DFN trustee Nat’s thoughts from Nepal
I asked a final year medical student about the earthquake, specifically where he was during the earthquake. I asked him as he was showing me around Patan hospital on a sweaty afternoon as the storm awaited. We were walking languidly between familiar hospital entities… ‘this is the paediatric ward’… ‘this is the OT’. He paused a moment and then started. He told me he was at the hospital gate when it happened. A doctor colleague shouted at him ‘get the other students’, it was a Saturday and most of them were in the student accommodation 2 minutes away. I initially thought he meant ‘get the other students’ to take them to a place of safety, but the medical student quickly corrected me. He meant bring them to the hospital to help. With the student hostel almost on site, the medical students were quickly there, more quickly than most of the doctors who were at home on the day of the earthquake. As final year medical students they were immediately on the frontline of managing a disaster.
Patan’s fragile disaster plan, meant for a bus crash or a minor earthquake, crumpled immediately as 3000 patients descended on the hospital which itself was badly damaged by the earthquake. As we walked through this place and he told me his story we reached the former ‘black zone’, a temporary morgue space arranged on the ground floor of the hospital during the earthquake response. He showed me where he had laid a dead mother after carrying her from the hospital entrance, and next to it where he had laid her 10 yr old child. He told me he worked for days without sleep. He told me about the nightmares he suffered for months afterwards, about how frightened he had been by every aftershock. I asked him if he had been offered any counselling. He said no. We walked in silence for a time. After a while he started pointing things out again…. ‘this is the psychiatric ward’…. ‘this orthopaedics’. I asked him if he had ever thought about quitting, he said no, because while initially he had thought that things would never get back to normal after a few weeks they did start to, and so he just carried on. I told him he was a hero. He smiled and looked away.