Ashok Shah is a CBM staff member who lives and works in Kathmandu. Since the Nepal earthquake struck just over one week ago, Ashok has been working tirelessly to contact our partner projects and keep our offices around the world updated on what is happening on the ground. Here is his personal account of working in a relief camp:
It’s 7. 30am, and I’m outside CBM partner Hospital and Rehabilitation Centre for Disabled Children (HRDC) in Banepa, 22 kilometres east of capital Kathmandu. Around me is a stream of vehicles waiting to depart for the second day of the ‘Disability Relief Camp’ scheduled at a remote village called in Sindhupalchowk – the district which has one of the highest number of casualties – after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal on April 25, 2015. The death toll in this district alone has crossed 1300, while that of the country slowly inches toward 7000, with more than 14,000 injured.
As I board the bus, I can see boxes of plaster supplies, stacks of orthopaedic appliances, drinking water, medical equipment, relief supplies and so much more. There are about 20 members in the bus, including two orthopaedic surgeons, two physiotherapists and three nurses among other paramedical and support staff, ready of the mission. As we set off, I’m reminded of the ordeal we had to go through last Saturday when the massive earthquake hit, followed by strong aftershocks lasting for several days. I’m also reminded of how my entire family slept in a hall on the ground floor, waking up several times at night to run out to the street. Then I was at my hometown Rajbiraj, about 450 kilometres from Kathmandu. Although there was no major damage to lives and property, I’ve never experienced anything so horrifying in my life. Nevertheless, I’m glad that a week later, I’m part of an emergency relief camp that aims to provide much-needed medical care and attention to the people in the remote hilly villages of Sindhupalchowk district.
Two hours later, we are at Sipaghat, a village of about 1000-odd population, situated on the bank of Indravati river. All along, I can see mud houses reduced to rubble, with pieces of broken windows and doors strewn around. Sometimes, the areas smelled of decayed flesh. The devastation caused by the quake is much more than I could imagine. People here are in dire need of relief services.
The earthquake reduced many buildings in the district to rubble.
Soon after, as we park the bus in the village and begin to take the tarps out, a huge crowd gathers to know if we have brought relief supplies for distribution. However, they are equally relieved to know we have come to provide free medical care for those who suffered injuries during the earthquake. While we are just setting up the venue and opening the supply boxes, three severely injured victims have already been brought to the camp.
The first client is Deepa, a young woman with a spinal injury and an arm fracture. She has been carried from a village across the river on a makeshift stretcher, waiting for medical attention since last Saturday.
“I thought I had managed to leave the house when the roof came crushing down on me. I fell on the ground, unconscious… Later, my mother came to pull me out of the debris…” recounts Deepa with a heavy voice. “I have been waiting for medical care since then….” she adds as tears run down her face.
Her house has collapsed completely and she had to stay in a tent with all her injuries for the last six days. The earthquake triggered landslides which cut off the only way to her village. It was only on Thursday, April 30th, a rescue team managed to land a helicopter in the village and provided her a spinal belt to hold the backbone in position. At the camp, the doctors decide to transfer Deepa in an ambulance to a private hospital in Kathmandu, where she will be given free treatment.
As the medical team continues to attend to clients at the venue, the HRDC bus is sent out to bring more patients from the nearby villages. There isn’t a moment the medical and support staff can have rest as more and more clients keep coming in. There are patients of all age groups, with broken arms and ribs, severe head and spinal injuries, and many with deep cuts to their heads and other body parts. With minimum surgical equipment, the doctors are also able to suture cuts and wounds – relieving the victims of the burden of travelling to the nearest hospital. There are also people suffering from diarrhea, fever, cold and other communicable diseases. All of these clients are given free medicines – and a relief pack comprising of biscuits and energy drinks, which the support staff have tirelessly packed the previous night.
Support staff worked to treat over 130 patients in one day.
By the end of the day, a total of 133 clients from 10 neighbouring villages have been treated at the relief camp, including 13 severe cases who are transported to Kathmandu in an HRDC ambulance. Also, five children with broken limbs, who were provided plaster casts, have been asked to come to HRDC for a follow-up after a week. And just like the camp, they would be treated there free of charge.
“I’m so happy that we could serve as many as 133 cases today, who would otherwise have been left in the lurch. I’m very thankful to all the support staff and volunteers who went out to bring patients from the nearby villages…” says Dr Bibek Banskota, medical director at HRDC. “I believe there are more people injured by the earthquake and are waiting for medical services… I think we need to plan more relief camps in this district.”
It’s 6 pm, and the sun is coming down slowly on the hills of Sindhupalchowk. A district that is barely 100 kilometres from Kathmandu had to bear the brunt of the violent earthquake. Nonetheless, with a caring organization like HRDC in the neighbourhood, there is definitely some hope for the affected communities. All in all, it was an immensely fulfilling day… although I’m exhausted and ready to drop, I’m happy that I could do my bit to support fellow humans in need.