Many temple complexes and historical buildings in the center of Kathmandu have been completely destroyed. Photo: Adam Hulap
A review by humedica doctor Hansi Sobez
As the earthquake in Nepal had caused great distress and destruction, it has been immediately clear to surgeon Hansi Sobez that she wanted to help the people there. Five days later, she took off together with the second humedica help team to start her first emergency operation. Back in Germany, she is looking back for us at her experiences in Nepal:
The decision for the operation
“Meanwhile, the prayer flags are flapping high in the birch trees in my garden and whenever I look up into the sky, they remind me of the people in Nepal, who are still struggling with the consequences of the heavy earthquake. Since they have lost everything, plastic foils in corn fields or at street sides have become the only shelter against the sun, the rain and the wind for many of them. I hope that the great helpfulness worldwide will continue, so that shelters can be provided as fast as possible and that the reconstruction can start.
When the humedica emergency call reached me early in the morning of April 25th, it was immediately clear to me that I would be on board. Two years before, I had been in Nepal with humedica for a commitment in a prison and had come to love the country and the people. However, there were also the patients of my surgery, which I must close in case of such a commitment, as well as all private obligations and also the concern to know, if I would be able to meet the requirements of such an operation.
The support given by my family has finally brought about the decision for this commitment and, thus, I was heading for Kathmandu at the end of April, in a brand new Airbus, together with several tons of aid supplies and the second humedica medical field team. As our flight was a matter of transfer for Nepal Airlines, we were allowed to land immediately and didn’t have to take several attempts for the landing on the completely saturated airport, as so many others had to do.
On our way to our accommodation, Kathmandu seemed to be nearly intact. Only the many tents and plastic foils on all free spaces proved the people’s fear of further quakes. The visit of the historic center, however, revealed the terrible destruction. Especially the important and wonderful temple complexes and historical buildings in Kathmandu and in nearby Bhaktapur seemed to be completely destroyed.
Our accommodation was situated at the humedica partner organization Nazarene Compassionate Ministry in a suburb of Kathmandu. There, the first field team welcomed us and informed us about the previous activities and the situation in the catastrophe region.
An unimaginable degree of destruction
During the first days, Nepal has been nearly overrun by a flow of helpers, help organizations and goods and the organization of the help was difficult. But from the beginning on, our coordinators quickly became involved in the coordination committees of the United Nations and, thus, we were assigned a valley in the region Sindhupalchok, which had been hit very hard. There, the local health care had completely collapsed after the damages to the small hospital in the village Jalbire and they needed our help.
During the first days, we only could reach the clinic by foot, as the street was blocked by landslides and rockfall. The hike of several hours across the unimaginable degree of destruction has touched me deeply. We walked past whole villages which had been literally razed to the ground, past people who still were shocked, mourning and helpless but who, nevertheless, greeted us in a friendly way. Arriving at the hospital, we helped the very competent Dr. Suraya with the treatment of the people who had partly come from far-off mountain villages.
More than one week after the quake, the very seriously injured had already been brought to the next hospitals and health centers on stretchers on their relatives’ backs or by helicopters. So our help concentrated on the treatment of contusions, infected wounds, bruises, sometimes broken bones and injuries caused during the cleanup efforts. As this has been my first catastrophe operation, I was very thankful for the support of my two experienced colleagues, emergency surgeon Christian and general practitioner Michael, who had both already been working after the earthquake in Haiti.
During the following days, a part of our team remained in the hospital in Jalbire, while the others walked on foot to the higher situated villages, to care for the injured there, too. After some days the access road to Jalbire was unblocked and, with an off-road vehicle, we were able to transport further aid supplies, medicine, a big treatment tent, tents for us and later on also a generator to Jalbire. Also food deliveries were transported in small trucks now to the valley several times a day and were distributed there.
Slowly, the medical needs became normal again with the usual number of patients with typical diseases which could be cared for by the local doctor and her staff alone. So we could concentrate on the organization and structuring of the small clinic.
A good and important operation
In the second week of our operation, heavy thunderstorm and monsoon rain for hours became more and more frequent. For this reason we decided to go back to Kathmandu as long as the street was still passable. But instead of the rain, there were two heavy after-quakes, which made things difficult. A quarter of an hour after leaving “our” valley, we were just having a little break when an earthquake force 7.3 shook us, being much stronger than all the other after-quakes we had experienced the previous days and nights.
Crying, the people ran onto the street where stones and rocks from the opposite mountain side were falling down. We saw big landslides coming down from the surrounding hillsides. Fearful people were everywhere. When everything had become quieter again, we would have immediately wanted to go back to Jalbire, as it was clear to us that there would be injured persons or even death casualties. But the way back was not passable and closed by the army.
The next day after a hike of four hours, we also had to give up our attempt to reach the clinic on foot. It simply was too dangerous. The access would only have been possible by helicopter, but those were continuously operation, rescuing injured persons. The feeling of helplessness was extremely frustrating.
Even if, due to external circumstances, we often could provide less medical care than we had wanted to give, this operation has been right, important and successful on the whole. I have been deeply touched meeting a Nepalese woman who started to talk to me and who tearfully thanked me for operating in her country as a voluntary helper. In their distress, the people have noticed that many helpers have made many efforts to ease it.
Perhaps the small hospital in Jalbire can be completely rebuilt thanks to donations, so that a longterm support of the people in “our valley” can be assured. Until this day, I hope that the accommodations of the concerned people can be rebuilt. Because the monsoon rain doesn’t wait. And thus, I only can share the message of compassion on the prayer flags: “Om mani padme hum” – “May all beings be happy.”
Much time will pass and much help must still be given, until the people in Nepal will be able to live a common life again. Our work in the Himalaya region is only just at its start: Please accompany us on this way and support the victims of the earthquake with a precious donation. Thank you very much!