Magazine article The Spectator

Haiti: A Week after the Earthquake

Magazine article The Spectator

Haiti: A Week after the Earthquake

Article excerpt

On Tuesday morning I looked down at the elderly woman lying in the corner of a hotel car park and suspected that my efforts would be futile. She was in a serious condition and obvious pain: intestinal paralysis caused by a broken pelvis and shoulder, the result of being trapped under tons of rubble. Her treatment should have been simple: not surgery necessarily, just careful nursing.

But in Port-au-Prince, the hospitals are barely functioning. Wards and operating theatres are cracked and falling down.

Most hospital staff are missing, dead, or too grief-stricken to function.

My patient had nowhere to go. I could see her abdomen visibly distend. It was so tender that even a gentle touch caused her to scream. I placed my ear against her swollen belly: no sound of bowel activity, a sure sign that, left untreated, this problem would kill her. I talked to her daughters, quietly, in my best French.

'Your mother will die, ' I said, 'unless we can find proper nursing care in a hospital.' I was telling them what they already knew. Their mother needed a huge stroke of luck - something I could not provide.

This is Haiti one week after the earthquake. The hospitals are in ruins or full. Medical teams are working ceaselessly in corridors, landings, on the hospital steps and car parks. Drugs and medicines are running out, and single-use instruments are being re-used hundreds of times as amputations are performed on kitchen tables.

I had to move on from the woman in the car park, this time to Delmas in the centre of town. Our driver battled against the crowded streets, swerving to avoid earthquake rubble, his hand never far from the horn. …

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