Three weeks ago,on April 14th, a 7.2 magnitude quake shook a remote area of Western China, high on the Tibetan Plateau. While the poor, mountainous area is not heavily populated, the few cities affected were essentially destroyed. The latest death toll is 2220, and many people are still missing.
As we watched coverage of the terrible destruction and loss of life on Chinese TV, David and several other doctors prepared to go. In the end, a few of our colleagues did go to help in the relief effort, but David did not. A week after the earthquake the government essentially shut down the area to any outside help due to political and logistical issues.
Our friend and colleague, K, wrote several short blog entries about the earthquake and the uncertainty we faced as we prepared for their possible trip out to the earthquake site. She and David were supposed to travel together on April 21st to help with the relief effort. K did such a great job summarizing what was going on that I got permission to link you to her blog.
Please take a look at all her April entries; the ones posted April 17, 19, 20 and 22 are especially interesting. They give an excellent report of what was happening. Maybe you can get a feel for how emotionally draining those several days were for us.
Here is a website done by the NGO David would have been working with. This website has lots of photos of the affected area.
Though David was very willing to go and serve, in the end we were relieved that he didn’t go. Our two friends who did go returned a week ago. It was not an easy trip. Here is what our co-worker’s wife wrote after their return:
So here’s the way it went. P left on Monday, April 19, to fly to Xining on the eastern side of the Tibetan plateau. Tuesday was spent buying supplies to take over the mountains and to the base camp. They hoped to leave Wednesday morning, but it took a day of negotiations, government entanglements, closed roads, etc. before they could finally leave at 7 p.m. that night. Normally it takes 12 hours on a good day to drive over the pass. When P left, the word was that it was snowing heavily, hailing and that there were numerous vehicles having wrecks and sliding all over the road, so my pryrs were directed toward those things. However, when P called Thursday morning around 10, he said the roads were clear. After 15 hours on the road though, they had not yet reached the halfway point. He was not able to talk long, because his cell battery was about dead with no chance to recharge until they reached the generator at their destination. I only learned what the problem was after he returned home this week.
Evidently the truck they were privileged to ride in was a sad piece of work. I wish with all my heart that I could send you a sound bite of P’s imitation of what the truck sounded like as it struggled to get over the mountains. It ground, moaned and screamed its way with all its might only to top out at 20 mph at best. The first night the stars came out on the Tibetan plateau and dazzled them. After time, they saw the sunrise…the sunset…and again the stars on the Tibetan plateau. (They were not as dazzling the second time around. Well maybe they were just as dazzling, but perhaps their eyes were too blurry to see them as clearly.)
Finally after resisting the urge to get out and push the truck along, they did arrive in the middle of that night, and after a few hours of sleep got up to begin seeing patients. There was a steady flow all day until late into the night. They saw about 130 patients that day, with about a fourth being earthquake trauma, half chronic illnesses with no medical facilities to go to, and the rest a mixture of emotional needs. The next day was the same. One of our doctors was Chinese and therefore served in a different area. They saw a different set of 200-300 each day.
P said the culture in our city of Shenyang was very different from that in Xining, but that it was that much different again comparing Xining (on the eastern side of the platueau) to Yushu (the western side). Knowing how to reach out medically and in even more important ways was baffling at times. When trying to pr with patients, there was a definite disconnect. Then while attempting to at least say “DAD blss you,” the Tibetan translators, coming from a very different background, would translate it as “Llsa blss you.” That wasn’t a message we wanted to send. I asked P what good it did then to be there, beyond the obvious physical help that was given. He said it was really more like we were the short term workers there, giving help to those who work in that area on a long term basis. This assistance will allow them to continue the relationships and make inroads into the people groups in that area.