LTC (Dr) Adrian Tan, an orthopaedic surgeon, shares his experience treating Nepal quake victims

LTC (Dr) Adrian Tan attends to a patient in Gorkana, Nepal. Photo: SINGAPORE ARMED FORCES
Last year, Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) (Dr) Adrian Tan spent a month in Kathmandu, Nepal, discovering its natural wonders,  marvelling at its historic heritage and experiencing the warmth of its people.

The parishioner from Church of the Holy Cross returned this year to find it unrecognisable in some parts, with many of the famous ancient structures destroyed, and the people he mingled with rendered mostly homeless.

LTC (Dr) Tan, an orthopaedic surgeon, led a team of 30 doctors, nurses and medics under the Singapore Armed Forces’ medical mission to Nepal from April 26 to May 11, following a devastating earthquake.

Said LTC (Dr) Tan, “When I first saw [the earthquake] in the news, I knew that I wanted to be part of this [medical mission]. I’ve experienced the country.  It has done wonders to me during the time I was there.”

He was saddened to see the devastation and the people who had to camp in open spaces to avoid collapsing buildings.

Realising that the first area they were assigned to was already being served by foreign medical teams, they moved to a small village named Gorkana, a half hour drive from Kathmandu.

This small village was serving a community of about 20,000 farther up the hills. LTC (Dr)Tan and his colleagues set up a makeshift clinic in Gorkana to see the patients there, and tents for their quarters. They also travelled around two hours in four-wheel drives to the remote villages to reach injured patients who had been unable get help due to the inaccessibility of their villages.

Speaking through interpreters, they heard the residents’ stories about falling debris, caving roofs and ceilings, and fears about returning to possibly structurally unsafe homes. Some of those who sustained fractures or cuts had to be treated for infections as they did not receive immediate medical aid. Others suffered from exposure to the cold.

Recalled LTC (Dr) Tan, who has been on four other medical missions, “Those that we saw, part of their stories were the loss of friends and relatives. They didn’t really talk much about it but you could see the emotions in their eyes… There was nothing we could do except to hold their hands and give them the best possible medical attention.”

Following a rigorous timetable that began from six in the morning and ended at around eleven at night, LTC (Dr) Tan would spend time in quiet. “I prayed for strength every night. For the strength – despite the physical discomfort, the cold, the [occasional] tiredness – to carry on, to be very focused about the mission.

“I also prayed for wisdom to make the right decisions… Decisions which would benefit the people. Decisions which were safe, because I was looking after a team of 30. And of course for protection.”

Reflecting on the aftermath of the calamity, he said he and his team witnessed the “goodness in the many people who laboured day and night, at the risk of their own health, at the risk of their own safety…”

He was not just referring to the foreign aid workers. The calamity, he said, “allowed the locals to show great courage and resilience. They rallied together to assist their fellow villagers,” such as the medical students who volunteered as interpreters, the police who helped with crowd control, and those who ushered the patients or carried those who could not walk.

He recalled an elderly lady who was treated. “About two or three days later, she came back with bags of food that she prepared for us. In her poverty, she gave all that she could. It was humbling to be able to even accept the gift from her.”

He said, “I think the greatest takeaway is that I went there with the team in order to render assistance but everyone of us left the place strangely richer from the experience that we had. The very people that we helped also taught us certain lessons: resilience, courage, generosity even in poverty.

LTC (Dr) Tan said he came to appreciate his vocation as a doctor as well, “I am particularly blessed to have had the opportunity to undergo medical training to be a doctor and surgeon. It is not for any other purpose: not for personal gain, for fame or glory, but purely to use the skills and the training that I’ve been given to assist somebody else in need.”

He added, “At the end of the day, I’m not the one that heals, it’s Jesus. I’m humbled by the thought that it is through my hands that God is working. I’m just an instrument.”

By Mel Diamse-Lee
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