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Three days after Natanael Louissant's death, Pugmire heads to the family's home in a Land Rover. The 22-year-old EMT from Southampton, England, passes the armed guards in crisp navy uniforms and exits through the orange gates onto a narrow street sclerotic with vendors. The Land Rover lumbers through traffic and past tap taps until the pavement deteriorates into deeply rutted dirt. The car slows to a crawl passing over a milky gray stream where children play. "And you wonder where cholera comes from," he says.
Pugmire and a driver work their way slowly up one of the hills surrounding Port-au-Prince, the city's wide bay cradling Île de la Gonâve in the distance. The journey is at most five miles, but it takes more than an hour. Finally they park opposite a flattened building, the remains of the local hospital. Pugmire wants to find out what happened to Natanael — and to discover if there is a public health risk.
Pugmire walks down a steep slope and enters a shady alley between closely set cinder-block houses. Natanael's parents and younger brother are gone: They couldn't afford the $1,000 necessary for a funeral in Port-au-Prince, so they headed to the countryside to bury their daughter. "God is my fortress" is written in chalk on a metal door. Plastic yellow flowers hang like a chandelier near Natanael's bed.
"She was a reserved child and a beautiful singer," says Quenia Belizaire, the pastor's wife and a friend of the Louissants. She sits in the Louissants' closet-sized living room wearing a hat that reads "Alachua County Fire Rescue." Pugmire asks about Natanael's symptoms, as if he could still save her. But like so much in Haiti, it's a game of "what ifs": What if there had been a local hospital still standing after the earthquake? What if it hadn't taken her all day to reach Bernard Mevs? What if the College Academique D'Haiti where she had attended fourth grade had cleaner water or air conditioning?
"She wanted to be a nurse," says Belizaire, as Pugmire gets up to leave. "Now her life is in God's hands."
The rain dies just after 9 p.m. on Tuesday, May 17, as Amazan Jean-Uber drops off the last bundle of cheap Chinese clothing in central Port-au-Prince and heads back toward his home in Carrefour. As usual, his three friends recline in the back, leaving the stocky 34-year-old to navigate his noisy Isuzu truck along the empty, wet streets. But as he enters a large roundabout, Jean-Uber slows. Something is not right. A heap of tires and metal is piled in the middle of the road, blocking his path.
Suddenly a dozen men emerge from the shadows of a nearby tent city, machine guns drawn.
"Freeze!" one yells. But Jean-Uber has been robbed before, and with three children, he can't afford to lose another 1,500 gourdes: roughly $50, or a week of his pay as a delivery driver. He slams on the brakes and shifts the truck into reverse. The bandits are all around him. They open fire but miss. Jean-Uber switches back into drive and guns the engine toward the roadblock.
Just as the truck plows through the debris and away from the ambush, a single bullet pierces the cab door and ricochets into his side.
His legs go numb. Jean-Uber feels the warmth leak out of his body, but he keeps driving. Finally, the truck shudders to a halt on the side of the road, inches from a family's blue tent.
A passenger, Achile Ronald, leaps from the truck bed. A powerfully built man with a shaved head and mustache, Ronald pulls Jean-Uber from the front and lays him in the vehicle's rear. He slides into the bloody front seat and parks the still-idling truck, then calls his cousin, Jean-Uber's wife, for help. Soon, the wounded man is loaded into a police car and delivered to Bernard Mevs.
The cruiser arrives around midnight. Pugmire meets it at the gate and helps pull an unconscious Jean-Uber from the back seat. Blood splashes onto the street. Medishare doctors slice into his chest and then his side, looking for the bullet. Finally, they take him to a double-wide trailer parked in the hospital lot. A motorized platform lifts him and his doctors inside the only public CT scanner in Haiti. Within minutes, the machine renders an image of Jean-Uber's chest: The bullet has lodged in the exact middle of his spine.
"He's a para," or paraplegic, Pugmire says. Jean-Uber will probably never walk again.
His story ends better than Natanael Louissant's. Like many of his countrymen, he is locked in limbo, waiting for a miracle.
"My kids are so young," he says, shortly after waking up in the intensive care unit. "If I can't drive, how can I take care of my kids?"
A tube runs up his nose. Another exits his groin and empties into a clear plastic bag. After a few moments, an unfamiliar short, muscular man appears next to bed number four. "My name is Wilfrid Macena," the stranger says. "I work here, but I am an amputee."
As machines hiss and beep around them, Wilfrid tells Jean-Uber about his horrific injury and his recovery. "This is your life," he says. "You are not dead. You are alive. God willing, you will walk again one day."