28 February 2010

Most of our patients are women. I'd say they make up 80% of our most serious fractures. The earthquake struck at 16h50 (4:50 PM) on a Tuesday afternoon  and apparently the most vulnerable were adult women at home, preparing the evening meal.

Among our patients who have been with us the longest are a group of young women in their early twenties. The core group is four: two with femur fractures in traction, one with a tibia fracture just below the knee, and one in an external fixation set for her tibia-fibula fracture. Then there are a few others, of the same age, with similar traction sets or external fixations, who round out the group. But the four are inseparable: when we started moving patients from the orthopedic hospital to the rehab (physiotherapy) service, we had to move them as a unit.

I call them M's girlfriends. Their eyes light up at the attention paid to them by M, the attractive trauma surgeon who was one of the first team members to arrive after the earthquake. He has been involved in their treatment from the start. He teases them about when they will be well enough to dance with him. And when they moved to Rehab and they saw him less often, they insisted to me, tell him to come visit us.

The ringleader is N, who has a tibia fracture just below (but not involving) the joint line, undisplaced. She gets dressing changes under anaesthesia about every 5 days for the wound behind the knee. She is overflowing with life: talkative, mischievous, shining eyes and luminous smile, who wears her emotions like banners. Last week M told me she refused to talk to him on his most recent round: I said, she's playing hard-to-get so next time you come begging, and with flowers.

I think they spend their time chatting and gossiping. A few can get around on crutches (as opposed to those confined to bed because of their traction sets), so they sit under a tree outside and gossip. One has a baby of 6 months, who is passed around the room and fawned over. Last Sunday, a hairdresser stopped by and must have done a booming business, because when I saw M's girlfriends on Monday morning, they all had new matching coiffures.

Last week I asked them if they would consider moving indoors from the tent. The rains are starting. The Haitian doctor said, sure, they won't mind: the roof of our Rehab building is aluminum sheeting, not concrete. No! M's girlfriends cried in a unified, horrified voice: there are still walls. The walls are concrete and they will fall on us.

Well, yesterday M said his goodbyes to the girlfriends. He is exhausted and heading home. I think it was emotional on both sides: from the hospital on the street and operating under a tree to, soon, being able to remove their traction and learn again to walk. But he couldn't play favourites. One burst into tears: why must everyone leave? she asked. Wendy, are you leaving? (Yes, chérie, I'll leave in two weeks, but new people are arriving with new energy to continue with you.) There was an individual photo with each of them; none of the core four were left out. And when he left, he said, Wendy, please look after my girlfriends.