by Nat Crewe; DRG Team Leader
Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh
It’s seems that I spoke too soon. Today was a ‘2 stretcher carries and five gunshot wounds’ kind of day.
The team headed into Kutapalong 2 (KTP2). I can’t describe how big and sprawling this camp is. With our mapping system, we can see what ground we have covered, and pick our route accordingly. Today, we simply picked another unexplored area and set forth.
It wasn’t long before Amy, Simon and I came across a 45 y.o woman who had fallen while running for her life. She had landed on her hip and has been unable to weight bear since. Her family literally carried her to Bangladesh. She had still not been seen at a medical facility and her shelter is deep within the camp. Without any way of getting to help, it was up to us to carry her out.
So that we didn’t tie up the whole team with a stretcher carry, we employed some local hands to carry the stretcher. Mel and I accompanied the patient and on the way we picked up another that Simon had found who had a swelling in his throat and, as a result, couldn’t swallow. He hadn’t eaten or drunk anything in 3 days.
Once we dropped off our patients, we returned to KTP2. Almost immediately we were taken by a helpful local to a lady who had a bullet wound in her buttock. It had been treated initially, but was now infected. This poor lady put up with some excruciating cleaning, packing and dressing. She was left with some antibiotics and strict instructions to visit the clinic in 3 days. As we left the shelter, we were guided to another gentleman who had been shot in the heel. The flesh was necrotic, but in such a way that actually covered and protected the wound. No treatment required.
The next patient was heartbreaking. A 10yo boy who had been shot in the head. The bullet had cut through his scalp and clipped his ear. He had had skin grafts taken from his thigh to address his head wound, which were taking well. His concern was an infection in his ear below where the bullet had removed the top of the ear. It was swollen and pus-filled and very, very painful.
This little guy was so brave when I lanced the wound a drew off the excess fluid. We bandaged him up and gave him some lollies. He swallowed one whole thinking it was medication! We spent some time with the family making sure they were aware of the camp counselling services. As they were fleeing their 10 day old baby had been killed also.
Now that people are ‘settling’, I wonder how they might be coming to terms with so much loss and trauma.
Still moved by our young champion, we were taken directly to another young man in his twenties. He had been shot in the elbow and had lost most of the movement and feeling below the wound. It was also healing nicely, if not a little dirty. Mel and I cleaned and dressed it. When asked what we could do about the feeling in his arm it was with a heavy heart that we had to tell him that the bullet would have severed the nerve and that he probably would never get the feeling or movement back.
This apparent lack of communication between doctors and their patients, or possibly just lack of real understanding, was particularly poignant in our next, and last patient of the day. We were directed to a young man who was paralysed from the navel down. He had no movement or feeling below that point, or any bladder/bowel control. He asked us what we could do for him. It turns out that he had been struck at the base of the spine by the Myanmar army as he was escaping in late August. He lost all feeling and movement immediately and has been like that ever since. He had been seen by doctors since and had a catheter inserted through which to urinate. I asked him what he had been told. He said that nothing had been discussed with him.
I sat with him and our wonderful fixer, Moslem, who translated, explaining everything that was occurring and why, and that there was almost no chance that he would ever walk again. Moslem held his hands and cried when he told him this. It was one of the lowest moments of this trip. To make matters worse he was lying on the bare, hard-packed earth. I told him that I would be back the next day with a mattress and to tend to his bed sores.
Whilst every day of this trip has been hard, some days are – emotionally – much harder than others.
If you would like to help our mission, you can donate to the Backpacker Medics cause here: https://chuffed.org/project/bpmdrg-bangladesh#/supporters