January 19th, 2010
04:26 PM ET

The strength of the littlest victims

By Elizabeth Cohen
CNN Senior Medical Correspondent

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/01/19/fabienne.02.cnn.jpg caption="Nurse Fabienne Goutier, right, tends to Jean Wesley Marc, 4, and his father, Manes Marc, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti."]
The wounds of the earthquake victims here at this makeshift hospital are so deep you can see the muscle and fat in the gaping holes. I watch doctors and nurses clean these wounds aggressively, because if they don’t get out all the dead tissue, infection will set in and quickly kill the patient.

As you might imagine, cleaning these wounds hurts like the devil, even with pain medication.

“I was cleaning a 3-inch deep wound in the calf on this 3-year-old boy. We gave him two shots of morphine first, and I told him I’d give him some candy when we were done,” says Fabienne Goutier, the charge nurse at the makeshift hospital where I’ve spent the past five days. “But he still screamed and screamed because I was really digging, digging, digging, getting out all that necrotic tissue.”

As promised, when she was done, Goutier, who’s working with Project Medishare in Haiti, gave the little boy candy.

She walked by the boy’s cot a short time later, and he looked up at her and smiled.

“Candy?” he said, offering her the sweets she’d just given him. “Candy?”

“I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’” says Goutier, who in her regular job works as a nurse at Homestead Hospital in Florida. ”After what I just did to you, you’re sharing your candy with me?”

The resilience of the 32 children here at this Port au Prince hospital continues to amaze me. Pretty much the only time I hear them cry is when they’re having their dressings changed when by all rights they should be wailing 24-7. I’m sure all of them have lost people they loved in the earthquake. They’re severely wounded, some with broken bones that are too complicated to set here. Food and water arrive sporadically. Many of them have had an arm or a leg amputated. They’re filthy and in a strange place, surrounded by grotesquely wounded people
Oh, and they also just experienced a terrifying, traumatizing earthquake.

Five of the kids have a special reason to cry: The hospital staff believe they’re orphans, alone in this hospital of 135 patients. There are more doctors and nurses around to attend to them now, but when I first arrived Thursday night the staff was sparse and running from emergency to emergency, and so for days the orphans were left on their own most of the time. When they had to urinate they had no choice but to do so in their clothes.

Despite all this, these kids are really quite calm. The ones I’ve seen aren’t fussing and aren’t panicked. They have nothing to do but look around hour after hour, day after day.

“I have yet to hear anyone complain,” says Tony Menendez, a trauma nurse at the Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, who’s volunteering at the hospital. “They just lost their family, some of them just lost their limbs, and they’ve just come to accept it.”

I asked Goutier, who grew up in Haiti to explain to me how these children could be so calm and mature under such desperate circumstances.

“Haitians are very resilient,” she says. “Even little children are expected to be grown up and do things like carry water. When you’re 5, you’re 25.”

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soundoff (25 Responses)
  1. Yanick

    Keep the good work Dr. Gupta....you are doing an amazing job in Haiti.... I'm a medical student and you inspire me so much. thank you for the extraordinary work you do.

    January 19, 2010 at 17:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Jim Booth

    I have to say that Dr. Gupta, Anderson Cooper and CNN have taken the news media to an entirely new level of relevance in our world.

    Cudos to your entire CNN team on the ground in Haiti for bringing urgency to a horrendous humanitarian crisis and making such a difference – personally helping, facilitiating communication and connecting loved ones, and urging public support and donations.

    THIS is what makes CNN the best...bar none.

    Alberta, Canada

    January 19, 2010 at 19:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Tom from Vermillion, Ohio

    Sanjay, I keep hearing about Israely portable med units. Supposedly well equiped and effective. Go see if you can learn something about their setup. Maybe the setup can help the frustrated Docs.

    January 19, 2010 at 19:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Audrey

    I have not slept for days because of utter frustration listening to all the excuses for not being able to render aid to these poor victims in Haiti.
    If Dr. Gupta, security and the entire media with all their equipment can be there and be able to broadcast minute by minute and even show details of rescues, then for the love of God, why can't a few trucks get their to at least assist those who are exposing the horrors to the world of what is going on?

    January 19, 2010 at 20:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Marie from Canada

    Elizabeth I had the same experience as Ms. Goutier this past spring when I was in Rwanda! I was visiting a friend's small school in Ruhengeri and the children (all under 12 years old) had just received their report cards. As a treat each child was given one piece of wrapped candy for their good grades. I was emotionally overwhelmed by how many of those precious little ones offered me their piece of candy! And trust me candy is a precious treat in the hills of Rwanda! And like the poor little children of Haiti the children of Rwanda are also 25 long before they reach that age. They too carry water, gather firewood, look after their littler brothers and sisters, and care for livestock. I think the lesson to be learned from the children is that even if you don't have very much it makes you feel happy to share what you have!

    January 19, 2010 at 21:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Carol Cook

    I have watched the coverage of events in Hati and am frustrated by reports that anesthesia providers and supplies and medications are badly needed, I would give my time and skill as an anesthetist if there was a way to find transportation and if there was a way to take with me the medication necessary to provide anesthesia. I have worked in central America and would be pleased to work in Hati.

    January 20, 2010 at 04:36 | Report abuse | Reply

    Hi, i really do not have any comment than just sharing my token of empathy with the Haitian by letting them know that my prayers are with them always

    January 20, 2010 at 08:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Kraig Rasool

    I think that children are so resilient because of the fact that society
    has yet to grab hold of them....You notice little children of all races
    playing together on a playground or even in a grcoery store little kids
    seek out each other and stare and smile.....Once the ills of the world
    and society get them in its grasps everything starts to change...Although many still as you have said stay innocent and sweet and take things as they come...As adults we should take notice
    of small children and their actions in times of tradegy and strife maybe
    we too can be like them...strong in times of utter devastating tradegy.
    I for one see the soul of children in their eyes and this is where the
    sun shines brightest.

    January 20, 2010 at 11:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. inde

    Doc G and Elizabeth-

    Could you report how much donation big pharma and healthcare execs have given to the relief effort? When tragedy strikes the everyday American gives gratefully yet those two industries do nothing but reap profit– How bout big pharma sending pain meds and antibiotics in this crucial hour? Sadly, I'm sure they would do so; with a big bill attatched.

    January 20, 2010 at 18:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Marti Graham

    This is totally and completely mind boggling. God bless these children – these – all these people of Haiti!

    January 21, 2010 at 00:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Astrid

    To Anderson Cooper & Dr.Gupta, I just want to thank you both for being so caring & involved in the lives of these unfortunate people, my people, you report the news but we see how your heart is breaking,we see how much you both care ,the love you feel for our people.,Thank you for caring & bringing honest awareness to this horror.

    January 21, 2010 at 01:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Chris Hassler

    All the shortness of medical supplies, but where are the big US pharmacutical companies in this? I've heard nothing about their contributions or cooperation. They charge even us struggling Social Security recipients through our noses, so they certainly can kick needed medical supplies in an amount equal to their liberal contributions in Washington to sway votes on the Health Bill. Bless you for keeping us informed but more importantly, helping the people of Haiti.

    January 21, 2010 at 01:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Nancy Holohan

    Dr. Gupta and Anderson Cooper,

    I have been moved to tears by your reports of the Haitian tragedy. When Anderson said that so many "stupid" deaths had and would continue to happen, it left me feeling so incredibly hopeless and sad.

    You're both making such a difference and I hope that the right people are listening to get some of these poor people water, food, medical supplies, doctors and some kind of housing soon. It was just brutal to see the poorest of the poor elderly patients lying outside with no assistance since the quake.

    As painful as it is to watch, it's vital for the world to see what's happening and to remember these people... not just today, but in the months and years to come. Thank you so much for doing all you can to help these people and to educate the world about their plight.

    January 21, 2010 at 03:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Linda from Canada

    The CNN team is wonderful......they get the job done.

    It's been so frustrating watching what's going on there. such a shame people have given so much money and still the supplies are not where they are needed. How can that be? How is it possible the supplies made it to the airport and there they sit while people die. The methods being used are NOT working and yet it goes on and on.
    I feel your frustration.

    January 21, 2010 at 03:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. jerry

    Dr Gupta please go to a spot name " solino ,silvia ' HAITI peopole in this town need help .please do it

    January 21, 2010 at 08:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Liliana

    The suffering of the people of Haiti is beyond measure but it is the faces of the children that make me cry the most. How does a child try to comprehend this kind of horror? The story about little children sleeping next to their parent’s dead bodies is an image I will never forget.


    January 21, 2010 at 10:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Amy

    Adventist Hospital of Haiti?? Is this destroyed?/ Is this operational??
    How are they doing?

    January 21, 2010 at 12:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Ross Patterson

    FROM; Mike Sosna: A friend who is a volunteer has an empty hospital 75 miles from Port-Au-Prince – Media or people in need, please contact Tim Traynor 413-241-6526, ttraynor1948@gmail.com. They have food, SURGEONS, housing, full staffed trauma unit, and so far, only 4 patients! Patients are treated with dignity and it's... all FREE. Please spread the word- Hospital Sacre Coeur in Milot, Haiti

    January 21, 2010 at 15:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Audrey

    I would love to see stuffed animals dropped to the children. Any amount of comfort would be welcomed by those little angels. There is not enough love to go around and the teddy bears would give them something to hug and hold on to.

    January 21, 2010 at 15:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. A. Smith, Oregon

    Dr. Gupta, why are micron sized blood filters NOT being used to treat Haitian patients with crushing injurys? I have used these in various forms of Plasma treatments for many years. The American Medical profession has routinely used blood filters to include or exclude various proteins and molecules and compounds in the blood stream.

    I look forward to your reply on this question which appears to definately have the potential to save a great many lives.

    January 21, 2010 at 18:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. inde

    Anderson said something totally wrong the other night– that he didn't have any skills- Anderson and Doc G have something so needed in this disaster–the gift of compassion. I rather have that than the brain of Einstein. I hope that not only the orphans are allowed in the US but the elderly in that nursing home. These most frail people are sleeping outside without supplies and what if it rains? Tents, medical supplies, food, water, and compassionate individuals for them to talk to are needed there. Those elderly who want to come to the US/Florida and can travel, should also be given, that right– They are orphans as well. What if it was your grandparent?

    January 21, 2010 at 21:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Tracy

    Myself, along with hundreds if not thousands, of nurses have volunteered to go to Haiti through a nursing association. I recently received an update from the association that we will not be deployed to Haiti at this time. How can this be? Thousands of nurses are willing to offer their expertise and critical care skills. Knowing I can help and not be able to makes it nearly impossible to watch the footage coming in.

    January 22, 2010 at 01:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Dr. Ken Sproul

    I am so very frustrated. I am family med/emergency med physician with over 5 years experience working overseas...including over 6 months in Haiti. I am also a retired U.S. Air Force flight surgeon. Despite all this experience, I cannot find anyone who can help me get to Haiti to help.

    Thank you, Elizabeth

    January 22, 2010 at 14:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Max Soni

    The biggest issue in medicine and really, facilitating the diffusion of medicine is internal, middle-level bureaucratic resistance. On the outside, everyone's happy and what not, but when you really dig deep into the situation, you realize people really think. It's a shame that even such devastating and deep situation don't convince people – let's forget about things like money, and just save lives.

    January 24, 2010 at 04:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Gloria Samuelson

    Hi, I just want to help with the orphans, I understand policy but what good is that in such a time as this in their lives. I hold a minister's license and am an adoptive mother as well and yet..to me we are not allowed to come there and help? I'd bring a few home with me to care for if allowed. I'd take them to get further medical attention if allowed. I'd feed them, care for them, love them and still know if need be they would be returned back to Hait at some point if allowed. How can we not be allowed to proove our homes and help? Are we truly a free country? I feel my hands are being tied all due to "red tape" this is not even human to keep us from helping the helpless and needy of this world. God forgive us all.

    January 24, 2010 at 18:53 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.