Monday, March 14, 2011

Dispatch 65 Qayaq for Sale

14 March 2011
We have put Qayaq up for sale here in Auckland, New Zealand. After a wrenching and difficult decision-making process, we have decided to sell her. So, if you have ever dreamed of cruising, here is your chance to take a boat that is ready to go and sail her back up to the Pacific Islands, or just cruise New Zealand in comfort. Please contact for more information.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Dispatch 64 Big Christchurch Earthquake

22 February 2011
I was sitting in the hospital nurse station when my head nurse suddenly cried, “Shivers, that’s an earthquake!” (She objects to any swearing so “sugar” and “shivers” are as bad as her language gets.) The ground rolled for about a minute, several of the nurses complained they were feeling motion sick. Yours truly didn’t—hah, maybe I did get my sea legs after all. I said, “God, I wonder if that’s Christchurch again,” and flipped the computer to the internet to get the latest news. The TV was on in the nursing home section of the hospital and we all migrated there as the news started to pour in. Yes, it was Christchurch again, but this time, the damage was extensive.

Last earthquake happened on Saturday morning at 4:36 AM and our beds shook here that time too. There was damage in Christchurch but nobody was killed. The earthquake was deeper and 30 km from the city. This time the earthquake was shallow and only 10 km from the city and they think the volcanic rock near where it started reflected even more wave power into the city. This time it happened during lunch hour on a weekday. The city was full of people working and visiting—out on the streets, in the historic sites, in their offices.

As the story unfolded, the news reporters walked the newly shaken streets just filming the destruction, the piles of rubble, the buildings fallen over, the people fleeing in shock, sometimes streaming blood. As always, the very first coverage couldn’t begin to convey the scope of the disaster, but that became clearer as the hours went on. It was hard to watch the coverage and not want to go up and help. I volunteered to go, but the authorities did not call for more doctors—as it turned out, there were hundreds of doctors in town for medical conferences and they had a whole Australian field hospital flown in.

This is a small country and the people I work with in Oamaru have many family and friend connections to Christchurch which is only 3 hours drive away. Everyone has been touched by this quake in a very personal way. Many have gone to retrieve their elderly parents, or nieces/nephews who will attend school here while their parents see if they can salvage their lives there. Our nurses describe going up to ChCh with their gumboots so that they can wade through the liquefaction into their family’s homes to help them.

So, instead, we are here picking up the pieces of people’s lives. Refugees from Christchurch, those who can’t stand it anymore, are streaming south. They’ve had over a thousand aftershocks since the first earthquake in September, and, now, this big one, a new earthquake with the promise of another year of aftershocks. People are shaken, literally. We are only 3 hours drive from there. Our motels are full and people are housing others in their homes. Our stores are empty of bread which is being sent up to Christchurch, and, as it turns out, was packaged there, so there isn’t any quickly available to replenish our supplies. We’ve almost run out of petrol with the streams of people coming through and supplies being diverted to ChCh.

One night this week 50 nursing home patients from ChCh were bussed down our way as their home was condemned. They are being divvied up to various homes on the way down, 4 of them landed in our hospital at 4 in the morning when the bus driver suddenly exceeded his daily hours and couldn't go all the way to Dunedin where they were meant to go. I came in to the hospital in the morning and went in to visit them. They were put in one of our hospital rooms all together (a room with usually 3 beds and another one was brought in.) They were from 80-92 years old, lying in bed with their luggage around them (all their live’s belongings no doubt), like an elder slumber party. They were very sweet, sad, accepting of their lot--it was poignant in the extreme. Later that day when we managed to organize another bus to take them the rest of the way to their new home, they trundled out with their luggage moving to somewhere with no family or friends.

Another Oamaru resident is a woman with Cystic Fibrosis who goes to ChCh hospital every 3 months for antibiotics and just became known to us last November when she came down to finish the course at our hospital. She happened to be in hospital this week and, with the other patients, was evacuated from ChCh hospital. She grabbed her portable oxygen and her cell phone, left the hospital and refused to go back in, requesting to be transferred a week early to our hospital. Her husband brought her down. Ironically for her, the cell phone was very important to grab because she is on the list for a lung transplant and a disaster like this might give her a good chance at a donor.

Later, in the ER, I met a woman who had 3 fingers partially amputated when she had her hand on top of her desk as she hid under it and debris fell on the hand. Ordinarily trauma like this would be a big deal—3 fingers on one’s dominant hand—but in this case, it was minor. At least she was alive. Everything has changed perspective in the wake of this disaster.

Like other disasters we’ve skirted, this one seems a bit surreal. Here we are, cozy and safe, while just three hours away, people are living without sewage or water or electricity. I spoke with the specialist who works with our CF patient in ChCh and she said they are being asked to conserve water in the hospital (they do have running water but are not allowed to drink it) and are told to flush toilets as little as possible. The floor she’s working on is being kept open but the 2 floors below were evacuated—but they’re told the building is safe. Can you imagine? It really is like a war zone up there. And the true scope of the impact is yet to be seen.