I earned the Rhodes Scholarship the same day my football team of Florida State University (FSU) was playing the University of Maryland. We ended up winning that game. And my life changed forever. From St Edmund Hall reading for my MSc in Medical Anthropology to the NFL with the Titans and Steelers, to medical school back at FSU and now to junior residency in neurosurgery at Harvard/Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) - God has blessed me and placed amazing mentors and friends in my life to help buttress this journey.
But while I was flying high, living out my dream, accomplishing a lifelong goal of being a neurosurgeon in Boston - reality hit. A harsh reality that my home country of the Bahamas had just been devastatingly leveled by the worst hurricane in our history. Hurricane Dorian came. It stayed for a while. And in its wake, it left a nation and her people desperately seeking reprieve. Personally I had a mixture of emotions. I initially felt helpless. I’m in Boston at the best hospital in the country completely disconnected from the tragedy that my family and fellow countrymen and women were facing. I then felt sorrow. It was hard receiving phone calls and text messages from loved ones who lost their homes or who hadn’t eaten in days because they were trapped in the attic as water levels rose or who saw their neighbors swept away into the ocean by tides stronger than Sampson. I moved to anger. Why did Dorian change it’s power to a category 5 storm? And why did it hover for several days? Who can I blame for this destruction? I realized the answers to those questions were not going to be helpful in this particular moment so my emotion changed one last time to this - motivated!
I became activated and energized to help in any way I could. If I am going to be the leader that the Rhodes community expects of its Scholars, then here is the moment where I can step up and answer that charge. Here is what I did. I called up the President of my hospital, Dr Peter Slavin. He is a wonderful man who knew my Bahamian background. I asked him what can I do as a part of our hospital to assist in the relief efforts. Dr Slavin put me in touch with Dr Hillary Cranmer, the head of the MGH Global Disaster Response Team. She was amazingly helpful and put my name on the roster for a potential team to travel to the Bahamas. The next move was to get clearance from my Neurosurgery chairman Dr Bob Carter and program director Dr Aman Patel. Without any hesitation, both men agreed to my 2 week deployment and were incredibly supportive. They sent out a department wide email informing everyone of my mission and the feedback I received from fellow residents, faculty members, staff was phenomenal. It gave me the boost of confidence I needed to fly into a disaster zone that I once knew as paradise.
The MGH Global Disaster Response Team was comprised of fellow physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, social workers, midwives and pharmacists. We teamed up with a non governmental organization called International Medical Corps who had already established connections on the ground in the Bahamas and received specific tasks from the WHO and the Bahamian Ministry of Health. Most of our work was done in Grand Bahama Island, one of the two major family islands that were hit by Dorian. We set up a fixed clinic to provide urgent and primary care needs most of which included medication refills, chronic care management, wound care, tetanus shots, contraceptions, minor surgical procedures. We sent out mobile strike teams to deliver healthcare door to door to members of the communities trapped in their remote communities. We staffed clinics that were left standing after Dorian hit as many providers left the island for safety reasons. We handed out goods, water and provided a physical meeting space for the community as the clinic was sometimes used as a church equipped with WiFi and solar powered by panels provided by Tesla.
Personally, there were no decompressive hemicraniectomies for bad brain bleeds that had to be done as my junior operative skills would have permitted, but the subacute medical needs were important and just the fact that we were present was uplifting for the Bahamians. I felt so much love from my family and others who were grateful that I returned home to help. I often stopped to take pictures, shake hands, receive hugs and pray with local Bahamians who were proud of me. I got a standing ovation at church and was interviewed several times on our national television network. As I ended my time in the Bahamas, the last emotion I felt was encouraged. Encouraged that our team did positive work and made a difference, but also encouraged that the spirit of the Bahamian people was one of forward leaning and onward progress as our country motto suggests. I felt that spirit alive and well during my time at home.
I never expected to pause my Neurosurgery training to participate in disaster relief, but my life, including my leadership edification through the Rhodes Scholarship, prepared me for that moment. And it’s a moment that I will never forget.
Myron Rolle (Florida & St Edmund Hall 2009) is a neurosurgery resident at Harvard Medical School/Massachusetts General Hospital. He is the Chairman of The Myron L Rolle Foundation (www.rollefoundation.org).