County struggles to recover
Updated: 2013-04-22 02:39
By Tang Yue in Ya'an, Sichuan and Peng Yining and He Na in Beijing (China Daily)
Although Baoxing was badly hit by Saturday's earthquake, the physical damage in the mountainous county was compounded by a failure of communications, a power outage and roads rendered impassable by fallen rocks. For many hours, Baoxing, just 30 kilometers from the quake's epicenter in Lushan county, was one of the most isolated places in the province.
A lack of medication meant a 40-year-old Baoxing resident underwent surgery on his injured legs without anesthetic. He resorted to biting on a piece of wood to prevent the excruciating pain from causing his facial muscles to go into violent spasm and damage his teeth, according to Chen Yuyong, leader of a 40-member medical team.
"Baoxing was completely cut off from the outside world at the time. There was no medication and no supplies, nothing," said Chen, who spent two hours hiking to the isolated area, arriving 14 hours after the quake. "But we had to perform the operation as quickly as possible. If we had left the dead tissue in place, it would have become infected and we might have been forced to amputate his legs."
Chen described how the surgeon made an incision in the man's lower leg to allow congealing blood to escape, and also picked out debris embedded in the wound. "Thirty minutes . . . in a tent. You can't imagine how painful the operation was. The man's face was as white as a sheet of paper and his face was contorted in pain."
According to Chen, the injured man was evacuated by helicopter on Sunday morning, along with 20 other seriously injured people. However, more survivors kept arriving, sporting a variety of gruesome leg injuries: Fractured bones, shredded tissue and deeply embedded debris.
By noon on Sunday, the local government confirmed that 26 people had died in Baoxing and more than 2,500 were injured, around 86 have life-threatening injuries.
Chen said the first priority was to prevent the severely injured from bleeding to death. Many required immediate surgery to control blood loss and prevent muscles and nerves from dying from lack of blood. "But the place was totally isolated and the situation was too poor for the complicated operations, such as amputations," he said.
The most severely injured were evacuated by helicopter, according to Chen, but medication, including skin creams and cold remedies, is urgently needed for those whose injuries were not as severe and those who remained in the county. Chen said his team's overriding aim in the coming days will be to prevent post-disaster illnesses, including diarrhea and dysentery, which could result from a lack of safe drinking water.