The birth lottery: A tale of two men and two countries, Haiti & the US


lottery of birthThis is a story about the birth lottery. Or what Warren Buffet once described as the defining moment in his immensely successful life – ie the good fortune of being born in the right country, the United States, at the right time (1930).

This is a story about a young man who’s probably still wandering around Port au Prince blind in one eye, on account of a surgically reversible condition called retinal detachment. The young man has a good (and very compassionate) doctor who has referred him to a well-regarded surgeon in the neighbouring Dominican Republic. He has decent employers who are willing to help pay for the operation and attendant costs. But he can’t get over to Santo Domingo because he doesn’t have a passport and despite his doctor’s intervention, the sluggish Haitian government machinery remains unmoved. There is no saying when, or if, he will receive his passport.

Soon, it will be too late for the unfortunate young man to recover his vision. There is a cut-off point beyond which surgery can do little. After he loses his sight, the young man may well wonder why he was unfortunate enough to be born in Haiti, where there is no cure for so many conditions and officialdom doesn’t care enough to leaven what little it can.

I say this advisedly. On Sunday, we flew out of Port au Prince, headed for Bascom Palmer in Florida, the best eye hospital in the world. Michael had a retinal detachment. He was operated upon and the prognosis is good, though the results must ultimately be left to God. And destiny. But in real terms, destiny has already smiled on Michael. American by birth, he won the very lottery so painfully and uselessly lost by that young man in Port au Prince. They share a doctor in Port au Prince but little else. C’est la vie. But I wish it weren’t.

Jack Kerouac

“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life”
– Jack Kerouac