the Oasis hotel, where they would be closer to the airport for their flight in the morning.

Heather and Wesmin went with them.


Towards evening on the 6th, Ryan F came down to my room.

"We've got a problem," he said. "Heather wasn't feeling well after the group went to the airport this morning. She thinks she may have cholera. She was texting early on in the day, but the battery on her phone died. Wesmin was with her initially, but now he doesn't know where she is. For a while he was texting me, but now even he has stopped answering his texts. A group of us are leaving now to try to find her. I'm taking a Tap-tap to Port tonight with Laura Brown and Nick."

"Whoa!" I said. "Can I go?"

Ryan hesitated. I realized that only a few hours earlier I had been hooked up to an IV for my cholera.

"Never mind," I corrected myself. "What am I thinking? Well, I'll be praying for you."

Ryan departed. I remember being struck with how I had never thought of just how difficult it would be to find someone who had gotten lost in a city in a foreign country if they were sick and their phone battery died. I wondered how Ryan could possibly find her. It is well known in Haiti that it is not safe or recommended to drive after dark, and especially not late at night, in Port au Prince, and I knew Ryan was risking his neck to go and look for Heather.

Then the emails started flowing.

At 5:40 PM, Michelle S sent an email out to all the missionaries and staff.

Hello staff,
I was informed that heather was taken to a hospital in port today, for what I am not sure. Wesmins guess was cholera. He just told me that she is on an iv and unconscious. Please pray. Please keep it amongst the staff. I don't want any of our adoptive parents to panic and you know how private a person heather is ;)
I will keep everyone updated, but please pray fervently.

5:41 PM: [Staff member]
"yes, will start praying and won't stop until we hear that she is fully recovered."

5:46 PM: [Staff member]
"Yes, of course. Praying wholeheartedly and fervently. Thank you for updating us and for all you do, Michelle."

6:05 PM: [Staff member]
"Been praying all day. She was not well when we left this morning. :("

9:02 PM: [Staff member]
...She was sick when we left at 5:30am but insisted we all go. She told us that she needed juice and so Wesmin bought some at the gas station. She said that she just wanted to sleep and that she would decide when Wesmin returned if she needed to go to the hospital. We had two cars at the Oasis hotel. The new red one and green Mazda. We were in the green Mazda today because it's the only one with a working air conditioner.
Heather was not able to answer texts. Her phone batteries were dead. She emailed Wesmin at 11:45am saying she needed to go to the hospital. My guess is that he arrived there at that time or soon after based on when he dropped us off at the airport.
I talked to Ryan F and told him the situation and to go find them. When I landed i received the text that said he was headed to Port with Nick and Laura to look for them. Received a text from Wesmin that he sent while I was in the air that said he was worried sick. She was in the hospital with iv. He didn't mention what hospital.
I wish we would have stayed.....ughhhh
Exhausted myself, but feeling fine.


Meanwhile, Ryan and the crew who went to Port had managed to get in touch with Moliere, a Haitian driver who had reliable vehicles. We often hired him for airport runs and other things. The group left the tap tap behind, and Moliere drove them to the Oasis hotel, the last place where Heather had been seen. The front desk told them that Heather had checked out that morning, but that Wesmin had reserved his room for another night and was still there.

Ryan dialed Wesmin's room number from the front desk telephone. Wesmin picked up the phone and acted enraged that he was being contacted. He refused to come down to the lobby, and he said he was with a woman and wasn't about to leave her alone to go down and talk to Ryan.

Unsuccessful on that front, they spent the whole night driving from hospital to hospital in Port au Prince, asking if Heather had been admitted there and not finding her. Laura Brown is a nurse who is fluent in Creole and has extensive work experience in Haitian hospitals, so she was an invaluable resource to them in this endeavor.

No luck. None of the hospitals had her.


MANY people back in the US hit their knees for fervent prayer. Some of them would faithfully continue all night.


I went to bed and slept all through the night, which I considered to be a quick and dramatic answer to prayer for my recovery from cholera.

Continued tomorrow at 9:00 AM EST.

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