Schoolchildren had urgent things to tell doctors and nurses last month at Mongar Regional Referral Hospital in Bhutan. What a racket they made, talking and crying and wailing!
Local 6th and 7th graders were actors in a novel mass casualty drill conceived by GeoHazards International. They helped us put the hospital's new disaster plans to the test, pandemonium included.
Students preparing for the drill. Photo: Karma Doma Tshering
We created a scenario of a major earthquake on the active fault that runs beneath much of Bhutan. Many homes will collapse. Hospital buildings will be damaged. Landslides will block roads and sever utilities. People will suffer.
Karma Doma Tshering, our national coordinator for Bhutan, briefed each student on their story to tell the medical staff. After they were suitably "injured" with make-up, they rehearsed with her.
Then they made their way to the hospital by foot, taxi or ambulance.
A "patient" tells his story to the triage team. Photo: Karma Doma Tshering
Students played injured people or anxious family members. Five were “dead” on arrival but had trouble staying that way. Another went into hiding (improv!). One had just given birth. Teachers played demanding VIPs and reporters.
The drill capped a week in which our team worked with doctors, nurses and staff to plan for a damaging event. It was part of the Health Sector Disaster Preparedness Project, which is technically and financially supported by the World Health Organization (WHO) and European Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO).
Ambulance teams practiced too. Photo: Hari Kumar
This is the main hospital serving eastern Bhutan. Staff planned how to evacuate patients from each building, triage the injured, manage patient surge, and deal with shortages of power, water and medicine. But how much would they recall?
Drills are important because the body remembers. And as staff carry “patients” down too-narrow stairways, or see the "ICU patient” forgotten in the car park, they learn to anticipate problems.
"Patients" with less critical injuries waiting for care. Photo: Hari Kumar
Before this drill, the medical staff had little practice with the chaos that a disaster brings. Gaps came to light. They took careful notes. Then theymade a racket at the debriefing, sharing ways to improve.
Everyone finished the day with lessons learned--and a much better disaster plan for the hospital.
P.S. Bhutan Broadcasting Service was on hand to interview everyone (even the "dead"). It turned out the students learned a thing or two about medical care as well as disasters.