When I get back to Hong Kong, I will give myself a toast for what I have done

January 10, 2005 (Aceh)

Although I have taken part in several MSF missions, this is the first time that I have worked in an operation of such scale and urgency.

Although I was psychologically prepared for a tough mission, I nonetheless had not expected the situation Aceh, Indonesia to be as dire as it was when I arrived.

Initially I worked in an MSF mobile clinic in Banda Aceh, the provincial capital of Aceh. Then on January 6, our base received an assessment report from an exploratory team. It revealed that Meulaboh, a town inaccessible since the earthquake and located on the west coast of Aceh, needed urgent assistance. The only hospital there was not functioning. With no medical care, the health of large numbers of injured people was deteriorating rapidly.

Our coordinator immediately made the decision to send a medical team to Meulaboh to provide emergency care and to re-open the hospital. My team and I packed up at once, boarded the helicopter and set off for Meulaboh.

The helicopter ride took more than an hour. When we got to the hospital, we found the situation to be much worse than originally expected. Some areas were full of mud, others were filled with dead bodies laid out on the ground. Many hospital staff died during the disaster. Those who survived were busy searching for their remaining family members. The building, once a hospital, was now an empty structure.

Our team of one Australian doctor, one Hong Kong nurse and six Indonesian medical workers started renovating of the destroyed hospital. We cleaned mud out of the wards, removed usable bed frames from the debris, looked for remaining equipment around the hospital and pooled everything together to set up the wards. Together the eight of us got all this done, while continuing to provide treatment to patients.

In just three days, we renovated a surgical ward, a medical ward and a paediatric ward, and set up a simple filing system for patients¡¦ medical records. With this system, we can now easily tell when a patient needs his wounds cleaned or his medicines given.

It is hard to believe that a basic hospital can be set up in three days, with only eight pairs of hands. Maybe this is not unprecedented, but I dare say it is an achievement - made possible by the joint effort of eight individuals of various nationalities working together towards the same goal and accomplishing more than they had expected.

When I return home, I will certainly give myself a toast for what I have done.



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