|Tzu Chi Medical Teams to Sri Lanka|
|Multiple roles of doctors and nurses|
|Training local medical volunteers|
On the afternoon of December 28, the Hualien Tzu Chi Medical Center received instructions from the Tzu Chi Foundation to immediately begin preparing to send medicine and medical equipment to tsunami survivors in Sri Lanka.
What kind of medicine was needed for the survivors? With such short notice, the hospital decided on a one-month supply of medicines typically used in the emergency room and some medicine for dermatosis and chronic illnesses. A few hours later, over 150 boxes of medicine, weighing a total of 1,800 kilograms (3,968 pounds), were packed and ready to go.
The first Tzu Chi medical team left on December 29 and reached Hambantota on the evening of December 30. Including flights, transfers and connecting car rides, the team had traveled for close to 30 hours.
The medical station was opened the next morning! Four outpatient services and a pharmacy were well equipped so that the station could be run like a small clinic.
Lending help to survivors
Many people were already waiting in line before the clinic opened at 9 each morning. Injuries included minor abrasions, contusions, and lacerations that needed small operations. There were also more serious cases, as some of the tsunami's victims had been thrown around by the tidal waves and were injured from head to toe. As a consequence, their treatments were very complicated and time-consuming. Other survivors showed signs of severe psychological trauma because some or all of their family members had died: they couldn't sleep at night, they wept uncontrollably throughout the day, and most of the time they appeared absentminded and in a deep state of shock. In addition to careful treatment, the Tzu Chi doctors offered physical comfort to the survivors through simple gestures, such as holding the patients' hands, patting their shoulders or even by giving hugs.
People trusted and praised the Tzu Chi medical station and word spread quickly. Patients would come from as far as 30 kilometers (19 miles) away to be treated, and the number of patients rose from 254 people on the first day to 800 people per day two weeks later.
Wang Li-hsin, vice superintendent of the Hualien Tzu Chi Medical Center and also the leader of the first Tzu Chi medical team, pointed out that medical services in Sri Lanka are free, so people don't have to pay any fees to see doctors and obtain medicine. However, they do have to pay for examinations or for more expensive drugs. The tsunami swept away all of the pharmacies in Hambantota, and due to the sudden vast influx of patients, the local hospital could not provide all of the necessary medicine. Therefore, the Tzu Chi medical station became the only alternative hope for local patients.
Dr. Wang remarked that the team brought with them a significant amount of high-quality medicine. Supplies of antibiotics and medicine for patients with high blood pressure and diabetes were well stocked so as to fill the gap in the local medical services.
Dr. Wang specializes in infections. When someone with inflamed eyes came to the clinic, Dr. Wang would ascertain if the patient was a farmer or fisherman. If so, it was likely that the patient would have been in touch with dirty water and would probably have contracted leptospira. Once this diagnosis was confirmed, Dr. Wang would prescribe penicillin or tetracycline, which would effectively cure the condition.
The Tzu Chi medical station was small but well-equipped. It filled the gap in local medical services and also provided 15 boxes of medicine to nearby Hambantota Base Hospital.
This 400-bed hospital was the largest in Hambantota and also the only existing hospital within a diameter of 250 kilometers (155 miles). The hospital originally had 50 doctors, but the tsunami had killed two doctors and two nurses, putting more strain on the hospital's already insufficient manpower.
The hospital staff spoke of how in the first three days after the tsunami, over 900 patients had jammed the hospital, filling every inch of space in the building. Some seriously injured patients had been transferred to other places. Patients who stayed behind had to wait for a week before receiving any treatment, as all of the supplies from the central government had been used up so quickly. The Tzu Chi medical station helped bring much needed assistance to these patients.