Amid the Ruins, Critical Care for Quake Survivors

Haiti patient

A young Hatian injured in the Jan. 12 earthquake rests at St. Francois de Sales Hospital in Port-au-Prince. Photo by Sara A. Fajardo/CRS

By Sara A. Fajardo

A mother stands amongst crowded rows of beds in a makeshift hospital ward fanning her convalescing 21 year-old son with a manila folder. The walls caved around him when the 7.0 magnitude earthquake pummeled Port-au-Prince on January 12th. His legs were injured, pinned down by pounds of concrete. More than a week later he lies listless in the St. Francois de Sales open-air hospital ward, where wooden poles hold up a blue tarp to shield patients from the sun and rain.

Seventy percent of the hospital was destroyed by the temblor. Only one operating room of twelve is functional. The pediatric ward was flattened. Where walls once stood there is now only rubble. Under other circumstances St. Francois’ doors would have shuttered, but with the waves of survivors desperate for medical attention, the only option was to continue operating.

Patient care

A patient at the St. Francois de Sales Hospital receives tender care. Friends and relatives offer patients small comforts during their stay at the hospital. Photo by Sara A. Fajardo/CRS

The hospital staff was traumatized—they found it difficult to work in a place where co-workers and patients were lost to the earth’s convulsions. Many were afraid to enter the once familiar corridors. In the face of so much need it was impossible to know where to begin. CRS and our AIDSRelief partners joined forces. Working side-by-side, CRS, and the hospital team pulled mattresses and bed frames from the debris, tunneled out medical supplies, pieced together three operating rooms and sectioned off several outdoor “wards” for patient recovery.

These days only inches separate beds, but those tight spaces are large enough to squeeze in concerned loved ones. Day after day husbands, mothers, daughters, sons and friends provide small comforts to the ailing: the cool breeze of a folder fan, spoon-fed meals, and the gentle caresses of a loving hand.

CRS doc

“Dr. Rodrigue Mortel, right, a CRS volunteer, treats patients at the St. Francois de Sales Hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Photo by Sara A. Fajardo/CRS

Each day the number of surgeries performed at the hospital grows. Wounds are dressed. Antibiotics are dispensed. Charts are dutifully monitored. The St. Francois nursing staff has returned and once again provides 24-hour care. Doctors from Baltimore and CRS work alongside residents, medical students and seasoned Haitian doctors. Signs handwritten in permanent marker direct visitors: the pharmacy, the in-patient clinic, and the pediatric ward. This small touch adds an air of formality to a place ransacked by nature.

But it’s the quiet yet dignified resiliency of the patients that stands out. For a place overrun with the bandaged and amputated, no one complains. They are close enough to one another to hear every sound made by their fellow patients, and yet it’s as quiet here as a private room. Patients take comfort in their loved ones and allow the healing to begin.

Sara A. Fajardo is a CRS communications officer and photojournalist reporting from Haiti.

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