Doctors swamped as quake victims throng hospitals

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The Independent Online

It was four days before his wife, Rostati, found him. "I was desperate. I thought he'd died too," she said. "When I got here, I didn't recognise him because he was covered in blood."

Their daughter was one of 6,234 people who perished in the quake last week. More than 30,000 people were seriously hurt. Eight days on, many have yet to be treated. Hundreds have died from their injuries while awaiting medical attention.

Despite an influx of foreign doctors and nurses, local health services have been swamped. In Bantul, 2,000 people have passed through a hospital designed to accommodate fewer than 400. It has been the same story in dozens of field clinics set up around the district.

Sumirah was cooking breakfast when the earth shook violently beneath her. The 60-year-old has a fractured shoulder and is still awaiting treatment. "I've been in this corridor the whole time," she said.

Although hundreds of patients have been discharged, the hospital is a chaotic sight. Its courtyards and passageways are crowded with beds occupied by dazed-looking people in bandages and plaster casts. Most have broken bones. Some have open fractures that have become infected.

More are still arriving from field clinics. The hospital's co-ordinating doctor, Hidayat, who has barely slept in the past week, said many were insisting on being treated in the open because they were scared of another earthquake.

Until a couple of days ago, the white tiled floors were covered with patients stretched out on mats and pieces of cardboard. Haryanto was pleased to have a bed. But the 27-year-old is fed up of being moved around. "I started off over there," he said, pointing to a spot beside a pillar. "Then they shifted me inside. Then I came out here."

Many patients are reluctant to leave. They have no home to go to, and even a bed in a corridor is more attractive than a tarpaulin. The International Organisation for Migration is transporting people back to their villages in vans.

Back there, it is a matter of chance whether they get fed. While aid is flowing, it has yet to reach many outlying villages, which are dependent on dwindling food stocks and the charity of private individuals. More than 650,000 Javans were made homeless.

Medical teams from Singapore, Japan, the US and Malaysia are dealing with a wave of infections among injured people who were treated by overworked doctors in the early days. At a US marine field hospital in Bantul, Tom Davis amputated the big toe of an elderly man whose wounds were ineptly washed and stitched. "That is the nature of this kind of disaster," Dr Davis said. "The doctors were just overwhelmed."