Nepal gripped by fear, says nurse
A Bermudian nurse in Nepal has reported harrowing scenes of devastation, along with daily aftershocks, in the wake of earthquakes that have killed more than 8,000 people in the Kathmandu valley.
“The sense of fear is still quite palpable,” said Emily Sisa, an emergency room nurse from King Edward VII Memorial Hospital, who had been volunteering at a hospital in southern India at the time of the Himalayan earthquake.
“When I arrived, the scene in Kathmandu was as surreal and chaotic as you’d expect.
“There are 24,000 displaced people in Kathmandu alone. People are terrified to re-enter any surviving structures. The villages are worse off, with 90 per cent of homes destroyed.”
A major quake measuring 7.9 on the Richter Scale shook the region on April 25, striking Kathmandu and its environs especially hard.
It was followed a day later by an earthquake of magnitude 6.7.
The Nepalese capital, home to a million people, is crowded with precarious historic buildings and unstable modern structures that fared poorly.
The quakes also brought avalanches sweeping down Mount Everest and rattled the Indian capital of New Delhi.
From India, where she was working with the relief organisation Project Hope, Ms Sisa was able to join the group’s first response team. It was her first experience of a disaster relief operation.
Through Project Hope (Health Opportunities for People Everywhere), she was placed in an Israeli army field hospital where surgeries were conducted in tents. She also volunteered at a local hospital, providing continuing care to amputees.
“I’ve been working alongside a diverse group of international aid workers during the past couple of weeks,” she said. “It’s been an honour to be a part of that first response medical team.”
Care to the villages has been delayed, as accessibility remains problematic. Medical teams have been dropped by helicopter, hiking the rest of the way.
Although Ms Sisa has yet to experience the villages first-hand, the majority of her patients have been brought from the small settlements, with the acute victims airlifted to the Israeli field hospital.
“During the days immediately following the earthquake, helicopters were landing in quick succession, delivering trauma patients from the villages,” she said.
The delivery of supplies from the United States has also been fraught with delay: large cargo planes have proven too big for the runway at Kathmandu’s airport.
Ms Sisa said volunteers were still waiting on crucial shipments.
“The injured are primarily dealing with complete or partial amputations,” she said, describing the medical first response as “incredible”.
However, long term treatment for survivors will remain “a huge need in the coming months and years”.
Impressed by the lighthearted and resilient nature of Nepal’s people, Ms Sisa said she had no doubt in their ability to meet the challenges ahead.
“Even so, they’ll require the continued support and resources of international aid groups in order to rebuild and recover.”
Project HOPE has already established a three-month presence in Nepal, with plans to expand their programme over the next several years.
“As you might expect, emotions have been running high,” Ms Sisa said. “One of my patients is a 16-year-old dancer from the villages, who had travelled to Kathmandu on the day of the earthquake for a performance. He lost an arm and suffered a severe head injury during the earthquake.
“He can no longer walk as a result of his neurological deficits.”
Such stories are far from unique, she added: “Every patient has a similarly heartbreaking story. Even once they are medically stable enough to leave the hospitals, these patients have nowhere to go.
Their homes are destroyed. They leave the hospital to go rebuild their houses, but they don’t have the resources to do so.”
Adding to the urgency is the imminent onset of the monsoon season. Not only was there an aftershock as Ms Sisa responded to The Royal Gazette, but she said rain clouds could be seen coming in to Kathmandu. “As of now, the picture is fairly bleak but the general attitude is hopeful,” she said. “I am humbled to work with the Nepalese and the hardworking aid workers from around the world to rebuild this beautiful country.”
Ms Sisa will return to Bermuda in mid-May but plans to travel back to Nepal in the coming months to help with continued relief efforts.
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