A year has passed, but it’s as if it was yesterday. It was a typical Shabbat afternoon in spring, I was spending time with my family hiking in the Galilee, enjoying the breathtaking scenery and savoring the scents of spring flowers and herbs that color the mountains, when suddenly I received a message informing me of a massive earthquake in Nepal.
It was a seemingly general message, one that wouldn’t affect the continuation of a wonderful day with family or impact one’s plans for a vacation on the beaches in Eilat. But for me, the Deputy Surgeon General of the IDF Medical Corps, this message changed everything.
Within just hours, we were ready to embark. Our amazing team, made up of doctors, medics, paramedics, nurses, medical officers, radiographers, laboratory technicians, mental health officers and members of the logistics department had arrived for duty. Some were in active service in the IDF and some were called up from the reserves. Some had participated on past missions, and for some it was the first time that they had been selected to be a part of a humanitarian aid delegation abroad. All showed up motivated and filled with a sense of mission.
When I think about the speed of everyone’s arrival, I am not surprised by the military personnel, as they are always prepared and on call to arrive promptly, as is demanded of them in their army service. But I am always impressed and moved by our reservists, who, despite having their own personal obligations and responsibilities, always take care to arrive immediately to take on the mission, as if they were waiting for the IDF’s call.
Eighty-two hours after the earthquake struck, we were ready with a field hospital deployed in the capital, Kathmandu. Everything is done in a professional and efficient manner. From the organization of manpower and equipment in Israel, to the nearly 13-hour flight, to the construction of the tents that make up the hospital, and all the equipment necessary for the operation of various departments; the inpatient departments including a pediatric ward, an operating room, a delivery room, intensive care unit for both neonatal and adults, an emergency room, laboratory, X-ray department and a pharmacy.
We cared for more than 1,600 injured and sick patients throughout our stay in Nepal, the lives of many of whom were saved by the dedicated and professional care given by our staff. There is no greater professional pride than that, to know that your staff worked tirelessly to save the lives of so many in need.
Some of our proudest work was in helping to bring new life amidst the loss. It’s important for me to note that the inclusion of a delivery room in the field hospital is not a given in the framework of humanitarian aid delegations. However, based on our experience, we know that it is a vital component, which significantly elevates a sense of purpose, accomplishment, and contribution to these delegations and brings some levity to an otherwise difficult situation. During our stay in Nepal we had the privilege of delivering and welcoming six babies into the world.
But during this period, we also saw a great deal of tragedy. We were exposed to chilling stories of some of the wounded, some of whom were not only homeless, but had lost their families.
Amidst the tragedy and the hope that we tried to bring to the people of Nepal, this is an extraordinary experience for anyone working in medicine. It’s about hard work, about being in the right place at the right time and about being a partner in saving the lives of the wounded and the sick not only in your own homeland, but wherever it is needed.
To our great fortune, we were welcomed into an extraordinary partnership with local hospitals, particularly with the military hospital located not far from where we established our field hospital. They were very pleased that we arrived so quickly and rapidly came to trust our abilities. Many of the wounded were evacuated from local hospitals and transported to our facilities to continue receiving necessary and complex care.
Soon after our arrival, our hospital became a pilgrimage site for senior government and healthcare officials.
Even today, a year after the earthquake, my heart still beats with pride and great satisfaction, that in the wake of tragedy, we were able to contribute to the relief effort. In our medical oath we talk about our commitment to extending a helping hand to the wounded and to the sick no matter if friend or foe. When we look back on the many hours we spent in the tents that made up our hospital in Kathmandu, taking care of a population traumatized by natural disaster, we know that it was our care that was often the difference between life and death.
I believe we will continue to learn from these experiences and to prepare for the next challenge at any time. We will continue to be ready for any mission entrusted to us and to seek opportunities to help our fellow nations in their time of need.
Thank you to those who participated in this humanitarian delegation and who committed themselves to our mission.
Happy Passover to all.
Colonel Dr. Tarif Bader is the Deputy Surgeon General of the Israel Defense Forces Medical Corps. Col. Dr. Bader has commanded and overseen three previous IDF humanitarian delegations abroad including in Haiti (2010), Nepal (2015), and Turkey (2016). Led by Col. Dr. Bader, the hospitals in these missions treated thousands of injured civilians. During his time as Chief Medical Officer in the IDF Northern Command, he oversaw the opening of the field hospital on the Syrian border in which the IDF treated Syrians injured in the civil war. He has served in the IDF Medical Corps since 1993.