It is Saturday, the OR is closed, there is no emergency case to do, we finished rounds, and dressings have been changed. This is the first time I can take a break, find a way to send an email (from the Campbell’s orphanage), and give you an update.
The week has been busy with multiple surgical procedures for limb and chest injuries. The previous surgical team, led by Dr. Johnson from Baltimore, left early in the week; and two orthopedic surgeons — one from Brisbane Australia, and the other from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada — were flown directly to Pignon by Rotary International. We therefore have enough physicians. Patients are filling up all available places at the hospital, the hallways are full and mattresses are on the ground.
My role is to do the pre-op and post-op care. I share this work with Dr. Nelms, an ER physician from West Virginia. My main role is to communicate with the patients, the local doctors and nurses. I am therefore acutely aware of the human tragedy and the devastation that took place.
Some are relatively lucky. For instance, this family from Pignon had three children who were students in Port au Prince, The older brother, Sony, sustained a compound, comminuted fracture of the humerus and one of the twin sisters, Netlie, multiple injuries (hemo-pneumothorax requiring a chest tube, and mandibular fracture). There are healing well and they will both be home with family soon.
Some were flown to Pignon with hip, femur or ankle fractures, and are doing well medically, but they are not sure when and how they will return home and where home is going to be as their homes were destroyed in Port au Prince.
Nika is a lovely 10-year-old girl whose feet were crushed when her house collapsed in Carrefour. Her father and siblings died in the earthquake. She and her mother were flown to Pignon for treatment (amputation of one foot and partial amputation with reconstruction for the other foot). What will happen to them after she is recovered is up in the air, but the Campbells at the orphanage have offered to keep them for a while.
Then there is Guirlande, a beautiful 23-year-old woman whose leg was crushed, had a first amputation in Port au Prince, a second higher in Hinche and a third one here in Pignon (disarticulation at the hip) because of ascending infection. Yesterday, for the first time, she sat up and was able to take three steps with a walker. She and her mother were very happy about the progress, and promised that each day she will take a few more steps.
Most people show incredible resilience and manage to smile, and trust in the future. Very few show the anxiety you would expect after surviving such a disaster.
Then there is Mariella, a 60-year-old lady with a sub-capital hip fracture (Garden IV). She has been in bed since the earthquake, the surgeons waiting for the right hardware (Austin-Moore prosthesis). The poor lady has five children, but she does not know if they are alive or dead and she is in Pignon by herself. She is very quiet, and has a soft voice, but listening to her I understood well enough: I am going to die, she keeps uttering. I told her that she would die if she stays in bed, but she will live if she can get out of bed. The first step has been to put her in a chair, and we are working on getting her to take a few steps with a walker. The local staff is trying to send information regarding Mariella on the radio, and hopefully a family member will be able to come to Pignon. In the meantime, the orthopedic surgeons have requested the right equipment and hopefully the Rotary Club or some other group will provide it in the near future.
Each patient has a story, but I don’t have time on the computer to give them all.
Overall, the country is in shock. In Pignon, none of the schools has been functioning since the earthquake, and I understand that it is the case throughout the country. Children, normally seen walking to and from school in their colorful uniforms, are nowhere to be seen.
All the members of our group are well. We are so tired at night, that we don’t even hear all the roosters that used to keep us awake at night in years past. The church bells and church singing wake us up by dawn each morning. The cooks are preparing the usual good Haitian food for us: Rice, beans and goat.
Hope to give you an update again.
Claude Roge, MD