Local nurse leads Red Cross team in Nepal

Rossland native Patrice Gordon is one of a small group delivering care to a Nepalese community in the aftermath of a 7.8 earthquake.

Patrice Gordon stands on the hillside from her field hospital looking up the Langtang Valley toward Tibet. The stunning view of towering snow-covered peaks and the Trisuli River far below bring the Rossland native peace.

But reality sets in when what sounds like thunder striking in the distance is another landslide.

It’s monsoon season in Nepal, and the people are still struggling to rebuild their lives after a quake measuring 7.8 struck April 25, followed by a powerful 7.3 tremor on May 12.

The nurse practitioner is a team leader for a Canadian Red Cross Emergency Response Unit in Dunche, Nepal, during a four-week stint that wraps up at the end of the month.

She is one of 16 people delivering primary care to the Nepalese people in this community.

The people have started to rebuild, but some are still homeless. Tent cities, constructed of tarp, pieces of metal and wood, are stepped along a hillside. About four to six people live in a tent while anywhere from 15-100 people share a latrine, and this is not a “nice flush toilet, it’s a pretty rudimentary construction.”

As monsoon season picks up, mud washes into drinking water and at times the water manages to sweep through isolated toilet areas, causing contamination.

“There can be several days where there is no clean water and of course from a sanitation and hygiene standpoint, that’s disastrous,” Gordon told the Trail Times via Skype Friday.

There is a real lack of basic everyday goods; she said, like buckets to clean said contaminated water and Gordon often dreams about having a “conveyor belt to Canadian Tire.”

But even with such devastation, the Nepalese spirit is high, and Gordon pushes through knowing her team is providing the people a fighting chance.

One patient she helped treat had been crawling for months since the trauma from the quakes left him with a dislocated hip.

“He’s mute and was in some pain, and he had been completely disabled this whole time,” she said. “We were able to get a bit of a story in a very complicated way – it involved English being translated to Nepalese and then translated to someone who knew how to sign so the gentleman could understand.”

Even with such challenges a foot, the man was happy. His smile stretched when he was cleaned up, fed and left standing with crutches.

“These people have lost so much and are living in difficult conditions – they’re sick and they’re in pain – and the amazing thing is that they’re still wearing sparkling-eyed smiles, the kinds that make the world go round.”

In some ways, this is reminiscent of her last Red Cross excursion, fighting the Ebola virus in West Africa this past winter. Gordon was recently awarded a health care hero award for her efforts.

“The people with Ebola were living such difficult lives and had lost so much, and yet they still had compassion for each other, they still found things to laugh about everywhere they turned,” she said. “It’s interesting to reflect on some of the grumpiness we encounter at home in our very, very comfortable lives and look at the contrast.

It’s definitely something to think about.”

Today she’d treating respiratory infections, diarrhea illnesses, skin diseases and even a few snake bites to round out the broad spectrum of patient care in Dunche. The hospital is sending out teams to the tent communities to evaluate conditions and collaborate with other organizations to help stay on top of needs and provide education in areas such as hygiene.

The vast focus is different from Sierra Leone.

“In West Africa, with the Ebola crises, the enemy was always the same. It was always that virus and what it was doing to the people,” she said. “Here we find that the challenges are so broad because it’s not just medical, it’s not just trauma, and it’s not just hunger or inadequate access to drinking water. There is always something different that is challenging us.”

Upon return from her last stint, Gordon received medical observation to rule out any likelihood of Ebola. She was cleared but shortly after received news that the disease had killed one of the health care providers she had worked with in Kenema.

Her work is difficult and uncomfortable at times, yet she wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

“Sometimes we’re not entirely successful but we’re doing our best and they’re seeing our efforts and they’re also feeling the benefits of what we’re doing,” she said. “I wish that everyone on the planet had an opportunity to have that feeling really that the world is a good place, and we’re helping to make the world a good place. That’s a really honourable thing to do.”

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