Life on the line
- Dr Anu Bajracharya refused to abandon her patients during the Great Quake. Today, the women she stuck with even as the tremors shook the hospital where she was working on them are more than thankful for her service
May 22, 2015-
Saturday, April 25, began like any other for Dr Anu Bajracharya. The sky was a bit overcast but there was no rain when she reported for duty at the Kathmandu Medical College at 9 am. Two hours and a caesarean section later, the obstetrician/gynecologist was called in for another emergency operation.
She, along with a team of medics including two resident doctors,
Dr Sweta Yadav and Dr Jyoti Agrawal, started a C-section on Kopila Katuwal at 11:30 am and delivered a baby boy.
Then, just as she started stitching the wound, Dr Bajracharya was rattled by the most terrifying moments in her 15-year medical career.
The six-storey hospital building started to shake suddenly when a magnitude 7.9 earthquake struck Nepal just before noon.
“Everything in the operating room on the fifth floor started shaking. The lights were swinging violently; the instruments were falling off the operating table,” Dr Bajracharya explains. “One of the falling oxygen cylinders even struck my right foot.
Shaken and terrified, everyone in the room started crying and “for a moment, I just thought this was it!” she confesses.
Under such circumstances, anyone’s first reaction would be to run for safety.
“But we couldn’t do that as we had a patient who was under spinal anaesthesia, with her abdomen still open.”
So the medical staff held their nerves. And the only thing on Dr Bajracharya’s mind at the time was how she was going to finish the procedure quickly and without any complications.
Assuring her medical team, she asked them to clutch each other’s hand to stabilise themselves and pray to God.
Then finally, she stitched the wound, checked for any bleeding and shifted the patient to the post-op ward.
“I’m glad that all the operations went well on that dreadful day and the patients were discharged without any complications,” she says. “I thank God for helping me out and for keeping my family safe while I was on duty during such a traumatic time!”
Katuwal, her patient, was discharged from the hospital a day after the Great Quake. She is now taking shelter in a tent in an open space outside her house at Imadol in Lalitpur.
But the ordeal still lingers in her nightmares.
Katuwal recalls listening to the doctors speaking above her, scared, stiff and unable to move.
“There are no words to describe what it felt like,” she says. “I could hear the doctor praying to God as they were operating on me.”
The 28-year-old new mother remembers that the doctors had explained to her the stages of her operation before surgery, so she recognised that they were towards the end of the procedure.
“The feeling of being trapped was worse than the pain. I really believed I was going to die,” says Katuwal, who feels greatly indebted to the medical team for saving her and her first child while putting their lives on the line.
“They were like a godsend for us,” Katuwal says, proceeding with her story. “I remember how happy I felt when I learned that all of my family members were alive. It gave me a lot of comfort.”
But Dr Bajracharya doesn’t think what she did was anything out of the ordinary.
She says that it was only on her way back home after duty on that day that she began to fathom the scale of the disaster.
“There were thousands of people who did what they had to do... the police, army men, people walking down the street. My story is no different than any of their stories. It just so happens I’m a doctor,” she says, recalling the three more normal deliveries that she conducted while the earth was still shaking with uncountable aftershocks on that fateful day.
Later, still shocked and exhausted from that ordeal, she performed more procedures, including some under makeshift operation theatres in tents outside the hospital building. One of the patients she worked on was Mamata Joshi, who was suffering from “tonic-clonic” fits brought about by high blood pressure. “She had to be put on a ventilator for two days. She was discharged seven days after the operation,” says Dr Bajracharya.
There have been many heroes who have performed above and beyond the call of duty after the Great Quake. Many of them, such as Dr Bajracharya, kept on working by facing their fears. “After years of medical practise, you assume that you are prepared for anything,” she explains. “But nothing and no one could adequately prepare you for such scenarios.”
Published: 23-05-2015 09:13