Feature Article

Eyewitness reports horrific experiences at makeshift hospital

[TamilNet, Friday, 03 April 2009, 08:00 GMT]
“What’s happening here is something that has not happened anywhere in the world,” says, Theyva, a local humanitarian worker, who has been attending the admittance of seriously wounded civilians being brought to the makeshift hospital at Puthumaaththa'lan within the so-called 'safe zone' for 48 days. Sharing some of his horrific experiences with TamilNet Vanni correspondent on Wednesday, contributing his record of the gruesome effects of the carnage by the attacks of the Sri Lankan forces on civilians amidst prevailing starvation, Mr. Theyvendran asks: “How can the outside world keep on watching these things? Do they want the Tamil people to perish completely?”

Humanitarian worker Theivendran (Theyva) at Puthumaaththa'lan makeshift hospital
Humanitarian worker Theivendran (Theyva) at Puthumaaththa'lan makeshift hospital
Voice: Eyewitness account by Theyva (1/2)

MP3 AudioDirect Link (mp3)
“About 2 weeks ago we had this very tragic incident. A shell had exploded killing the elderly and the eldest child of one family. The injured mother and father were brought in along with their 2nd child, an 8-month-old baby, dependent on breast milk. The baby only had a slight injury but the mother had sustained serious injuries to her chest towards one side of her breast. After receiving first aid, the mother wanted to nurse since the baby was inconsolable. But, the mother died while nursing the baby. We didn’t realise that the mother was dead. The baby was still breastfeeding..."

“I still can’t forget the screams of the child when it was taken away from its dead mother,” Theyva says.

“We do this work with a lot of self control but tears were just pouring down my cheeks at that tragic scene.”

At least 6,600 sick and wounded and their attendants have been transported from the makeshift hospital at Puthumaaththa'lan to Trincomalee by sea since February 10th, according to ICRC surgeon Martin Hermann, as documented in an interview released by the ICRC this week.

The ICRC surgeon said that the makeshift hospital does a “tremendous job”, given the difficult environment it has to work in.

Many patients who arrive in Trincomalee are in a state of utter exhaustion, dehydrated and very often too weak to move because of the large number of people requiring medical care at the only functioning makeshift hospital, and due to severe shortages in medical supplies at Puthumaaththa'lan.

Further excerpts from Theyvendran’s eyewitness account, recorded on Wednesday follow. Full recording of the audio interview is also published with photos.

Puthumaaththa'lan hospital, 01 April 2009
Theiva at work with fellow volunteers of TRO and SLRC on Wednesday
Voice: Eyewitness account by Theyva (2/2)

MP3 AudioDirect Link (mp3)
“We have been receiving many injured expectant mothers. The other day, we had a case of an expectant mother whose 7-month foetus was killed in the womb due to shrapnel injuries.”

“This is the first time I am seeing this kind of situation where a baby is not only killed inside the womb, but the unborn child’s head is also blown apart. I am not sure if the mother survived or not.”

“It was gruesome. I felt like going somewhere alone and crying out loud.”

“The injuries to children are horrific.”

“We had a 6-month-old child, whose foot was split open between the toes. These kinds of injuries are common and we get horrific cases each day.”

“A 14-year-old girl from Valaignarmadam was brought in with deep shell shrapnel wounds to her chest and stomach. Blood was urgently needed. The injured girl’s mother, who was taking care of her two younger children, was in an extremely weak condition. The mother hadn’t eaten for 3 days, and in addition, she was having blood loss due to menstruation. Hence, she was not in a position to give blood.”

“The child died soon after.”

“Yesterday [March 31st], there were about 120 casualties brought to the hospital. Many among the injured had lost their arms or legs or both, and hadn’t eaten a meal for about 2 days or 3 days.”

“When we ask them, 'did you get to eat anything at least this morning?' most of them reply 'we just had plain tea'.”

“I am unable to describe this, but these weak and hollowed eyed people seem to be a state of shock and grief.”

Puthumaaththa'lan hospital, 01 April 2009
Theivendran (Theyva) giving eyewitness account


Puthumaaththa'lan hospital, 01 April 2009
Traumatised children at the hospital where parents are treated
“The other day, a young mother came in search of infant milk powder for her baby. When I suggested breast-feeding, she said that she hadn’t had enough food to eat and the milk supply has been impacted due to this. The baby was constantly crying, and was emaciated and malnourished. Most of the babies I am seeing now seem to lack adequate development and are suffering from malnourishment.”

“A few days ago, we had 3 tractor loads full of injured people. Since most of the injuries were very serious, initially I was helping out people whose lives could be saved. There was a man whose eyeball was hanging out. Nevertheless, since it was only an eye injury, I was rushing him in, when a shell landed and exploded in the hospital premises. Both he and I fell to the ground.”

“This is the kind of environment we are working in.”

“When we receive the wounded, they are just put on the ground outside.”

“At times we don’t even have mats, sheets or clothing to spread under them. We are unable to attend to all injuries so those who had lost their arms, legs or both, just die due to bleeding.”

“We do our rounds quickly and often you hear words like 'Is that person dead? Okay, let’s lift him and move him out', 'bring the other person into this space'. This is kind of environment that we work in.”

“We can’t even afford 5 minutes of rest since the injured and the dying are brought in tractor loads.”

Puthumaaththa'lan hospital, 01 April 2009
Wounded patients being brought to hospitals while Theiva being interviewed


“What’s happening here is something that has not happened anywhere in the world. How can the outside world keep on watching these things? Do they want the Tamil people to perish completely?”

Mr. Theyvendran, a humanitarian worker of the Tamils Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO), the major local organisation to serve the people since international NGOs had been instructed out of Vanni by the Sri Lankan government, has been working at the makeshift hospital for 48 days. Local volunteers of the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society (SLRC) also serve at the hospital.

TamilNet correspondent, ventured out for these eyewitness accounts on Wednesday, narrowly escaped twice from SLA-fired shells exploding a few meters close to him.

Puthumaaththa'lan hospital, 01 April 2009
Playground of the school which functions as the hospital, is the mortuary.


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