'I never thought I would see such things'
A Cuban medical team is treating the injured, but has now run out of anaesthetic, writes LARA MARLOWEin Port-au-Prince
SIX-YEAR-OLD Faimi Lamy’s screams pierce the morning air as a Cuban nun, a trained nurse, draws needle and thread through the raw meat that is the stub of the little girl’s left arm.
“Aiee, aiee. Give me water so it will stop hurting. Stop, stop,” Faimi cries.
Sr Lazal Guevara cleans and sutures the infected wound without anaesthetic, and the pain is more than the child can bear.
“Give me a knife. Give me a knife so I can kill the devil,” Faimi screams, writhing as her aunt and godmother, Sandra Oscor, holds the child on her lap. The little girl’s hair is plaited, and she is wrapped in a grimy floral sheet. She seems delirious. “Let me go. I want to go to school . . . Marraine, marraine, marraine . . .”
Tears flood down Sandra Oscor’s cheeks.
It was 9am yesterday morning in the small garden in front of what had been the Centre Hospitalier de la Renaissance, across the road from the ruins of Port-au-Prince Cathedral.
“Brigada Medica Cubana”, says the flag hanging from the building. While western aid agencies continue to be stymied by logistics and security hurdles, a handful of Cuban and Mexican nuns and doctors heroically care for victims of the earthquake, working on a folding table in the open air, beneath dusty eucalyptus trees, with little or no equipment.
A few feet from Faimi, a small boy sits on a wooden stool, his arms wrapped tightly around his mother’s waist. A nurse wearing a mask and plastic gloves pours disinfectant on the deep, six-inch gash on the boy’s ankle. “It burns. It hurts. Heal me Jesus,” the boy cries.
His mother pleads: “You have to do it or you’ll lose your foot.”
Another boy with a bandaged head screams at the top of his lungs as a doctor pulls on his twisted legs to straighten them.
While the operation continues, Faimi’s mother, Sajine, and her father, Manuel, explain that their children lived with their aunt and grandmother in the Poste Marchand neighbourhood. (A second child, a boy, survived the earthquake unscathed.)
Faimi formed a special bond with her Aunt Sandra, a childless spinster in her 30s. When Faimi was buried under the rubble, it was Sandra, her godmother, whom she called for. When she was freed, it was Sandra who took the child in her arms.
“It took almost three hours for my brother and father to reach Faimi,” Sandra Oscor recounts.
“Her arm was already cut off, and the bone stuck out. That first night, we could do nothing. The wound bled, but she was calm because she was in shock.”
The following day, Cuban doctors sawed the protruding bone from Faimi’s arm. They still had anaesthetics then. They gave the child ampicillin and amoxycillin, and paracetamol for pain. Sandra and Faimi went “home” to a tent where 20 family members now live in Poste Marchand. But the wound became infected.
Earlier in the morning, at the Catholic Relief Services’ compound in Belair, a German doctor with the Order of Malta told me there would be a “second wave of deaths” from the earthquake. “Thousands more will die because their wounds are infected, and we cannot get to them,” said Dr Georg Nothelle.
“This will be the second wave of deaths, in about a week’s time. These people are living in camps. Some have been running around for days, trying to find treatment. It is horribly frustrating.”
The Cuban open-air clinic is in Belair, one of the worst neighbourhoods of Port-au-Prince, where police have played cat and mouse with looters for the past week. We hear shooting once or twice, and police cars speed by with sirens.
About 300 injured Haitians, most with amputation wounds, are stranded in this small public garden, where a wrought-iron fence provides a faint illusion of shelter. Unspeakable suffering goes side by side with routine domestic chores. A woman washes clothes in a plastic tub. A white-haired granny sorts black beans on a cloth. A man with one leg amputated at the knee, the other splinted with a broken board, lies on the ground.
In every direction, there are only crumbling buildings. Two corpses rot on the street corner, just beyond the enclosure.
Dr Gaston Bob Edem, a Haitian who trained in Cuba, stops to speak for a moment. He has been treating the injured since the night of the earthquake. “I’ve seen such horrific things, I couldn’t begin to list them. Mangled people . . . I never thought I would see such things. We are used to seeing dead animals in the streets, but not people, it is inhuman . . .”
The doctor is glad that the Americans, Europeans and other foreigners are in Haiti, “but they’re taking too long. They should do like us.”
Yet he understands their fears about security. “There are thieves. We can’t even go out to help people. There are wounded people in the neighbourhood outside. Everyone is afraid. All of Port-au-Prince is unsafe.”
Manuel Lamy, little Faimi’s father, interrupts Dr Edem. “The foreigners shouldn’t be afraid,” he says. “They must jump over the barriers. When they come to help, people will make sure they get through.” He believes in honour among Haitian thieves. The looters attack shops destroyed in the earthquake – not aid workers.
As I wander through the garden-turned-clinic, the suffering and injured raise hands towards me, begging for food or money. A woman lies on a metal hospital trolley that has been cranked down to the ground. Her torn gauze bandages are stained yellow and brown, and the wound is black with swarming flies. “I’m in the sun. Get me out of the sun,” the woman pleads, glassy-eyed.
My driver, interpreter and I attempt to move the trolley, but it is too heavy. We call out for help but no one comes.
Emanise Zamy (66) follows me through this raft of misery. She is a skinny woman in a long black T-shirt and flip-flops. Her large plastic carrier bag says Paris, and bears a garish photograph of the Arc de Triomphe.
“The Lord is good to us,” she shouts. No one pays attention. At first I think Zany is being ironic, then I realise she is unhinged with grief. “The Lord does wonders for us,” she continues. “I want to sing his praises. God gave us commandments. We didn’t obey them.”
There were six people in her family, Zamy tells me. She is the only one who survived. She sinks to her knees on the pavement in front of the Cuban clinic, under the blazing sun and raises both hands to the sky.