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With Foreign Aid Still at a Trickle, Devastated Port-au-Prince General Hospital Struggles to Meet Overwhelming Need

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One week after Haiti suffered the worst earthquake in over 200 years, a strong aftershock hit this morning. Initial reports said the latest quake measured 6.1 on the Richter scale — one of the strongest aftershocks since the 7.0-magnitude quake crippled this country eight days ago. While tens of thousands of the wounded await medical help, the survivors are still burying the dead. The death toll is now estimated at a staggering 200,000. Some three million Haitians — a third of the country’s population — have been directly affected by the earthquake, with one-and-a-half million now homeless. Amy Goodman files a report from the General Hospital in Port-au-Prince. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

ANJALI KAMAT: One week after Haiti suffered the worst earthquake in over 200 years, Port-au-Prince was hit by a strong aftershock this morning. Initial reports said the latest quake measured 6.1 on the Richter scale, one of the strongest aftershocks since the 7.0-magnitude quake crippled this country eight days ago.

While tens of thousands of the wounded await medical help, the survivors are still burying the dead. The death toll is now estimated at a staggering 200,000. Some three million Haitians — a third of the country’s population — have been directly affected by the earthquake, with one million and a half now homeless.

Amy Goodman filed this report from Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

    AMY GOODMAN: We just arrived at the General Hospital here in Port-au-Prince in the capital of Haiti, the main hospital for Port-au-Prince. And the US soldiers have also just arrived, more than 10,000 of them. It’s causing chaos, because people who are taking care of their families, who have been operated on, who are waiting to be operated on, who go to get their only means of sustenance, perhaps food or water, they’re trying to get in. And now, for the first time, they’re not able to, or they’re having trouble. We’re going to see if we can get in right now.

    How old are you?

    US SOLDIER: Nineteen.

    AMY GOODMAN: Is this your first tour of duty?

    US SOLDIER: Yes, ma’am.

    AMY GOODMAN: How come the tripod?

    US SOLDIER: Helps for setting it down. It’s a little heavy. So whenever I do set it down, it makes it a little easier.

    AMY GOODMAN: What kind of gun is it?

    US SOLDIER: It’s a fully automatic.

    AMY GOODMAN: That’s a lot of bullets you have.

    US SOLDIER: Yeah, we’re not going to use them, though. Only if we have to.

    AMY GOODMAN: We’re going in to see Dr. Evan Lyon of Partners in Health, an organization that has ten clinics throughout Haiti and many more around the world, and Haiti has more than 4,000 employees.

    We tried to get in. The soldier said, “No press.”

    DR. EVAN LYON: That was not a mandate from anybody, but we do —- we do need crowd control. There’s no insecurity. We need some crowd control so that the patients are not kept from having access.

    To this point, the military has not been here. They showed up about half an hour ago for the first time.

    This is the main General Hospital for the country. This is the main academic hospital for the country. This is the most important medical center in Haiti. It has been given very slow capacity. We have been improvising for the last four days on the ground with the Ministry of Health, under the direction of the Haitian director, and with our own meager capacity. The international volunteers are doing good work, but this place has been largely ignored. You see the infrastructure as it’s been destroyed.

    And in terms of supplies, in terms of surgeons, in terms of aid relief, the response has been incredibly slow. There are teams of surgeons that have been sent to places that were, quote, “more secure,” that have ten or twenty doctors and ten patients. We have a thousand people on this campus that are triaged and ready for surgery, but we only have four working ORs without anesthesia and without pain medications. And we’re still struggling to get ourselves up to twenty-four-hour care.

    AMY GOODMAN: Where is the nurses’ building, the most hard hit? And tell us what happened there.

    DR. EVAN LYON: The nurses’ building is behind here on the campus. I can show you later. It’s a four— or five-story building that collapsed entirely. The entire class of second-year nursing students was inside. We think it was between a hundred and 150 people, a hundred to 150 nurses who were buried inside. Some of the stench is coming from there directly.

    The other thing that’s worth knowing is, behind us is the morgue, the main morgue for the city. Bodies were piled here by the thousands. They’re being moved by front-end loader and dump truck. They’ve largely been cleared. But the mortgage, even to now, has had no refrigeration. So this place has been very dense with dying and very dense with suffering.

    AMY GOODMAN: There are now, I think it was announced, 12,000 US soldiers. The Venezuelan President Chavez called it an occupation now. What would you say?

    DR. EVAN LYON: I think it has real potential to be an occupation. If there are 12,000 soldiers here, it is an occupation. I’ve not known of any violence at the hands of the American military. We’ve also just barely had the beginning of collaboration with them, literally within the last thirty minutes. General Keane, their operations person, finally showed up here after some time. And the military is helping us secure the grounds. But of course this is an occupation. It’s not a — this is a disaster area. Warm bodies help, but military is potentially very destructive in this environment.

    AMY GOODMAN: What do you need? What would be constructive?

    DR. EVAN LYON: What we need right now is electricity, water, nurses, surgeons and materials. We have on site right now — we have seven operating rooms up and running. We need about fifteen or twenty within the next twenty-four hours. We have materials to keep the operating rooms going for maybe another twelve hours. Once that runs out, then we’re stuck.

    AMY GOODMAN: Soldiers haven’t brought you supplies?

    DR. EVAN LYON: Not yet.

    AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the most pressing problems of people here, dare I say the crushing need, and what has happened in this first week, the people who have died, the people who could have lived.

    DR. EVAN LYON: The most pressing need is for surgery. Most of the injuries were crushing injuries, were bones. There are hundreds of people here with compound fractures, meaning the bone has broken and come out the skin. They’ve had first aid. They’ve been stabilized. They’re being given antibiotics. And some are dying of infection. What they need is surgery. And they need it right away. Those people are dying minute to minute to minute, because we don’t have the surgical capacity to take care of their wounds, to decompress the infections.

    The other thing that weighs heavy on me is that we have no pain medicine. So we have people now — we’re approaching exactly one week in a few hours. We’ve had people with compound fractures. We’ve had people with limbs that need amputation. And we have no analgesia. We have no pain medicines of any kind.

    AMPUTEE’S TRANSLATOR: His arm was cut when it was broken at school.

    DR. EVAN LYON: This question of security and the rumors of security and the racism behind the idea of security has been our major block to getting aid in. The US military has promised us for several days to bring in — to bring in machinery, but they’ve been listening to this idea that things are insecure, and so we don’t have supplies.

    I’m living here in the neighborhood with a friend. I’m staying with some of my Haitian doctor colleagues. We’ve been circulating on the roads to 1:00 and 2:00 in the morning, moving patients, moving supplies, trying to get our work done. There is no security. The UN is not out. The US is not out. The Haitian police are not able to be out. But there’s also no insecurity. I don’t know if you guys were out late last night, but you can hear a pin drop in this city. It’s a peaceful place. There is no war. There is no crisis except the suffering that’s ongoing.

    The concern for militarization, the concern for occupation is very real. There is capacity that we don’t have that the military will help us with, and that is urgently needed, because we’re losing patients minute to minute. But the first that listeners need to understand is that there is no insecurity here. There has not been, and I expect there will not be.

    Let’s go into the operating rooms to show you what we don’t have. Beginning on Thursday, this has been our main operating capacity. There are four tables. We have good doctors. We have good nurses. And we have very few supplies. At this point, like I was saying, we have perhaps twelve hours of working materials to keep going. In these operating rooms, we don’t have oxygen, we don’t have general anesthesia, we don’t have narcotic pain medicines in enough quantity. People are getting major surgery, amputations, bones reset, decompression fasciotomies for crush injuries to release the pressure in the muscle. Under anesthesia with a drug called Ketamine, that works great for the surgery, but when it stops, it stops. There’s no pain control.

    We have been operating around the clock — by daylight, when we have it; by flashlights, when we don’t have it. We still do not have electricity in this building.

    Most of the injuries, about 80 percent of the injuries, are orthopedic injuries, and we do not have orthopedic supplies. We have literally gone to the hardware store and bought hacksaws to do amputations. And that’s the best we can do right now.

    This is our triage and pre-op area. Again, we have over a thousand patients that are ready for surgery. We just lack the capacity to get it done.

    Let’s walk down to the post-op ward. Come inside. This was the emergency room for the hospital. The operating suites are destroyed. This was the emergency room. Less than twenty-four hours ago, this was an empty building — no bed, no people, no staff, no nursing, no patients. Currently, this is our [inaudible] post-op care area. When we get the materials, this will be our ICU. But please remember, less than twenty-four hours, there was nothing here. And we’ll walk through.

    Much of the staffing has come from the Haitian diaspora, Haitian Americans who have come down to assist. They hit the ground, they hit the ground running, and they’ve been working all night and ever since, with language capacity, with compassion and with dedication to work in these conditions. But let’s look. This was an empty building less than twenty-four hours ago, and now we’re working.

    CHANTALE CESAIRE: My name is Chantale Cesaire. I’m a registered nurse. I’m from Boston. I came to help, because I felt that if — all the time we talked about helping Haiti, this is the time. And this is — it’s a medical catastrophe. So there’s a lot of Haitians that are in the medical field in the United States, so I thought I could be the first example coming down. Ever since I heard of the problem on Tuesday night, I started working my contacts to try to get here.

    AMY GOODMAN: How long are you here for?

    CHANTALE CESAIRE: Two weeks.

    AMY GOODMAN: Would you recommend others come from the United States?

    CHANTALE CESAIRE: Yes, yes. I heard that people were worrying about security, but it’s not. You’re here to help. You’re going to help people.

    DR. MARIE FRANCE CONDE: Dr. Marie France Conde.

    AMY GOODMAN: Tell us where you’re from.

    DR. MARIE FRANCE CONDE: I’m from Brooklyn, New York. We have a lot of kids, parents, who’ve been here for three, four days. They are hungry. They’re — we’re finished with them. Some of them are waiting to be discharged. Right now we need someone to bring us some food, so we can send them. OK, we want to feed them. They are waiting to be fed now. We cannot keep giving them IV fluids. That’s the help that we need right now.

    AMY GOODMAN: Do you think it’s important that Haitians come back here?

    DR. MARIE FRANCE CONDE: Absolutely, absolutely. We want to make a difference, and we’re hoping that this will open the eyes of everyone who truly wants to help us so we do have a better Haiti.

    DR. DAMOU: I’m Dr. Damou [phon.], and usually I work in Long Island. I work for the Catholic Health System. And I came on — since Saturday. We flew from Saturday, and we started working here on Monday. I came with the Haitian Medical Association abroad. And we are also — we came as a crew. And we have been seeing the terrible disaster, and we have been helping as best as we can.

    I’m a pediatrician. And this baby is about to go home now, and I’m going to do the final examination. But the other baby, there is some issue because the mother has no home, so we have to arrange some — with the Red Cross to see where we can place the mother and the baby.

    MOTHER’S TRANSLATOR: She was in Fort National, and that is where the earthquake found her.

    AMY GOODMAN: What’s her babies name?

    MOTHER’S TRANSLATOR: Milord, “My Lord.”

    MOTHER: [translated] My house is destroyed, and I’m not sure what I’m going to do.

    MOTHER’S TRANSLATOR: Your husband, where is he?

    MOTHER: [translated] I haven’t yet seen my husband.

    DR. EVAN LYON: What needs to happen now and what needs to happen for the next 200 years is that Haiti needs to — Haiti needs to be Haiti. Haiti needs to rebuild. Haiti needs to be allowed to rebuild. Haiti has been systematically destroyed by much of the world for the last 200 years. This aid attention is nice. The extra supplies are nice. The energy and the money is helpful. But if the Haitian institutions are not rebuilt, nothing will be durable, and in one year we’ll be exactly where we are right now, which is in pain.

    AMY GOODMAN: So we’ve come to the end of the hospital compound. It’s the morgue. Until the last days, the bodies were piled here four feet deep. Now they say they’ve taken all the bodies, not exactly clear where, but people are talking about mass graves. But the hope is the hospital, if people can survive, if people can get help — and we’re talking about more than 1,500 people in the hospital, a thousand waiting for surgery, and then in the grand plaza outside, near the palace and the hospital, tens of thousands of people.

    The question of the restoration of Haiti lies here and lies in every home and community in Haiti, even people who have healed enough to leave, who have recovered enough to go. The question is, what will happen to the mom who just gave birth to a little girl named Milord? She said she has nowhere to go. Or the doctor who told us what they need is food, we’ve got to send them out with something. That’s the system that has to be worked. That’s the question we leave this hospital with.

    I’m Amy Goodman in Port-au-Prince.

ANJALI KAMAT: Special thanks to Elizabeth Press and Sharif Abdel Kouddous also for that report from the hospital in Port-au-Prince.

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