KATHMANDU, Nepal — Israeli medical teams working to treat victims of Nepal’s disastrous earthquake have seen their fair share of heartbreak and hardship in the 72 hours since setting up a field hospital in the capital Kathmandu. But there are some rays of hope too.
On Friday morning, paramedics and doctors created a half-body cast for a young boy who was crushed by falling rocks during the 7.8 magnitude quake that struck the Asian nation last Saturday. The orthopedic unit has been working overtime, with remains of dried plaster used for the casts on the beds, floors and even in the hair of some of the doctors.
But in a nearby tent, midwife Dganit Gery was delivering the field hospital’s third baby, a girl born at 3.6 kg (8 lbs.), healthy and bawling, with a full head of hair.
“We have been waiting for these births, to hear the cries of newborn babies in the camp, to give a little balance to this place in the middle of all the pain and suffering and sickness,” said Gery, who used to work at Meir Hospital in Kfar Saba before returning to the army as a commander in the budgetary branch.
“These moments give balance to the staff that are working here as well as the entire Nepalese nation,” she said.
The IDF field hospital has treated nearly 300 patients since opening on Wednesday, three days after the earthquake that killed so far an estimated 7,000 people and injured more than 10,000.
The 20 large green tents comprising the facility are divided in much the same way as any large hospital, with a triage area, an ICU with the capacity to treat up to eight people at a time, an X-ray and ultrasound department, obstetrics and a laboratory. There are 120 medical personnel working at the impromptu medical site, which is part of a 267-strong Israeli delegation that includes three search and rescue teams as well as support staff.
“I was really nervous before coming here,” said Gery. “It’s my first (medical) mission and I didn’t know what to expect. But I’m so glad that we came here and lent a hand where it’s needed.”
The parents of the newborn, Lata and Harendra Chand of Kathmandu, were living in tents near the Birendra Military Hospital, one of the city’s main hospitals, when Lata went into labor.
But since the hospital sustained damage in the quake and was focused on the wounded, not delivering babies, the Chands were sent to the Israeli camp. The IDF says its medical delegations to devastated areas always include an obstetrics unit, because it has found that natural disasters often force women into premature labor, according to spokesman Libby Weiss.
The newborns aren’t the only positive stories to come out of the Israeli field hospital. The indisputable star of the place was 15-year-old Pemba Lama, a boy who was pulled from the rubble after being trapped for 120 hours.
The American rescue team brought Lama to the field hospital in remarkably good health, said Weiss. Though dehydrated and malnourished, and having undergone a harrowing ordeal, the boy gamely submitted to questions from hundreds of probing journalists.
He told them he survived by eating butter.
“I also found a wet cloth and squeezed water from it to drink,” he told the BBC.
Though chances for additional survivors hidden under the debris grow dimmer by the day, the field hospital is still encountering a steady stream of patients from more remote areas of the country, who took days to evacuate.
Weiss said that the Israeli hospital has not put an end date on their involvement in Nepal. Previous missions to places like Haiti, Japan and the Philippines lasted between one to three weeks.
On Friday, Nepali helicopters and military vehicles continued to deliver wounded people.
Although the dust has yet to settled, there are moments of optimism. One such occasion took place when Chand nursed her daughter for the first time.
“We are part of the circle of life,” said Gery. “I wish them a lot of luck. It’s so hard to see so many broken people, so I really hope these births will encourage them.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this article.
Are you relying on The Times of Israel for accurate and timely coverage right now? If so, please join The Times of Israel Community. For as little as $6/month, you will:
We’re really pleased that you’ve read X Times of Israel articles in the past month.
That’s why we started the Times of Israel eleven years ago - to provide discerning readers like you with must-read coverage of Israel and the Jewish world.
So now we have a request. Unlike other news outlets, we haven’t put up a paywall. But as the journalism we do is costly, we invite readers for whom The Times of Israel has become important to help support our work by joining The Times of Israel Community.
For as little as $6 a month you can help support our quality journalism while enjoying The Times of Israel AD-FREE, as well as accessing exclusive content available only to Times of Israel Community members.
David Horovitz, Founding Editor of The Times of Israel