Delay in treatment will increase cases of lifelong disability, doctors warn

  • Great quake disaster
- Manish Gautam, Kathmandu
Delay in treatment will increase cases of lifelong disability, doctors warn

May 4, 2015-

On the noon of April 25, when the earth shook violently, Dani Thapa was inside Dharahara. Along with her were her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, her sister and a relative. All Dani remembers about the earthquake is that when the ground shook violently and the whole structure collapsed, she clung to her child. Her daughter is doing fine, the other two relatives perished in the incident and Dani was taken to the National Trauma Centre in Mahankal Marg, a short distance away from Dharahara.

Now lodged in a medical ward on the second floor of the trauma centre, Dani cries in pain, while her brother-in-law supports her body and her husband raises her heavily-bandaged right hand. Her face is covered in bruises and scratches. And her right leg has been amputated.

Dani’s right leg was crushed by the rubble. Almost two hours after the incident, once she had been rescued from the debris and had been taken to the hospital, doctors assessed Dani’s condition and decided to amputate her leg.

“It is really hard for me to see her in pain, but I am happy that the mother and child survived. Despite all hardships, life has to go on,” said Saroj KC, Dani’s husband, who hails from Pyuthan and lives with his family in a rented room in Samakhusi.

KC is hopeful that his wife might be able to walk soon, on a prosthetic limb. He said that an organisation approached him and promised to arrange a prosthetic leg for Dani. “I am not sure if they are going to come back, but we will figure out a way to make her life easier,” said KC.

Bijaya Moktan of Shramthali-9, Rasuwa, has a similar story to tell. On the day of the earthquake, Bijaya, a nine-year-old ninth grader, was helping his father in the field, clearing weeds.    

Suddenly, there was a rumble in the field and mud and boulders started pouring down from uphill. While the rest of the family members managed to stay safe, one of the stone crashed on Bijaya’s right leg. “His ankle was dangling down by the skin,” said Gosai Bahadur, Bijaya’s father.

Given that the family lived five hour’s walk away from the nearest bus stop in Kalistan Ghumti, it took them two days to take Bijaya to the hospital.  “Even the route to our village has eroded and collapsed at many places. We could bring him to the hospital only on Monday evening. By then, his condition had worsened,” said Gosai Bahadur.

On Wednesday, doctors operated on Bijaya and amputated the area below the ankle. His life has been saved, but the family is unsure on what they are going to do next. His school, Larchyan Primary School, has collapsed. There is hardly a single house standing in the entire VDC. “I don’t know what he is going to do with one leg. I can carry him home for now, but I don’t know how he is going to manage for the rest of his life. I am worried for him,” said Gosai.

Dani and Bijaya are just two examples of the lifelong disability problems that many Nepalis will have to face as a result of the Great Quake, especially those who sustained severe injuries in the limbs and spine.

According to the WHO, a third of the estimated 14,000 people, who suffered from various injuries in the April 25 earthquake, will require regular follow-up and rehabilitation treatment. Approximately 12 percent of them have sustained spinal injuries.

In Bir Hospital alone, among the 21 patients who were admitted with head injuries, doctors fear that two of them might have to face permanent disability.

Similarly, all the nine people waiting for spine surgery at the hospital need rehabilitation. Dr Gopal Raman Sharma, senior neurosurgeon at the Bir Hospital, said that patients with spinal injuries need immediate surgeries to stabilise their body, so that they can move around in wheel-chair and rehabilitation process becomes easier.

Similarly, 11 people including a 5-month-old baby, have undergone amputations at the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital, while the Kathmandu Medical College has performed amputations on three people.

The Dhulikhel Hospital in Kavre has seen two amputations so far, while 25 patients have been admitted with severe spinal injuries. Among them, only five have undergone operations.

The number of people suffering from lifelong disability is going to increase in the post-disaster phase, given the lack of timely medical intervention, doctors warn. Long lines of patients, waiting for medical attention even nine days after the earthquake concerns them.

“As time passes, we will see a surge in patients with severe injuries who were not evacuated on time and did not get immediate medical attention. The delay in treatment means that they might have to face amputation or even death,” said Dr Shishir Lakhey, disaster management coordinator at the Kathmandu Medical College Hospital.

Published: 05-05-2015 08:47

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