Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Perkinsville nurse survives Nepal earthquake : Rutland Herald Online

Rutland Herald Online - Vermont election news, news coverage, local news, state government, sports, classifieds
 PERKINSVILLE — It was the wailing, the keening, that Kathleen Fellows can’t forget about the devastating Nepal earthquake last month.

“It was a collective wail,” Fellows said. “It sounded like the anguish of humanity. It was just anguish.”

Fellows, 70, is home now in Vermont after six weeks of volunteering as a nurse in medical facilities in Nepal. The experience, not her first in an earthquake-devastated country, has made her want to return and help more.

The sound would start soft and climb. “It would wind up to a crescendo.”

She said the sound rose whenever there was an aftershock or tremor, and in the days after the first earthquake there were constant aftershocks — and wailing.

It was the same sound she experienced as a child in northwest England, where air raid sirens sounded every week, despite the end of World War II.

Fellows was a young child in the city of St. Helens, but she remembers the sirens well.

And that was the sound of human crying whenever the Earth shook again, she said. When the shaking ended, so did the wailing, she said.

Fellows, a registered nurse, had gone to Nepal in late February to volunteer at medical clinics, pharmacies and hospitals, first in Patahani, in the Chitwan section of southern, tropical Nepal.

She later transferred to Pokhara, the second largest city in Nepal, where she bicycled to work at a clinic in the morning, then worked in a pharmacy, and then later in the day, at a hospital. They were 12-hour days.

Getting to the clinic was a problem, so Fellows appealed to the Perkinsville Community Church, of which she is a member, for funds to buy a bicycle for Dharma Nepal Volunteers.

Finally, she had eight days to experience Nepal as a tourist, and visit neighboring Tibet, including the sacred city of Lhasa, as well as the Chinese base camp at Mount Everest before heading home to Vermont.

“I left my ‘Free Tibet’ T-shirt at home,” she said, saying the Chinese oppression in Tibet was palpable.

“The Chinese don’t like us, the Nepalis do,” she said.

The day the earthquake struck, she said, she was in a hostel on the northern side of Kathmandu.

“It started to shake violently. I had been through earthquakes before, in California, so I quickly recognized what it was,” said Fellows.

But the immediate dilemma was whether to stay inside the building or rush out into the street.

The streets were narrow, and tall buildings were collapsing into them during the noontime earthquake of magnitude 7.8, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

“I elected for underneath the table,” said Fellows, her English diction still dominant.

“There were lots of aftershocks and tremors,” she said. And later, early the next morning, there was another 6.6 earthquake.

Fellows said the earthquake cut all electricity in the city, and after three days of chaos and fear, she and another woman walked a couple of hours to the U.S. Embassy, so that Fellows could get word to her daughter, Edith, who is working as a security contractor in Baghdad. Fellows said she knew that connecting embassy to embassy was her best bet. She couldn’t talk to her daughter, but by using the embassy’s bank of computers was able to send her daughter a reassuring email.

She said that for three days her daughter was in a state of turmoil, not knowing what had happened to her.

“I felt very badly for her, but she figured I would be OK. My brother told her, ‘You know, she’s a tough cookie,’” Fellows recalled in her Vermont kitchen with a dominating view of Mount Ascutney.

She said a lot of people had taken refuge there, many of them well-equipped trekkers, and they set up tents on the embassy grounds.

The biggest shortage, she said, was drinkable water, and the price had more than doubled in just four days after the earthquake.

The embassy was running out of food, and was giving Americans MREs (meals ready to eat), usually reserved for soldiers in combat.

The staff there, Fellows said, were “very gracious and helpful.”

After the earthquake, she and other foreign medical workers were turned away in Kathmandu, Fellows said. She said if she had still been in Pokhara, she would have been put to work.

“I was just a tourist in Kathmandu,” she said.

By her own calculations, Fellows says, she missed certain death by two or three hours.

Fellows had planned on visiting the famous Durban Square the afternoon of the earthquake. If it had struck a few hours later, “I would have been there,” she said. More than 130 people died in the building’s collapse.

The earthquake has only made things catastrophically worse in Nepal, she said. “It’s a completely disorganized country,” she said. “Corruption is rampant and nothing gets done.”

With her skills not wanted, and travel to Pokhara out of the question, she started planning her departure Fellows said. There is one airport in Kathmandu and flights out were at a premium.

She finally got home last Thursday, by way of Qatar, with an emergency medical landing in Goose Bay, Newfoundland. From there she flew to Philadelphia, took a short flight to Boston, and then made her way home to Vermont.

Fellows is no stranger to volunteering under difficult if not dangerous circumstances. She taught Haitian midwives after the Haitian earthquake of 2010, serving twice in that island nation.

The earthquake in Nepal was much more widespread, although the loss of life was not so great. In Haiti, she said, the capital of Port au Prince “just fell in on itself,” the result of years of shoddy construction practices. More than 100,000 people were killed in Haiti, U.S. aid agencies say, but the damage was concentrated in one more heavily populated area.

Nepalese construction methods are little better than those in Haiti, she said, poring over Nepalese and English-language newspapers she brought back from Kathmandu, filled with photos of the destruction. Soft bricks are put together with a minimum of mortar, she said, demonstrating the gaps she regularly saw in construction.

Fellows, now semi-retired from nursing, said her work in Nepal revealed common ailments and injuries, and despite the lack of health care, people stay remarkably healthy there.

She said the people eat only two meals a day of lentils and rice. The lentils are cooked down into a gruel, she said, which is ladled over rice.

Occasionally, there are some vegetables, and very little meat.

“After a month, I was clearly anemic,” said Fellows, who said she lost 16 pounds during her six weeks in Nepal and Tibet. She said she was concerned about going to the 17,600-foot Everest base camp, suffering from anemia, so she got vitamins that helped her cope with the journey, one of her ‘‘bucket list” goals in life.

Fellows had gone over to Nepal with one organization, but switched to Dharma Nepal Volunteers. It’s an organization she wants to work for eventually, recruiting more volunteers for the country.

Fellows is appealing for funds, which she will send to Dharma Nepal Volunteers in Pokhara. She is asking for $10 contributions, which she said will buy between $80 and $90 worth of supplies in Nepal. Her goal is to raise $1,000.

People interested in contributing can contact Fellows at The Pink House, 13 Quarry Road, Perkinsville, VT 05151.


No comments:

Post a Comment