By Emily Scott, BSN, RN
I arrived in Kathmandu, Nepal, four days after an earthquake of the magnitude 7.8, struck on April 25, killing 8,000 people and injuring more than 23,000 others.
Ramesh, the wonderful Nepali paramedic who picked me up at the airport, told me he had been assisting in a surgery when the ground began to shake. A large crack had appeared along the back wall of the hospital, so they had begun treating patients outside. After so many aftershocks, Ramesh said, he had begun to jump even when his cell phone vibrated in his pocket. As we boldly drove over an area of damaged road, I saw that tarps had popped up in open spaces as families took up residence outside for fear that their homes could not sustain another aftershock.
This was not the first time I had been a part of a medical mission trip. I have been a part of Global Outreach Doctors for a number of years. I joined GoDocs’ disaster response team this year and deployed to Nepal with the group immediately after the earthquake. I serve as vice president of One Nurse at a Time, and most recently participated in a medical mission to Belize with the nonprofit to provide mobile clinics in underserved areas. The partnership between One Nurse and GoDocs is what led me to join the disaster response team. Our organizations have been working together to direct nurses to opportunities that fit their skill level.
Dealing with devastation and destruction
As in almost every disaster, less affluent communities bore the brunt of the damage. Though much of Kathmandu appeared intact, areas with closer living quarters and poorly constructed, tall brick buildings had been reduced to mountainous piles of rubble. Villages in remote areas, difficult to reach on treacherous roads even before the quake, had not been contacted by anyone since. Even when our team reached one village three hours (and a heart-stopping drive) from Kathmandu, many patients told us they could not afford the cost of the trip to the capital to be treated in a hospital.
But in every case, I watched Nepali citizens step up gladly to help. When our search and rescue dogs alerted that they sensed human remains under a pile of rubble in Bhaktapur, the neighbors worked tirelessly to dismantle the towering mound by hand. A local surgeon we met who was visiting villages and offering to perform operations for free unloaded his car full of food onto the roofs of our 4x4s, as his own vehicle could not travel any farther on the roads to distribute it. As we wrapped up our clinic in a village one day, I watched several young men prepare food outside in enormous pots so those who had lost their homes would not go hungry. When our group struggled with disorganization at the Ministry of Health as we attempted to be assigned to a remote area to help, we found that Nepali citizens had begun organizing at the grassroots level.
Reaching remote villages
We were grateful to find partnership with a fantastic local organization called Global Karuna that had sprung up in Kathmandu. Global Karuna volunteers were collecting donated food, water, tarps and medical supplies — even sewing their own tarps when there were none left to purchase. With their finger on the pulse of which remote areas still had needs via local contacts and social media, they used any means of transport to get the supplies where they were needed most.
Since medical care in the immediate Kathmandu area was under control, our team knew that we needed to reach those remote villages that were still waiting for aid. We found our niche in providing mobile clinics — driving 4x4s out to a remote area each day and setting up shop in an intact building or under a tarp, providing care to anyone who needed it. Noticing that a foreign medical team had arrived, patients would come in a steady stream throughout the day, some walking or riding motorbikes long distances to see us. Our team treated everything from broken ribs to ringworm and learned quickly that the earthquake had been just as damaging psychologically as it was physically.
My favorite moment was when I cared for a pregnant woman who arrived at our mobile clinic in Bhaktapur Gundu. Since I am a labor and delivery nurse at home, I never travel without my portable Doppler. The young woman’s friends held up a tarp to shield her from the view of her neighbors, and she lifted her shirt to expose her pregnant belly. I found her baby’s healthy heartbeat immediately, and held the Doppler up to her ear so she could hear it. Before I knew it, every pregnant woman within walking distance had arrived under our tarp.
In the midst of so much sadness and destruction, it was such a joy to take a quiet moment with each mother to confirm that many new lives were still on the way. I handed out fistfuls of prenatal vitamins, provided plenty of education — with the help of translators — about when to head to the health center and what complications to watch out for, and sent them smiling on their way.
I arrived in Nepal with a suitcase full of medical supplies and a desire to help. I left a week later with a deep respect for the beauty of this country, and the strength and resilience of its people. Each time I participate in a medical mission, I am reminded of how many similarities we share with people living half the world away from us. Our shared humanity means that their tragedies are ours, and it is our responsibility and our honor to help Nepal heal and rebuild.
Emily Scott, BSN, RN, is a labor and delivery nurse at Family Maternity Center at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, Wash. She also has served as a volunteer in East and West Africa, Central America and Asia. One Nurse At A Time is a nonprofit that helps nurses get involved in humanitarian service at home and abroad. The organization seeks to break down the barriers that prevent nurses from pursuing volunteerism. It offers scholarships to defray the cost of medical missions, organizes mentored trips for first-time volunteers and maintains a searchable directory of organizations seeking volunteer nurses.
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