The 79 member Bhutanese Earthquake Relief Medical Unit, consisting of 37 medical personnel is camped on a ground near the Jilla Hospital in Trishuli. The unit is roused every morning before daybreak by a cacophony of crows.
The National Flag is raised at 5 am every morning, by which time the camp is already abuzz with activity, as the various groups get dressed in the bright orange uniforms, already familiar to the locals.
The kitchen team is busy with breakfast preparations in one corner of the ground, on the end where tents are pitched for sleeping and storage of medical supplies.
The other end of the ground has a long row of tents which function as the ward for recovering patients, victims of the earthquake that hit Nepal on 25 April. The wards are manned 24 hours by a medical unit, who spend long, sleepless nights soothing patients in pain.
After breakfast, various groups take up their duties for the day. The medical team in charge of the wards exchange duties, and doctors begin their rounds of the wards, checking up on their patients.
Surgeries scheduled for the day begin at the operation theater, set up in the only structure of the hospital undamaged by the earthquake. DeSuups are placed outside the operation theatre and x-ray room. As the patients stream in, they help send in patients for surgery and X ray.
The line grows longer during the course of the day. Our specialist set up a temporary outpatient under a gazebo, and begins seeing to them. The patients wait under the gazebo, which offers some respite from the sweltering heat.
Local doctors from the hospital also run an outpatient and pharmacy, with the help of our doctors, and medicines brought from Bhutan. A Singapore Red Cross and Qatar Red Crescent camp nearby runs an outpatient service as well.
This means there are constant referrals and requests for x-ray, blood reports and ultrasound reports to the Bhutanese team.
The patients and those accompanying them are curious about our team, and have as many questions as we have for them. They ask us about Bhutan, about Their Majesties, the people of Bhutan, and how life is like, exactly, in their neighboring country. They are especially delighted to find that everyone in the team from Bhutan speaks excellent Nepali.
Even though we are here because of a terrible disaster, the atmosphere is often cheerful.
The people share their stories freely- what they were doing at the moment when the earthquake struck, what they lost, what their friends and neighbors lost.
Despite their tremendous suffering- most people have had their homes crumble to dust- the people find it in their hearts to share jokes and stories, and empathize with those who have lost more.
Tej Bahadur Lama, 70 a Nepali citizen in his youth ran away from home to work as a BGTS driver in Bhutan in the 1960’s for eight years before returning home. He still speaks excellent Tshangla. His sister’s leg was injured during the earthquake, and treated by our orthopedic surgeon. She is recovering in our wards.
He said, ““After the quake, I was advised to go to Trishuli to treat my sister, they told me a team of doctors from Bhutan are treating patients, and that they are very good. I brought her here, and found out that not only are the doctors good, but they are also very kind. I have seen how many people have benefitted from their services, and I want to thank the King of Bhutan for sending us this aid- it has been god sent.”
By midday, the heat is overpowering. The only fans at the camp are whirring busily at the wards. The sleeping tents are so hot that those who stayed up all night, and are trying to get some sleep, are forced to get up.
The message is relayed to all groups when lunch is ready, and the members take it in turns to visit the kitchen for a quick bite.
By evening, the crowd begins to trickle in more slowly, making it possible for the doctors to get some much needed rest by retiring earlier than they could just a few days ago, when the sheer number of injured compelled them to miss meals and work round the clock.
Back at the camp, the team may have completed medical work for the day, but there is always something to do. Latrine pits are being dug, more tents are being pitched, water is sprinkled on the ground to make it less dusty, and the campsite is being cleaned.
Twice a day, tea and snacks are served to the patients and their caregivers at the war, and drinking water is distributed intermittently. When a new patient is admitted, the team gives them t-shirts, blankets, and other basic things they would need- soelras from His Majesty The King.
Before nightfall, the entire team, except for those still on duty at various places, gathers for a fall-in before the national flag.
Here, all team members are accounted for, and reports are shared on the day’s work.
When part of the team is working in a different location, updates from them, which has been communicated to the team leader, is shared, and then the next day’s assignments are delegated.
Dinner is less hurried- various groups sit together and exchange notes from the day’s work before retiring to bed, tired, but ready for the next day.
Contributed by DeSuup Dipika,
Member of Earthquake Medical Relief Unit, Trishuli, Nepal