Haitians fill triage center, but little treatment

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Across much of Port-au-Prince, if you have a broken bone or a gash in your head, you’ll get the same advice: Make your way however you can to the Hotel Villa Creole. They have a triage center in the parking lot where you can get top-notch medical care.

Except you can’t. There are no X-ray machines or MRIs. No surgeons and scalpels. There’s one doctor, and no nurses.

“We don’t have anything. We have a little bit of Betadine, but we’re running out,” said Melissa Padberg, one of the owners of the quake-damaged hotel in the hills above the city. “And we have a little bit of gauze.”

On the patch of asphalt stained with streams of blood, volunteers separate critical cases from those with lesser injuries, but there isn’t much more they can do. No matter how serious the injury, there’s no way to get patients to a hospital.

And so the grievously injured huddle under tents crafted from bloody sheets — moaning, bleeding and, too often, dying. Since the quake, at least seven bodies have been spotted in the lot.

Padberg said 90 percent of the people at the hotel need serious care.

“We can treat cuts, for now, but people are coming in here with much more than scrapes. They’re coming in with compound fractures,” Padberg said. “What we need is to evacuate the injured. We need to send them someplace, and we need transportation.”

Such desperation is repeated throughout Port-au-Prince, where even in the best of times infant and maternal mortality rates are astonishing and public hospitals make patients pay for latex gloves and syringes.

The Pan American Health Organization said at least eight hospitals and health centers have collapsed or are otherwise unable to provide care and other health facilities are “overwhelmed, forcing people to be treated in makeshift areas.”

Inside the Villa Creole complex, aid workers, journalists and stranded foreigners are sleeping on the ground next to a swimming pool and sharing the meager food left in the hotel’s kitchen. That’s paradise compared with the lot of the hungry patients outside, whose supplications to God occasionally pierce the cracked walls.

Margaret Germaine-Doillard, a French teacher in her 40s, lay on the ground amid the suffering people drifting in and out of consciousness.

She was on a second-floor balcony of her school when Tuesday’s earthquake struck, celebrating a belated Christmas party with more than 300 students and teachers.

The building collapsed, and Germaine-Doillard was buried under concrete. Her brother ran to the school and pulled her from the rubble. But her legs were crushed, and she had significant abdominal injuries.

The brother, Frank Alexson Germaine, wandered the parking lot, asking anyone who looked like they might be an aid worker for medicine.

“There are so many people here with broken parts,” he said. “But there isn’t enough medicine to do anything.”

There is no way to know how many died at St-Louis de Gonzague, a prestigious Roman Catholic school where some of Haiti’s leaders have studied, including former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier. Germaine-Doillard said she knew of only about 10 students, several teachers and the school’s principal who survived.

As she lay in the 80-degree heat, her thoughts remained with her pupils.

“We couldn’t save the students,” she murmured. “We couldn’t save the students.”