Guest Post and Pictures by Dr. Angela Basnet
Trip to Sindhupalchowk (01/May/2015)
On 30th April, 2015, a 28 year old female arrived to the emergency department at Scheer Memorial Hospital following a suicidal attempt of ingestion of organophosphorus compound. When we enquired, we were told that about 99% of the houses in that particular village in Sindhupalchowk were destroyed and the villagers had nothing to eat and were surviving on just water and salt for about five days post earthquake. There was an urgent need to reach out to the villagers; therefore, a decision was made with a team from Scheer Memorial hospital, along with Dr Yuri and Gary and Rotaract club of Kavre to visit this part of the country with some food and shelter.
Pipaldanda in Sindhupalchowk, which is one of the most affected regions, is about a two and half hour drive from Scheer Memorial Hospital. The team from the hospital decided to take a bag of food containing 10 kgs of rice, two kgs of flat rice, beans, salt, oil and masala along with two plates each. One bag would be given to each family with an average of four members and the food would last them for one week.
Packing food at the hospital
Ready to be loaded in the truck
A team of 10 members was formed consisting of doctors, paramedics and a local social worker. A truck loaded with food and tents followed our vehicle.
As soon as we entered Sindhupalchowk, the magnitude of the destruction was evident as we entered the area. About 95 to 99% of the houses were affected in each village and most of the people had set up a tent in the fields for shelter.
The houses were no more than rumbles of bricks and mud and people were trying to dig through the rumbles trying to retrieve whatever they could.
Most of the houses were brought down and the ones that were standing had cracks and damage to such an extent that it was not safe for anyone to stay in them.
There were still some family members missing and buried under the houses along with the cattle that were tied in the shed so, as we passed the village, the air was filled with the heavy scent of the decaying carcasses.
On our way to Pipaldanda was another small town called Sangachowk. We had sent out word to the local people there that a team of doctors was going to pass by their village and if there were any victims requiring medical attention, we would attend to them.
At Sangachowk, a temporary clinic was set up by the local health workers where people lined up for medical care.
A six year old boy was waiting for us with his mother. He had multiple stitches on his scalp in several places and had injured his leg.
His mother told us that he was alone in the house when the earthquake occurred. He ran to a small mud hut nearby for protection which collapsed burying him under it. She came running to the house, screaming her son’s name to find her house turned into a pile of bricks and wood.
She saw a hand sticking from the distance underneath the pile. When she approached it, she heard a faint cry and recognized her son’s voice. She called the other villagers and it took them two hours to get him out--alive but drenched in blood. The local health worker later applied stitches to his scalp and cleaned the wound on his foot. The foot was infected and emitting a foul smell.
We cleaned the wound and asked them if they could come to the hospital with us for an X ray of his foot and debridement of the wound. We told them we were going to another village and would pass their village late at night on our way back to the hospital. The mother agreed to wait until we returned in the evening. Due to some problems on the way, our goods were delivered late to our village and the mother and the son waited more than five hours for us to come back the same way to make their way to the hospital. They did not have money to pay the bus fare so could not make it to the hospital earlier. At the hospital, the wound was taken care of and fortunately there was no fracture. The boy stands near the counter in the hospital canteen as his mother hands the coupon for free food supplied by the hospital.
He sat there in the canteen devouring his first meal of daal bhat ( rice and pulses) in 6 days.
Our vehicle came to a halt on way to Pipaldanda, as there were other vehicles waiting in a queue. All the other rescue teams too were waiting for their vehicles to pass by.
There was some commotion about 500 meters ahead and we found out that they would not allow the rescue teams to pass by their village until a certain quantity of rice and tents were given to them first. There was need everywhere and this particular village too looked totally destroyed but we had to reach Pipaldanda because no one had reached them yet and people were now starving. Our vehicle managed to get through after some negotiation with the locals assuring them we were medical teams and we didn’t have any relief materials on our vehicle, but we knew our other truck would be stuck here for a while.
We passed Charikot, another big town on the way to Pipaldanda. The town which perched on the top of the mountain, once soaring with beauty and prosperity, now lay robed in disaster and casualty. While we were passing the town, an old lady ran towards our car panting. We stopped the car and asked her what the problem was. She was heavily sweating and could not speak in complete sentences because she was out of breath. She asked us where we were going and if she could get a ride in our vehicle. We let her in. She threw the stick she was carrying for support and ran towards the vehicle.
She had walked about three hours from her village to collect some food and tents here. Her sons were carrying the goods in a doko ( bamboo basket) and walking along but she could not walk anymore. She was severely out of breath and her lips were blue with cyanosis. Her house had collapsed killing three of her grandchildren, eight years, five years and 11 months. They had lost their cattle and the little food they had stored at home had crumbled under the rumbles of the house. To my surprise, she didn’t shed a single tear while narrating her story, while I had to turn my head and look out of the window hoping no one would see the tears in my eyes. Maybe she was hardened by the earthquake or maybe they had other things to worry about like what to eat tonight and where to sleep without the rain drenching them.
We finally reached Pipaldanda in the late afternoon. The villagers had been waiting for us since the morning and they all clapped and shouted with joy when they saw our vehicle. We told them our other truck was still on the way waiting for the police to come and clear the way for the rescue teams to pass by.
We decided to attend to some medical cases while we waited for the food and the tents to arrive.
We were directed to the area where once the school of the village stood where now only the skeletons of the building remained.
The headmaster was glad that the earthquake occurred on Saturday when no one was at school, otherwise many lives would have been lost he said. He said four of his students had lost their lives in their houses and he also added that he had lost his daughter-in-law.
While waiting for the food to arrive, we attended to some medical cases.
They had received first aid from the local health care worker; we did some dressing and suturing in the benches outside in the school ground.
Everyone we talked to had lost someone or the other in the family. They had not received tents or any other relief material till now. Yet everyone seemed positive. They were determined to rebuild their village, they just needed some urgent attention with a supply of food and shelter, then they would concentrate on rebuilding. The children were cheerful and one boy offered, as is our culture, to invite us to his house, but then he said, "Its no more a house. We can call it an open cottage," and he laughed.
Finally the truck arrived, the whole day long wait was over, and everyone was ready to unload the truck.
The villagers lined up with us and helped us unload the goods into the storehouse that was the only building with intact walls and a door to keep the things locked up.
The whole day wait, all the challenges we faced, all the destruction we witnessed, all the pain and suffering faded when we finally delivered the goods.
The 10 kgs rice, two kgs flat rice and oil with masala seemed a little lighter as we passed it from one person to another and finally into their storeroom. I wished it was a bit heavier, I wished we could offer a little more, I wished it could last a few more days.
The villagers were more than happy for the leader to take charge of the things they received and were confident he would distribute it to them equally.
Dusk turned into night as we finished unloading the truck. The villagers clapped and thanked us for the little we could collect to offer them. It was just a drop in the ocean but nonetheless would support these people for a week with food and tents until they could rebuild their village again.
We had yet one more place to go before we headed back to our hospital. The hospital in Charikot was badly affected and all the patients were out in tents. We visited the tents to see if there were any patients requiring any additional medical care or referral.
The patients were attended by a doctor there and they were provided with primary care in the tents.
We offered them some drugs and medical supplies that were with us.
The doctor showed us around and consulted on few of the cases.
There was a 21 years old lady among them who was 3 months pregnant. She had lost her fetus following a fall injury while running during the earthquake. She looked very pale and sick and the local doctor there asked her if she wanted to join us in a bigger hospital where she would receive better treatment. She instantly agreed.
It must have taken her lots of courage and faith to agree to go with some strangers to a strange place at this hour. We adjusted her in the front sit and drove back arriving late to the hospital.
She had not completely expelled the product of conception and therefore had an infection. She received the appropriate treatment and was sent back home in few days.It was a long day. Everyone in the team was drained and exhausted, but had smiles on their faces. It was an honor to be a part of the team making an effort to reach out to those who desperately needed help to fulfill their basic needs, those who had lost everything and their loved ones, yet were hopeful and positive on rising again.
We all departed to our rooms. Tomorrow would be another long day, reaching out to few more, taking one day at a time.