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At IDF Hospital in Nepal, Healing and Heartbreak


When the recent earthquake left the nation of Nepal in ruins, we told you about the IDF’s efforts to help the Nepalese people recover from the disaster and its effects. The Jewish Week’s Nathan Jeffay reports on the healing and heartbreak that is still being witnessed at the field hospital set up by the caring men and women of Israel’s military:

An 18-year-old lies on a bed at the entrance of a tent, with an injured head and just a stub where his right arm used to be. “When I saw him I thought he was dead,” said his father, Bim Mahi.

Nearby, there’s a new baby in an incubator, a woman clinging to life in the intensive care unit, a soldier praying in the synagogue, and a triage full of Nepalese who are flocking here based on word-of-mouth reports about the treatment on offer.

It’s just a normal day at Israel’s field hospital in Nepal, still reeling after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake rocked the country on April 25; the death toll now stands at more than 7,500.

One of the first faces that many of the patients see here is that of Avi Alpert, a U.S. immigrant to Israel who had no obligation to conscript to the army but signed up and put himself through basic training at age 42. Now, seven years later, the sense of duty that first got him into uniform has brought him to this makeshift Kathmandu facility.

As of Tuesday night, the field hospital has treated almost 1,000 patients, delivered seven babies — all of them healthy — and performed 50 surgeries. Its team, consisting of nearly 150 medical professionals here as part of their full-time army service or as reservists, sleeps in tiny one-man or two-man tents: even revered doctors like Jonathan Halevy, director-general of Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Centre, finds rest under canvas after a grueling shift.

Around here, Alpert is Mr. Clockwork: the man who keeps the emergency room running smoothly, which, in turn, keeps the whole place running smoothly. Despite the fact that we’re standing amid a collection of tents in a large field, doctors are walking around with tablets inputting digital records and people are waiting well under an hour to be seen. It’s a setup that “any emergency department in the world would envy,” said Alpert, a Baltimorean who used to work in New York…

Every day among these tents is a mixture of the heartbreaking and the hopeful.

On Tuesday morning in the Intensive Care Unit, a 37-year-old woman is fighting for her life. Trapped for four days in the rubble, one of her legs had to be amputated. “Below the knee an amputation like this is easy to treat, but this amputation was very high, and it’s very hard to manage,” said her doctor, Eli Schwartz, head of tropical medicine at Tel Aviv’s Sheba Medical Center and the leading Israeli in his field.

The tragedy of this case goes even deeper. The woman’s 24-year-old daughter, born after she was raped at age 13, was also badly injured by the quake. She was hospitalized nearby, but died, and the authorities came to the Israeli hospital with the news.

But despite the heaviness weighing on everyone’s minds, joy reverberates through the place when there is something to celebrate. The births get everyone cooing. And signs of recovery also bring delight.

Tags: Asia , IDF

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