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An AmeriCares team arrived in Kathmandu, Nepal, just 48 hours after the April 25 earthquake. AmeriCares teams have been holding mobile health clinics for survivors and traveling to rural areas bringing stocks of medicine and supplies to treat survivors and assess needs at hospitals and clinics.
To reach the village of Arughat, which straddles the border between Gorkha and Dahding, we had to travel for a full day over awful roads. The main highway was destroyed in the quake so we needed to take a longer, much less direct route. It had rained the night before, and the narrow dirt road through the mountains had turned to soupy mud. We had to stop frequently for stranded vehicles and got stuck two or three times ourselves.
We were travelling with Dr. Mohammed Ainnul Haque, a medical officer at Patan Hospital in Kathmandu. Arughat is his hometown, where he grew up and where his family still lives. He wanted to join our medical camp and treat survivors, his neighbors – but he was also eager to check on his family. He heard from his parents that they and his home village were ok, but he suspected they weren’t telling him the full story.
When we finally reached Arughat, the sun was setting, but even in the dimming light, it was clear that this situation was much worse than Mohammed’s parents had described. His entire town had been turned to rubble. His home and his parents’ shop were heavily damaged and his entire family was living in a tent nearby. It was an emotional moment.
Despite the difficult circumstances, we were welcomed warmly: AmeriCares was the first aid organization to reach this village in the six days since the quake. After our quick look at the town, we got right to work, meeting with community leaders and making a plan for the next day.
Early the next morning, our team set up a field clinic with help from local volunteers. Patients lined up and Dr. Swati Jha, the head of AmeriCares India mobile clinic team, and Dr. Mohammed worked efficiently, listening intently as each patient presented their symptoms.
• Two patients were siblings who had been pulled from debris. The girl, age 12, had injuries to her hands and feet and her 7-year-old brother had head and foot injuries. The little boy’s wounds were already infected and Dr. Swati gave them both antibiotics and painkillers and dressed their wounds.
• Another 84-year-old patient had severe back pain. During the earthquake the woman had run from her home, but fell and was hit by debris falling from nearby buildings. Doctors gave her pain relief medicine and checked for internal injuries.
• A little baby was diagnosed with a skin rash – worsened by the poor hygiene conditions in the makeshift tents where everyone in town is living, said the doctors. The mother left with antibiotic skin cream that would help her baby.
When a woman arrived with a leg injury who was also nine-months-pregnant, the doctors gave her a very mild pain reliever for her injury, along with calcium and protein powder for the health of her and her baby. And when a 12-year-old with mental disabilities came to the clinic, doctors learned she has not slept since the earthquake, six days ago. Though the young girl had been rescued from underneath the rubble of her home, she had only minor injuries. Doctors gave her family anti-anxiety medicine to help her sleep.
Many more patients filed in; some with stomach pain – an indication, said Dr. Swati, of the enormous stress survivors were experiencing.
After five hours, the team of two doctors and three nurses had treated a remarkable 375 patients. It was hard to say goodbye as we set off on the twisting, muddy road for the long drive back to Kathmandu – we’ve held people’s hands and soothed their babies; shared their stories of the disaster, along with tears, smiles and hugs, and seen the enormous task they face rebuilding their homes and community. But it was a little easier knowing we had been able to help, and that AmeriCares would continue supporting communities like this one in the weeks and months to come.