Help also for traumatised victims - "There seems to be no end to people's gratitude and vitality"

by Katrin Hoffmann/SRA, 2011/02/07

Shortly after the first news about the devastating landslides in the region surrounding Nova Friburgo and Teresópolis, the nurse Katrin Hoffmann travelled to Brazil as a member of the second humedica mission team. Together with her colleagues she treated those victims in the disaster region who had sustained injuries and those who had survived, but were traumatised by the terrible experience.

Thanks to the generous support of the German Federal Foreign Office, humedica could send relief teams to the affected region, after continuous torrential rains had set off landslides which have so far caused several thousands to be injured and claimed the lives of more than 700 persons.

On her mission for humedica nurse Katrin Hoffmann took care of the victims of the landslides in Brazil. Photo: humedica

After returning from Brazil, Katrin Hoffmann provided us with an insight into the experiences and impressions she had gained on her relief mission in the disaster region of the South American country:

"One Sunday we drove to a small village called "Gira-Sol", which means "Sunflower". So far, no medical help had reached this village. The entire extent of destruction was still obvious: many houses had been swept away and red mud piled up several metres on the streets.

Uprooted trees, rocks, debris, household objects, even cars. Everything the mudslides had carried along was piled up here. Amidst the mud, children were playing. A little bit of normality in this surreal scenario we encountered after the terrible disaster.

The streets were full of countless diggers and trucks that were removing the red mud to make the streets passable once more. Power poles were set up again, houses were cleaned of mud.

Everywhere, people were working hard under the hot sun of Brazil which slowly dried up the wet mud and earth and turned it into red dust.

Our team was to experience a particularly impressive event on this day in Gira-Sol. A deeply traumatised, about 50 year-old woman called Maria came to our mobile hospital that we had just set up. She seemed to be completely paralysed.

Not only devastation and destruction had been left behind by the landslides. Thousands of people had lost all their belongings. And even worse: many of them had lost family members. Photo: humedica/Katrin Hoffmann

She told us about the landslides. She told us how she had seen the masses of mud rolling towards her and how she relived this scene again and again whenever she closed her eyes. She and her family had lost everything they had owned during the disaster.

Most important for her was that her entire family had survived the disaster and that they were all physically unharmed. Now, the most difficult task Maria was facing was to overcome the terrible experience.

In order to help her doing so, our doctor used the so-called EMDR therapy. At first, an environment is created in which the traumatised person feels emotionally safe. Then, the patient describes the traumatising experience while his eyes follow the moving finger of the therapist.

By means of this treatment, the patient is to turn his look outside, instead of inside. As soon as the patient suffers a strong emotional relapse to the traumatising event, he is led back to the safe place by means of a stimulus anchor.

During the therapy, our patient Maria was able to cry out all her grief and she calmed down more and more. She managed to reprocess what she had lived through for a first time and to find a new way of looking at and dealing with the problem.

After only about half an hour of intensive care, our patient in her floral dress seemed to be another person. When she got up, she was clearly more relaxed and she thanked everyone and left.

This mission does not end with mere medical treatment. Many traumatised persons need help beyond that. They need special care in order to reprocess the terrible experiences. Photo: humedica/Katrin Hoffmann

Two days later we returned to Gira-Sol. Our last patient on this day was Maria. She told us that the event that had weighed down so hard on her now seemed to have happened a long time ago. Her eyes were shining and she seemed to regain her vitality step by step.

It was moments like this one that made our work so wonderful. There seemed to be no end to people's gratitude and vitality. Wherever we went, we were received friendly - even by strangers.

We admired the people's solidarity and their willingness to help each other, as well as their social cohesion that became even stronger after this disaster."

Dear friends and sponsors of humedica: We will continue all our efforts to actively support the victims of the terrible landslides. Please support our efforts to help those affected in Brazil out of their misery.

      humedica e. V.
      Donation reference „Landslide Brazil“
      Account 47 47
      Bank Code 734 500 00
      Sparkasse Kaufbeuren

You can also donate for Brazil using our online form, or by means of a Family Sponsorship or by sending a text message: send the reference DOC to +49 8 11 90 and make a donation of 5 euros, with 4.83 euros being directly channelled into the humedica project work. Thank you very much!

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