About 20 miles south of PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - Within 10 minutes of parking at a makeshift clinic outside a hotel, William Conner prepares syringes to treat a 21/2-year-old boy he worries might have typhoid fever. He then gently injects antibiotics into Alexander Pierre's left leg and the child sobs.
"Pap le re. Pap le re," says Conner, a Matthews family physician. "Don't cry. Don't cry."
Alexander's big sister, Christelle, cups Alexander's chin and repeats the doctor's words. He speaks French and a smattering of Haitian Creole, the official languages of the Caribbean country.
During the treatment, Anna Jeanty holds her son, who is wan and drooling from sickness.
"Is it for the stomach, the intestines?" she asked the doctor. Yes, he said.
Homeless from Tuesday's earthquake and penniless, Jeanty and her husband, Wagner Pierre, have been feeding their children food scraps they find on the street.
"I don't have anything to give him," Jeanty says.
The desperately poor family crossed paths with Conner on Sunday - his first day inside Haiti on a trip of mercy.
Conner, 46, has treated patients in the country three times before, as a medical student and resident. Paying his own way, the family practitioner this time packed suitcases with medicine and medical supplies and flew to neighboring Dominican Republic.
After spending Saturday night near the border, the doctor and a driver-bodyguard named Hector headed west toward Port-au-Prince. They are accompanied by an Observer reporter.
The capital city took the brunt of Tuesday's 7.0 earthquake, which toppled buildings, killing and trapping untold thousands.
By Sunday afternoon, the doctor and his group stopped 20 miles south of the city to find beds for the night and to make a plan to provide medical care out of his bags of supplies.
Almost immediately, he was treating the sick and injured.
On to the hospital
The doctor considered setting up his own makeshift clinic at the Villa Creole hotel. But the medical staff on Sunday began moving the most seriously ill by bus to a nearby hospital.
He had never intended to stay at the hotel. He just wanted to stop by and see if he could help. His focus was always on helping the Boone-based charity Samaritan's Purse. Charity representatives told Conner's wife, Natalie, that they needed French-speaking doctors. Conner, married with three young children, says he and his wife are passionate about helping those less fortunate.
Conner left the hotel-clinic about 4 p.m. and headed toward the Baptist Haiti Mission, where Samaritan's Purse had taken over the hospital. It took about 45 minutes to find the large compound perched on the side of a massive and picturesque ravine.
At the hospital, the injured streamed out of the building. Wounded filled every room, every hallway. He was welcomed immediately.
"Great," said Dr. David Gettle, who leads Samaritan Purse's medical team. "We can use you."
At 6:30 pm., Conner came out of the hospital for a moment. There were already 60 patients under his care or waiting to see him, he said.
"It's complete chaos," he said. "There's so much need. They're in the operating room saving lives all day."
Conner smiled and turned back toward the hospital entrance.
Journey into despair
Conner began Sunday in a small town about 30 miles from the Haitian border.
He and his group headed toward Jimani, Dominican Republic, where relief workers were assembling in the border town - a sort of jumping-off point for relief agencies and a destination for victims escaping Haiti.
The doctor and his group filled an old Toyota Corolla with gas and also brought containers filled with extra fuel.
Soldiers wearing the blue helmets of United Nations forces rode to and fro in trucks. As the doctor and his companions crossed the border, their first sight was a Haitian man riding a motorcycle and wearing a UNC Tar Heels hat, the doctor's alma mater. It's a good omen, he thought.
Along the road, Conner marveled at lush green mountainsides and a spectacular view of a lake. They contrasted with poverty and devastation on the sides of the beat-up road.
He saw a woman bathing a baby in a black steel drum and heard reports of rising violence and lawlessness by looters in the capital city, where medical clinics waited for more doctors and their medical expertise.
The highway out of town toward Port-au-Prince brimmed with mass transit vehicles carrying relief workers, victims and residents. The vehicles had "La Vi Pa Fasil" painted in bright yellow, blue and green letters across the front.
It means, "Life Is Not Easy."