' I still get nightmares'

Sundar Thapa, a Senior Executive Officer at the Scheer Memorial Hospital in Banape in Kavre district of Nepal shared with Sagar Kulkarni of  Deccan Herald his experience during the April 25 earthquake. Here is the first person account:

We were in the church and the pastoral prayers had just concluded. As pastor Kumar got up the make some announcements, we felt a big jolt. Suddenly, the lights went off and everything started shaking. I quickly got under the chair with a Bible on my head. I looked for my wife and children and also asked them to take cover. That is what we had learnt as part of our response to an earthquake. After all we live in a seismically active region.

The tremors lasted about a minute. Children and elderly ladies were crying out aloud. We escorted them out on the church lawns. The church is situated on the spur of a hilltop within the Hospital premises. We get a good view of the Banape town. On Saturday, we saw a cloud of dust rising from the ground. Old buildings collapsed before our eyes. Many people were already in the fields. We watched in shock the play of death and destruction.
As the tremors subsided, Pramit Pillai, a Telugu-speaking doctor working at the hospital said: “we should prepare for the casualties”. The hospital building, though an old structure, is quite strong. But we did not want to take any chance. We decided to set up an emergency ward on the hospital lawns.

Fifty to sixty members of the church swung into action. They pulled out old mattresses from the store and started putting them on the lawns. Soon after, patients started arriving. Children and women with head injuries and broken limbs were brought to the hospital. A woman came with her one-year-old daughter in her arms. He was unconscious. She said she had managed to pull her out in the nick of time from the rubble that her mud house was reduced to. We immediately brought out oxygen cylinders and put the child on oxygen.

We looked around for the woman, but she was nowhere to be seen. I called a church member and put him in-charge of the baby. Two to three hours later, the mother of the child re-appeared, this time with her elder daughter. She had suffered some minor injuries and was immediately given first aid.

The woman said she had found her younger daughter in a critical condition and trekked about three km from her village to the hospital. Having rescued her newborn, she trekked back to the village to fetch her elder daughter. As we were talking to the woman, the newborn had regained consciousness. We all were very happy.

Patients kept coming in all through the day. There were these three patients with severe head injuries. Dr Pramit attended on them. He told the police personnel accompanying them that their heads need to be punctured to release the pressure. He assured the security personnel that they would be fine. But they insisted on shifting them to a neuro facility in Kathmandu. We agreed. I don’t know whether they are alive or dead.
‘What about my friends?’ Some young boys who were injured were brought to the hospital. One of them asked me “Uncle, what about my friends?” There were dead bodies kept near by covered with a white bed sheet. I told him Babu, one of your friends has died. He looked at the white cloth and he started crying. He asked me: “Can you call my dad?” I took the number from him and tried calling. The phone was not reachable. The communications channels were not working. I left a text message ‘your son is fine’. A few hours later, I got a message that the text was delivered.

Over the next three days we treated 200 patients. Nine were brought dead and we referred one to the military hospital in Kathmandu. There were a few others also who were moved to Kathmandu, but it was on the insistence of the relatives and not medical reasons.

I still get nightmares of the earthquake. I am still afraid to stay inside my home (Thapa spoke to Deccan Herald on April 29). Till now, I am carrying a bag with me with foodstuff and water. You never know when the quake would strike again and we will have to rush out.

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