Penticton nurse puts boots to the ground to help in Nepal

She makes her living in war zones and at the centre of natural disasters, but the hardest part is leaving people in distress behind.

Penticton nurse puts boots to the ground to help in Nepal

She makes her living in war zones and at the centre of natural disasters, but the hardest part for Dawn Anderson is leaving people in distress behind.

“It’s extremely difficult for us to be here in Katmandu and getting evacuated and pulled out because you know that there are people that are still there and nobody can reach them because the roads are all cut off again. There is constant landslides, so all we can do is talk to them daily on the phone asking what the situation is like,” Anderson said.

A nurse with the international Red Cross, and a resident of Penticton, Anderson was helping with relief efforts in Nepal when the second major earthquake to hit the country in 17 days wreaked havoc on the remote village she was in.  Anderson was 16 kilometres from the epicentre of the 7.3 magnitude quake that hit on May 12.

“It just started to rock and rumble and make lots of noise it just became much more violent than any of the aftershocks had been and I started seeing houses falling apart and crumbling, the ones that were still up, then the landslides started,” Anderson said.

“We were looking at a building and saw bricks popping out of it like Jenga and then the thing just collapsed. And that’s one that was standing.”

The extraction of relief workers couldn’t take place until the next day and Anderson and her fellow Red Cross delegates stayed in the village overnight with no cell phone reception. She was evacuated the next day by the military and brought the patients that needed the most attention back to Katmandu.

A geophysicist had declared the mountain and valley where she was working to be unsafe and due to the constant landslides the Red Cross workers were pulled out. The second quake derailed any relief efforts that were underway and locals were finally getting tarps and food just before the second quake hit.

“There was just no time. They (locals) barely are able to get out in the first week and nobody could go anywhere except for with helicopters, and then the priority was evacuating patients. So nobody was getting relief because they were trying to get the sick and injured out,” Anderson said.

“We managed to keep in contact with a couple of the locals that are living there and they have said they have been watching the hospital and making sure that it’s safe and they are waiting for us to come back.”

Anderson spends most of her time working with the International Committee of the Red Cross as well as the Red Cross international organization the IFRC (International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies) providing her skills and knowledge mostly in combat zones including Kandahar, Central Africa and Gaza, but has provided disaster relief in Nepal, the Philippines and Haiti as well.

Anderson and her fellow IFRC workers were camped on the front lawn of a hotel in Katmandu on Friday.

“Now that a second (earthquake) of a similar strength hit, now everybody doesn’t feel comfortable in a building,” Anderson said.

Minor rumblings relative to the two major quakes have become a part of daily life.

While most people want to avoid a disaster zone, Anderson’s instinct is the exact opposite. She’s looking to head back in.   Anderson leaves May 24 to return to Gaza,where she teaches an emergency room trauma course to nurses and doctors at a local hospital. Leaving disaster areas to go to war zones can take a toll, both emotionally and physically Anderson said.

She said there can be silver linings and progress in situations where it is hard to pull out positives, which helps her to keep going.

“I feel like I have a talent I’m trained in an area where I’m able to go and do it, and I get to travel and meet the most amazing people.”

When she isn’t travelling to some of the most dangerous places on Earth, Anderson will return to a new part-time position as a nurse in the emergency department of Kelowna General Hospital. She just got an apartment in Penticton in December, falling for the city just after spending three days here. She returns to Penticton on June 18 and will head to Saskatchewan to see her family in July.

Not everyone has the mettle to go headfirst into dangerous situations, but everybody has the opportunity to help.

“I can’t do what we do without the awesome support of Canadians. In every single disaster they give so much and there is such a huge need,” Anderson said, adding that the effects of a natural disaster permeate longer than they are in the public consciousness.

“Even when the issues go out of the media and it switches on to something else, there’s still a huge recovery period that we work through,” she said.

Those looking to help out international relief efforts can do so at www.redcross.ca.