Tzu Chi Medical Team Works in Nepal after the Earthquake
By Tzu Chi Medical Team to Nepal Earthquake Relief
Nepal, located at the foothills of world’s highest mountain,
the Himalayas, is the birthplace of Buddha 2,600 years ago, is also seen as where Buddhism sprang.
On April 25, 2015, at 11:56pm, a once-in-a-century earthquake of 7.8-magnitude on the Richter’s scale just hit the remote mountainous country. The number of casualty from the quake reached 8,000, the wounded were unmeasurable.
Tzu Chi medical relief team, in responding to such catastrophe, arrived at the first possible time. While obtaining the medical practice license from the government, the medical team didn’t wait long to haul in necessary medical equipment and all essential medical supplies for expected after-trauma surgeries; and the presumed mission of charity was already in place. The mission of the team was clearly to save as many as possible victims on their physical wounds while providing solace to those going through mental distress.
Nepalese after the earthquake, fear of after-shock, dared to stay only in tents. Photo by Chien-Hsing Wang.
The midnight rainstorm swiped hurriedly and gone away swiftly. But through the night the strong wind really had Tzu Chi medical team volunteers worried about the solidity of the tent where Tzu Chi medical clinic station was housed in. When they got up the next morning and rushed to the medical clinic station, they were so relieved to see that the tent was still standing and all equipment and supplies inside were secured and no damage was found.
“We stood up all night at the clinic station. The only thing we had in mind was to hold up the tent. Our local volunteers were staying there, women inside the tent and men outside to hold the ropes of the tent so as to keep it up. We were all soaked from inside out, but our only concern was to secure the tent. We couldn’t let the medical equipment and the medication get a bit damaged… We knew that the medical clinic is of utmost importance. We wouldn’t let it fall at any cost”, a local translator told us how they saved the station.
Tzu Chi volunteers were teared upon hearing that. Nurse Na-Yao Chueh, “It was storming and thundering, but they stood there all night long, just to guard on the tent for us...”
In the summer of 1993, the southern part of Nepal was hit by a huge flood. Tzu Chi volunteers came in and donated 1,800 permanent houses for the victims in Sarlahi, Rautahat, Makwanpur areas where available resource was mostly scarce.
That was what the volunteers saw in that morning of May 12, after the wreaked havoc by the huge storm, a second disaster following the horrible earthquake. A global relief rally by Tzu Chi volunteers from all over the world has been going on for over two weeks after the first Tzu Chi relief team mobilized its initial tasks. The frequent daily contact, in its most direct way, had shown the pure and simple nature of the locals which touched Tzu Chi volunteers deeply. Now everyone was taking the scenes described in the Tzu Chi song, We Are Family, as the images as close as it could be with the locals.
After 22 year, Tzu Chi volunteers went back to visit a Tzu Chi Village that Tzu Chi volunteers helped built for the flood victims back in 1993. On the left is a slate carved with Chinese, English and Nepalese, erected by the villagers to commemorate that historical event. Photo by Qingwen Chang.
We Were Shocked, yet Immediately We Mobilized
On April 25, 2015, at 11:56pm, an earthquake of 7.8-magnitude on the Richter’s scale just burst out. Casualties and wounded were unmeasurable. But soon, one by one, international relief teams came in and provided their rescue efforts.
The first dispatch of Tzu Chi medical relief team consisted of 15 members, of them were 4 physicians in that 10 member group from Taiwan; the other 5 members of the medical team had volunteers coming from Malaysia, Singapore, India, and U.S.A. Superintendent Dr. Sou-Hsin Chien of Taichung Tzu Chi Hospital[TCH] was the designated medical team leader to lead the other 4 physicians, Dr. You-Chen Chao, Superintendent of Taipei Tzu Chi Hospital, Dr. Yi-Kung Lee, Emergency Dept. Director of Dalin Tzu Chi Hospital, and Dr. Chien-Hsing Wang, Trauma Team director of Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital, in forming a super trauma specialist team heading to the capital city of Kathmandu to begin the medical relief mission.
Superintendent Dr. You-Chen Chao was thanking his staff at Taipei Tzu Chi Hospital for mobilizing themselves in preparing medical relief supplies for the earthquake mission before he led a relief team to Nepal on April 27. Photo by Yu-Chhi Wu.
Scheduled flights to Kathmandu were not at all on time and even got cancelled due to the situation that the airport would not keep opening all the time. Tzu Chi relief team were forced to stay overnight at the Bangkok Airport, the same fate facing the Japanese rescue team. A plane carrying the team was finally able to take off on the 28th after a delay. But it was directed to circling in the air in south Nepal for about 2 hours before it was finally instructed to land.
Returning from its completion of designated relief mission in Nepal, the first dispatch of Tzu Chi Medical Relief Team hosts a press conference where details of the mission are given and a medical practice permit from the Health Department of Nepal is displayed. From left: Dr. Yi-Kung Lee, Director of Emergency Dept. at Dalin Tzu Chi Hospital, Supt. You-Chen Chao of Taipei Tzu Chi Hospital, Supt. Sou-Hsin Chien, Dr. ChienHsing Wang of Plastic Surgery Dept. at Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital, and Tzu Chi Foundation staff Ms. Ruilin Lai. Photo by Yuping Chen.
Mr. Chung-Kwang Tien, Taiwan’s Ambassador to India had been waiting at the overly crowded and chaotic airport to receive Tzu Chi relief team, but the process of reclaiming our medical supplies and members’ personal baggage took an unbelievable 5 hours long. To make things worse, the hotel we were supposed to check in that night couldn’t have the rooms vacant for us because of travelers were continuously stuck there due to untimed open and closure of the airport. We had to negotiate for a long while before finding a new accommodation.
Although temperature dropped after dark in Kathmandu, people would brave the chilly air outdoor instead of staying inside lest the frequent scary aftershocks. Candle lights were seen inside tents where people thought would be safer.
photo1: In preparing shipment of orthopedic supplies to Nepal, Honorary Supt. Ing-Ho Chen(middle) holds a video-conference with 911 orthopedic sts (Below) Manual drill and other rthopedic supplies are ready to go at Taipei Tzu Chi Hospital. Photo by Yu-Chhi.
photo2: Dr. Kuan-Lin Liu is seeing special orthopedic supplies for knee surgery ready at Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital. Photo by Wei-Ting Wei.
Doctors of the second dispatch of medical relief team at Madhyapur Hospital examine X ray images prior to operating on earthquake victims. From right: Supt. Sou-Hsin Chien of Taichung Tzu Chi Hospital, Vice Supt. Jui-Teng Chien of Dalin Tzu Chi Hospital, Dr. Shiau-Tzu Tzeng of Taipei Tzu Chi Hospital, and Supt. Win-Him Poon of Kuanshan Tzu Chi Hospital. Photo by Tzu Chi Foundation.
Tzu Chi Granted the First Permit to Treat Nepalese
The first dispatch of our medical team paid a visit to the local authority and presented our disaster relief medical experience in the past ardently. That won the Nepalese government’s trust and granted us the medical practice permit, a first of that kind for foreign medical relief professionals.
On the third day of their arrival at Kathmandu, Tzu Chi volunteers regrouped into two task-oriented sub groups; one heading to assess the damage in devastated areas, the other focused on treating patients in Bhaktapur.
Supt. Sou-Hsin Chien and Supt. You-Chen Chao, with help from others, put two tables together as a made-shift diagnosis station where medications were also given out when needed. It didn’t take long for over 30 patients to line up under the small tent waiting to see the doctors.
Bone Restoration Team Set Out on Action
Our doctors had the chance to visit local hospitals and realized that there were about 150 patients who would need immediate surgery to treat their wounds and bone injuries. However, due to shortage of orthopedic treatment materials, it was impossible to operate on any of them. The best they could do was to fix the injured bones with boards for the time being. The next thing our doctors did was quickly informed our hospitals in Taiwan, requesting supplies of such materials be sent to Nepal as soon as possible.
Upon receiving the message, Dr. IngHo Chen, the Honorary Supt. of Hualien TCH, presently in Taipei, immediately organized a cross-all-campus orthopedic specialist team. The team studied the images electronically sent back by doctors in Nepal and determined what kind of orthopedic surgery supplies were needed, then turned around placed urgent orders for them.
Dr. Jui-Teng Chien, Vice Supt. of Dalin TCH said, “A manual drill for making holes on bones will just do its job when there is no power supply at surgery time. A pair of multi-purpose plyers can be used to fit the need of adjusting the shape of any orthopedic parts.”
On May 1, while the first dispatched medical team was still working in Nepal, the second medical team already arrived Kathmandu. It was led by Dr. Jui-Teng Chien and his orthopedic specialist team of Dr. Win-Him Poon, Supt. of Kuanshan TCH, Dr. Shiau-Tzu Tzeng (Taipei TCH), Dr. Kuan-Lin Liu (Hualien TCH), and Dr. Chang-Hong Lin, an anesthetist of Taichung TCH.
One Team Split to Three Locations for Medical Care
Knowing that all orthopedic patients were only treated with very simple fixing and wrapping in the overly crowded emergency room at the local hospital since their injures during the earthquake a week ago, our newly arrived medical team members, despite their still lingering exhaustion from the trip, went to Madhyapur Hospital to work with Nepalese doctors there to successfully complete their first operation on a local patient. The operation was undertaking in a room without air conditioning, so everyone there was sweating like in the rain. There were moments when the power was down, the equipment was jammed, etc., and all kinds of instants you just name it. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop our doctors from giving their best to provide medical cares to the locals. In fact, they worked almost non-stop for a whole day. The only anesthetist, Dr. Chang-Hong Lin, had to loom between two operating rooms in order to tending multiple operating tables at the same time so more patients could be treated within the shortest possible time.
Meanwhile, Dr. Chien-Hsing Wang and Dr. Kuan-Lin Liu set out to local hospitals where they set up free clinic for the locals. As for Supt. Chao YouChen and Director Yi-Kung Lee, their designated free clinic is located in the remote mountain area of P Khel Village where motor vehicle access was limited, so they just walked up there and started seeing the about a hundred of patients lined up there under a tent.
After a day of clinic work, Supt. Chao and his team walked through the narrow path between rice patches to visit the tent area where they could barely find their way by the lights attached to their baseball caps. The situation was dire for there was no water supply, no electric power and even worse was that no medication for those wounded. Feeling the urgency of the situation, the team immediately worked on plans for the next day’s free clinic on the way back to their hotel.
Buddha Bathing Ceremony in Buddha’s Birth Place
photo1: Tzu Chi volunteers are assessing the earthquake damage with help from local translators. Photo by Qingwen Zhang.
photo2: Monsoon season just comes to Nepal and floods the tent area, so Tzu Chi free clinic is forced to stop its operation. Photo by Hui-Zhen Zhuang, Shun-Xian Zheng.
Tzu Chi relief teams came to Nepal rallying in dispatches. In addition to the urgent need of providing medical treatment to the victims, volunteers split out to visit households in various disastrous areas to assess the damage so to classify the urgency level when planning for relief resources.
Tzu Chi foundation hosts its very first Buddha Bathing Ceremony in the Buddha country of Nepal. Photo by Shu-Si Jian.
Volunteers first noticed that the tent area, where victims were given temporary shelters, could use some help to improve its living conditions. The “cash for work” project quickly attracted many young people to participate in helping clean the sewage, set up tents, pick up garbage and prepare meals for the residents there. Kailash Basukala, a local participant was so touched through working with Tzu Chi volunteers, he said, “The earthquake had turned my life upside down so severely. But I’m not feeling alone because Tzu Chi volunteers are here by my side.”
Besides helping the tent residents, we managed to host a Buddha Bath Ceremony on May 10th for the local Nepalese, followed by a large scale of three-day relief goods distribution to nearly 7,500 households.
The venue for the ceremony was no comparison with any of those in Taiwan in its rather plain surrounding. Some little local volunteers sent in flowers that they picked from nearby valleys to adorn the long table where the two statuses of the Great Enlightened were displayed with its forever reverence. Ms. Tsai PeiShan was so moved by the locals who came to pay homepage to the Buddha Bathing Ceremony, she said, “I thought I would miss this year’s Buddha Bathing Ceremony because I would be here. Nevertheless, I now have the opportunity to attend one here in the birth place of the Buddha, along with the people whom we came to offer our help to. It’s a definitely meaningful ceremony to me.”
Indeed, forunforeseeable coincidence, Tzu Chi volunteers were able to host a Buddha Bathing Ceremony in Nepal, the birth place of Buddha after just 14 days of the devastating earthquake and followed by providing relief goods to a huge number of victims. The only explanation of having such unique opportunity would be that it so happened that we were driven there by our empathy and sympathy toward the earthquake victims in Nepal.
The After-shock on May 12
An extremely strong storm hit Nepal and poured rain over the tents where Tzu Chi medical supplies were housed in. Undeterred, local volunteers endured the soaking rain but to hold up that medical tent.
Tzu Chi Medical Relief Team members interact with locals. Photo by Shu-Si Jian.
It was noon time of May 12, an unbelievable after-shock of 7.3-magnitude was hitting Nepal again. The sky seemed to fall down and the ground was shaking. Birds all flied out the forest where they were resting in so they just blocked the sky light. The locals all ran out of their tents, with knees and hands down on the ground, just cried out loud. Tzu Chi volunteers couldn’t stand in balance and the only thing they could do was closing their palms and prayed for safety. The shaking lasted past 10 seconds but the crying and screaming sound lasted long after that. Women were holding children in arms and cried helplessly in the open space.
The three-story building of the Bhaktapur District Health Center was shaking and swinging so hard that the nursing staff immediately ran to the door but stood there not knowing what to do next. At that moment, technicians of Da Ai TV station happened to be nearby and they immediately helped evacuate the nursing staff to seek safety in the nearby open space.
”Doctor, Eye-Center Need!” this message was texted by Da Ai TV staff Hung-Yu Ou upon anticipating large number of the wounded would flood in the health center. Dr. ChunLiang Lai, who received the urgent text, immediately gathered the surgical materials and moved out toward the center along with Dr. Kuang-Ting Yeh and registered nurse Rui-Ming Kuo.
With a loud horn sound from a military bulldozer, its passenger, a paralyzed woman, was carried in. Everyone was giving hands to put her up to a made-shift hospital bed where her relative was raising her legs and pressing on the bottom of her feet. After checking her blood pressure and heartbeat, Dr. Lai found that she was just in a shock state due to overly endured distress from the scary after-shock; all she needed was just some rest and she would be fine. Nearby, Dr. Yeh was stitching up wounds on patients’ hands and legs…
That devastating after-shock revealed the fact that Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) patients were way more than we could think of. For now we merely put aside our concern on that, stayed with our station to receive the wounded, one batch after another.
While our medical team volunteers weren’t witnessing the first horrible earthquake, they were experiencing the 7.3-magnitude after-shock. That scary shock, however, didn’t deter them from providing care to the patients, nor delay them from distributing urgently needed relief goods to earthquake victims. For the needy, we arrived at the first possible time and we stayed until the last action is completed.
Great Love Is Progressing
Dr. Yu-Lin Chang, Superintendent of Yuli Tzu Chi Hospital, is seeing a child patient with Nurse Pi-Chueh Tsai in the middle. Photo by Shu-Si Jian.
The establishment of Nepal Chapter of Tzu Chi International Medical Association on June 22, under witness of the 9th dispatch of the Medical Relief Team, marked the fruits we have reaped since we participated in the relief effort for two consecutive months by mobilizing 64 medical professionals and numberless supporting volunteers from Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. The first free clinic under the name of TIMA, Nepal Chapter, with its due significance, was held on June 27 in an earthquake devastated Catholic convent.
Tzu Chi volunteers understand that the needy may not be able to come out to seek solace, so we, the blessed, just go to them and offer our humble assistance. We look at not only providing short-term relief to them, but also rendering mid-term and long-term support to help disaster-ridden victims rebuild their lives. Tzu Chi’s great love goes on and on progressively.