Our latest Notable Narrative concerns the recent earthquake in Haiti but takes place in a public hospital in the Dominican Republic. St. Petersburg Times reporter Meg Laughlin finds one doctor who has done 22 amputations in two days, and another who says he has done 32 in just one day.

Melissa Lyttle / Tamba Bay Times

Melissa Lyttle / Tamba Bay Times

Many reporters in the region noticed the massive numbers of limbs lost as a result of delays in treating the injured, but Laughlin zeroed in on her subject, did all her reporting and filed her piece in less than one day—and she told it as a story. In just 700 words, she lays out the setting and introduces characters like nursing student Joaz Nancie, who says that cripples are not accepted in Haiti, and that she will not be able to attend school any longer.

We even get a little context, learning about the 19th-century operating conditions and how the medical staff tries to comfort the patients by engaging in wishful thinking about how everyone will eventually get prosthetics. Meanwhile, the noncritical “victims line the entrance on the floor for days.”

Laughlin delivers a true narrative arc, building tension across amputation after amputation, until a 5-year-old girl cries out in an adjacent room. But the resolution Laughlin offers (we won’t spoil it) isn’t a Pollyanna take on the situation as much as it is a hint suggesting just how much suffering Haiti still has ahead of it.

[You can also read our interview with Laughlin, in which she talks about finding and reporting stories in the wake of a natural disaster.]

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