As a powerful earthquake hit southwestern Haiti, Félix Pierre Genel’s house collapsed. He was rescued from the rubble the same day and was treated at a local hospital. He was still unable to escape the common calamity of amputation.
Doctors first told the 36-year-old that they would save his right arm. To stabilize the fractured bone, he had to undergo surgery. An infection followed by a second surgery.
Genel said, “Instead of dying,” from his bed at Les Cayes general hospital, where Genel had his right arm bandaged and could see that doctors had amputated his arm above the elbow. “Where I’m from, in death’s mouth you better have your arm cut off.”
In the aftermath of devastating earthquakes such as the one that hit the Caribbean country on August 14, broken bones can cause open wounds. This combination increases the risk of infection.
Dr Christopher Colwell, chief of emergency medicine at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, said the risk of infection increases the longer you wait to receive care.
He said fractures and fractures associated with open wounds can lead to serious infections. These can cause amputation or even death.
At least 2,207 people were killed and 12,268 others were injured in the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that struck beneath the country’s southwestern peninsula. About 130,000 houses were destroyed or damaged. Hospitals, schools, offices, churches and other public buildings were also affected.
The pandemic had already put pressure on health establishments. Many injured people had to wait in the heat for treatment, even on airport tarmacs. A hospital had to place patients in hallways, verandas, patios and hallways because it was overwhelmed.
A tropical storm also made it difficult to access medical care. She followed the earthquake and closed a large hospital in Port-au-Prince for two days to protest the kidnappings of two doctors, including an orthopedic surgeon.
Colwell, who was not present in Haiti, said natural remedies can be effective to varying degrees. However, some are not helpful and can even cause infection.
Hospitals admitted only the most seriously ill patients in the first few weeks after Haiti’s 2010 earthquake. Many patients with simple fractures that did not expose bone through their skin were released without seeing a doctor. However, many of these patients later returned with serious infections and complications.
Humanity and Inclusion, a non-governmental organization, concluded that amputations represented an extraordinary proportion of surgeries. They also added that “some amputations performed under extremely difficult conditions required corrective surgery.”
According to the organization, there have been between 2,000 and 4,000 amputations with at least 1,000 people needing lower limb prostheses.
This time, far fewer people were injured than in 2010, where at most 300,000 people. Haitians have been injured. The government also claimed the death toll was similar.
From now on, the group has a Haitian team which assists the nursing staff and assesses the needs of the patients. They are able to examine and treat scars and stumps, exercise patients, and help stiffen joints. They can also provide psychological support.
Virginie Duclos, a rehabilitation specialist, said traumatized people can feel sad and depressed. However, some are also in denial and think their life will be the same.
Other governments have also sent aid to southwestern Haiti. This included the US Army USS Arlington, which arrived with a medical team.
A week after the earthquake, Samaritan’s Purse, a non-governmental organization, also opened an emergency field hospital in Les Cayes.
Melanie Wubs was the medical director of the field hospital. She said that “when we opened a lot of people were first seeking care – and it was already a week after the earthquake – with broken bones, injuries.”
She said others were “hastily repaired right after the earthquake, but now required more care, whether it was surgery or debridement.”
Wubs said his team have performed only one amputation to date.
Robenson Perjuste, a pair of beds from Genel, was lying on Wednesday with his eyes closed, his left leg bandaged, where doctors had to amputate him just above his knee. Ricardo Lavaud was his older brother and fanned Robenson Perjuste with a small piece of cardboard.
Lavaud, an agronomy student, was not in his apartment in Les Cayes when the earthquake struck. Perjuste, an agronomy student, was on vacation and had stayed with Lavaud. Lavaud ran home to find his 15-year-old brother buried under the rubble. A heavy concrete beam had broken his leg.
Passers-by helped Lavaud lift the beam high enough to free Robenson. Doctors told Lavaud his leg could not be saved. His brother believes he was the first earthquake victim to be operated on at the general hospital.
Robenson has nurses who change his leg bandages every other day. However, no one ever told the Robenson brothers about the need for physical therapy or whether Robenson could be fitted with a prosthesis.
Lavaud, 22, said his brother believes in spirits. “No matter what happened, he believed in the will of God and that this was the way God intended for him.”