Monday night, 9 o’clock. My wife and I had just finished a personal conversation with a coworker, and I drove her to her apartment on the outskirts of town. At 9:10, I was back at home. My wife Tina stood in the doorway, waiting impatiently for the car. “I have to get to the hospital immediately. A serious accident has happened!” As I got out of the car, she hopped into the driver’s seat. “But it’s your night off,” I muttered crossly.
What happened? Half an hour before, Alberto Huaman had been riding his motorcycle along the small town highway. A vehicle was parked on the roadside, and its driver suddenly took off without using his blinker or looking in the rearview mirror. Alberto was hit, flew in a great arc through the air, and landed on the hard asphalt. Just then, a passing truck dragged Alberto 50 meters. His right leg was skinned from top to bottom; he suffered various fractures and extensive bleeding, including pelvic. According to eyewitness report, firefighters brought Alberto to the hospital Diospi Suyana a few minutes later.
By 10 o’clock, my wife came home. She reported that a team led by Dr. Haßfeld and anesthesiologist Dr. Susan Dressler had operated on the young man. He would be stabilized and transferred to Cusco the next day, so that a traumatologist could mend the broken bones. We went straight to bed. By 3 o’clock in the morning, my alarm would be ringing, because I had to travel to Lima to complete administrative procedures.
At 10:30, Tina’s cell phone rang. “Come immediately to the operating room,” a nurse said. “The patient is being resuscitated!” My wife and I both jumped out of bed and rushed to the car. Tina usually thinks that I drive too fast, but she was yelling, “Drive faster, pressing on the gas!”
The operating room looked like a battlefield—the table and the floor were smeared with blood. Dr. Ari Cale pressed her fists rhythmically on Alberto’s chest. Dr. Dressler administered the medication, and Dana Henning and surgical nurse Julio pumped blood into the circulation. The heart began to beat again, at 160 beats per minute.
“Quick, we need more blood—otherwise, we cannot save him!” I knew that my wife was right. Dr. Haßfeld described to me in a nutshell the surgical findings and the results of the computed tomography. The pelvis was broken. The right femoral head was violently torn out of its socket. The skin of his leg was peeled down to the muscle. “I’ve rinsed the wound surfaces and tacked again to the leg!” said Baden Württenberger, the assistant. “You did well,” I replied, and glanced at the clock on the wall. In 2 1/2 hours, my alarm would be going off.
In the ICU, the anesthetist Susan is tough; she can handle a lot of stress. Still, it would be a long night for the ICU staff. Nurse Sara Glöckler rotated the bed and began tending to Alberto. A heat lamp was used to keep his body temperature up. I watched them work, realizing that they get paid far less than they deserve for this job. They give everything and cling to these words of Jesus: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
I heard my wife in the laboratory. Then I saw dark a figure in the waiting room—Jens Haßfeld sitting there in a chair, muttering, “I wonder who else could donate blood!”
Shortly before 1:00, we drove from the hospital down to the highway. With our headlights, we could see a lone figure running up the hill. It was computer specialist Dominik Hüttner. He had heard about the emergency, and he said that he would donate blood for the patient.
The stars shone in the sky. Before long, I was sitting up front in the cab on the way to the Cusco airport. As I struggled with sleep, there was a fight going on in the ICU against death. The outcome was completely uncertain, but we did everything we could to sustain Alberto’s life.
In the morning hours, the patient was still alive, but his hemoglobin was hardly measurable in the laboratory test. He needed blood! 11 preserves and 12 blood plasma bags were administered throughout the day. Our doctors had endless telephone conversations with hospitals in Cusco, but no one was willing to accept the patient. And unfortunately, the doctors in Cusco showed no interest in the case. Their first question always was, “Who pays the bill?”
Tuesday night at 8 o’clock, I was working from my hotel room in Lima. My wife had been keeping me updated, and she called with the terrible news. “The man has just died!”
He had lasted 24 hours, and our medical staff had gone back and forth between hope and despair. Now the fight was over and the tears could fall. When a TV star gets an Oscar or a sports team makes an unexpected comeback, the media goes wild, and celebrities are portrayed as heroes. But my heroes are different. No newspaper writes about those who have suffered a dark night of the soul—but it is precisely these kind of people of whom I am infinitely proud. / KDJ
Dr. Susan Dressler, Dana Henning, Dr. Jens Haßfeld, Dr. Ari Cale, Sara Glöckler, Dr. Martina John, MRTA Juvenal, surgical nurse Donna, Julisa in the laboratory, her husband Edgar, Dominik Hüttner, intensive care nurse Sara Nafziger, nurses Maribel and Alida, Andre Bacher and Micaias with blood donations, student Matthias Kaestner, ultrasound specialist Dan from England, surgical nurse Julio, and so many others…