By Elizabeth Cohen
CNN Senior Medical Correspondent
For two days, he walked around with a little piece of paper taped to his shirt that read “Sean,” but his name isn’t really “Sean.” No one’s sure of his name, or how old he is, but Sean appears to be around eight. He’s one of several orphans who somehow ended up at this makeshift hospital near the airport I’ve been reporting from for two days.
The doctors here have really tried to take these orphans under their wings, getting them pain medications and dressing their wounds – Sean has a bandaged wrist and a bandaged head – but it’s impossible to be with them all the time, as they’re tending to more than 200 patients. This means Sean’s left on his own for periods of time, and he has trouble eating by himself. Since he has fractures in both wrists he has trouble holding a bottle of water or opening up a granola bar, one of the few things to eat here.
Sometimes when nobody else is nearby to help, my team and I feed Sean, holding up his water bottle to his mouth, or opening the granola bar wrapper. We’re not aid workers, but we’re here, right next to him. Thursday night Sean planted himself between me and CNN Medical Producer John Bonifield as we wrote our story. I think he liked our computer, or perhaps our company. Now it’s 2:30 Saturday morning, and I’m looking at Sean right now, sleeping on the floor. Wait a minute – now he’s stirring, crying out something in his sleep. Now he’s sitting up, now he’s wandering around crying. A nurse came to talk to him, asking him in Creole if he was in pain, but he didn’t seem to give much of an answer, and she had to go off to another patient. He kept crying and wandering around, and a second nurse is now giving him pain medication. He’s still wandering around crying; it seems there’s not much anybody can do.
Eline, an eight year old girl with fractured legs, was also alone here at this hospital for several days, but unlike Sean she can’t move around, so she was drenched in her own urine for days. The hospital hasn’t had the manpower to do things like clean up orphans, but Friday morning a volunteer from the University of Miami came to change her clothes. The only problem was the volunteer didn’t have any clothes to change her into, so she came over to me and John and asked if there were any extra hospital scrubs. Of course there weren’t – there’s not much extra of anything around here – so I gave her a t-shirt I’d brought with me. Then the volunteer realized she didn’t have anything to clean her with, so John gave her a pack of his baby wipes.
Several hours later, a man came in with a photo of a little girl, asking if anyone had seen her. He’d been to the morgue, he’d been to other hospitals, he’d been everywhere, but he couldn’t find his daughter. Miraculously, he turned out to be Eline’s father. She’s not an orphan after all. Eline’s mom and dad are now with her, by her side as she recovers.
A few hours ago, a new orphan came in to take her place. I’m watching her sleep right now, the thin blue blanket that lays on top of her rises and falls as she breathes.
What will happen to these parentless children after they leave here? I asked Dr. Barth Green, who’s heading up this operation by the University of Miami. “They’ll probably be taken in by another family and made a slave. That’s what happens,” he says. He vows to make sure that won’t happen to the orphans under his care.
By the way, while I was typing away on my laptop a few hours ago, I heard a voice ask me for my used bottle of water today. I looked up – way up – and saw former NBA player Alonzo Mourning looking at me. Mourning is a friend of Green’s, and he flew down here to do what he could to help out. He helped administer IV’s, he’s been playing with Sean, and collected bottles to be cut up to use for splints. I know he’s a basketball player but to me he’s a rock star.
It’s now late morning on Saturday. I found a doctor who could translate what Sean’s been telling us into English. Why is he wandering around? He says he’s been looking for his mother and father.