Haiti Hospital Waits for Patients Following Quake

When the earthquake hit, Burzon was in the middle of an operation. He was removing part of a patient's prostate gland in order to allow the patient to urinate -- a typical procedure for the urologists that come to northern Haiti for three weeks a year to offer their services at the hospital.

Burzon said that as the building shook -- and the windows actually appeared to bend -- the surgical team looked at each other. He said no one spoke, but he imagined that everyone was wondering the same thing -- "Do we just run? Or do we speed up and try to finish, as the poorly built hospitals here all sometimes fall apart without earthquakes?"

Surgery a Challenge in Haiti Hospitals

The surgeons decided to finish the operation in what turned out to be a harrowing day in the operating theater.

"During the operation, the aftershocks came one after another," Burzon said. "We didn't know if these were actually going to be worse -- or were they the real one -- but we knew had no choice but to complete the operation, and it was in God's hands."

They continued to do some surgery, but shortages of key supplies -- gas for the generators, and medicine needed to resuscitate patients -- posed a constant threat to their ability to operate.

A few wounded in the quake did arrive. All four of the first patients who arrived on Friday required amputations. One patient had a tourniquet left on his upper arm for four days straight. The wound was covered in plastic. Massive gangrene had developed. New Jersey surgeon Dr. Stephen Fletcher had to remove the patient's entire arm, up to and including the shoulder. The operation saved the patient's life -- but not his arm.

Ironically, this patient could turn out to be one of the lucky ones. As the first week following the quake comes to a close, time is now short for those with similar injuries.

"You can have gangrene so long that it'll kill you," Burzon said.

After Quake, Delays May Be Deadly for Many

As the week began, more victims started to trickle in. On Sunday, the doctors at Sacre Coeur received 20 more patients. Helicopters brought in 11 patients on Monday, and 6 more arrived by road. The surgeons at the hospital performed 16 procedures total that day, operating until 11:30 p.m. Today, the doctors expect a busload of patients to arrive from Cap Haitian, one hour away.

But Burzon said this is not enough. He described logistical barriers to patient transport on the part of the U.S. Coast Guard, which has been using its helicopters to ferry patients into the more remote hospitals.

"They said they couldn't pick people up and transport them because they hadn't received an order to do so," he noted. "We've got these things prepared. Meanwhile, people are dying in the hospitals in Port-au-Prince or in the streets. They don't need to be."

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