It must [have been] just 9.15 in the morning on Easter Sunday, April 21, when I received a call from my wife to inform me that there had been bomb attacks on some churches.She wanted me to come home immediately. I was examining my last patient at a private hospital. I got into the car and was driving along the main road when I received a text message. Usually, I would not have looked at it immediately, but in the light of the information given by my wife, I stopped the car by the side of the road and read it. It was a SOS from a medical academic organisation asking doctors to go immediately to the Accident Service of the National Hospital in Colombo and the General Hospital, Negombo, to help with treating the injured. The message did not have any details, but the nature and tone of it was such that it implied a major catastrophe. I phoned my wife and told her that I was going to the Accident Service and drove straight there.
When I got there, the scene was one of absolute mayhem. Scores of injured people were being brought in by ambulances. Most of the injured had horrendous injuries and there was blood everywhere. There were trails of blood when the patients on trolleys were wheeled into the treatment area. The carnage caused by the attacks was so devastating in its sheer brutality, content and magnitude. The paramedics of the ambulances had initiated basic resuscitation measures and most of the patients were on saline drips and some already had blood transfusions in progress.
Every injured person was attended to immediately. There were large numbers of casualties who were being brought in. Some were fighting for their lives, some were unconscious, some were able to tell us about their symptoms, but the majority were in medical shock. That is a condition that was invariably fatal unless treated very promptly. There were teenagers and young people who had all kinds of dreadful injuries. It was reminiscent of the scene in a war-time battlefield.
We had to sort out those who were not severely affected from those who had life-threatening injuries. This was done as soon as they were brought to the Accident Service and the not-so-badly injured were promptly admitted to the wards. Those who were desperately ill had at least eight to ten doctors around each of them.
Many basic examinations and manoeuvres had to be undertaken and most importantly, everything had to be documented. Internal injuries with bleeding into the chest, abdomen and head were the conditions that needed to be attended to promptly. Those who had evidence of internal bleeding were rushed to the operating theatres where consultant surgeons were working continuously and frantically to save the lives of these patients. It is to the eternal credit of everybody working in the Accident Service that, as far as I know, no person brought with his or her heart beating died in the receiving area of the Accident Service. Several of them had perished later in the wards, but the attention provided at the receiving area of the Accident Service was absolutely first class. Then, at around 11.00 am, we started to receive cases that were being transferred from the Negombo Hospital and its surrounding medical institutions. These were very severely ill patients who had been resuscitated there, had some tests done and were transferred for specialised attention. There were patients with base of skull fractures, major chest injuries and severe abdominal trauma. All these need to be handled with great care
Most of the top Administrators of the Health Ministry were present. This included the Health Services Director-General and the National Hospital Director. They did all the organisation of the administrative details without getting in the way of the treatment and curative procedures. They stayed out of the way and outside the treatment area. There were plenty of transport trolleys and beds in the wards which had been efficiently organised by the administrators.
Then, politicians started to come in to see what was happening. The Health Minister too came and was apprised of the situation. Some of them visited the wards as well.
I was an unknown entity with a stethoscope around my neck to most of the staff in the Accident Service. I am, in a different speciality, far removed from surgery. What was needed was to attend to the basics of resuscitation for the severely-afflicted patients. A few young doctors recognised me, but even those who could not make me out were quite happy to have the facility of anything that I could do to help. All the administrators, of course, knew me. When I quietly left around 2.00 pm, there was some easing of the pressure in the Accident Service.
The doctors of all grades, nurses, non-academic staff and all the other employees of the Accident Service and the National Hospital rose to the occasion in a herculean effort to do their best for the injured men and women. We do not have the most-privileged and enviable reputation as one of the best health services in the region for nothing. The staff showed their colours most vividly, but ever so unpretentiously that day. Commands were given and orders complied with, ever so promptly. When something was asked for, it materialised even from nowhere. They worked like Trojans and the more the numbers of casualties that were brought in, the harder they worked. They put their collective shoulder to the wheel. No one pulled rank on the others. There were even consultants who pushed trolleys. X-rays and all types of scans were done without any delay. In all the chaos that prevailed, the patients came first and the necessary medical attention was not delayed for anyone. The staff in the Accident Service worked without food; they just had water. Only when the pressure eased a bit, albeit, after a few hours, there was just a little bit of time for some biscuits and plain tea.
There are many people in other professions who rendered yeoman service in those hard times. The Armed Forces and the Police worked at great risk to their own lives. They need to be treated like God’s own gift to mankind. However, it must not be forgotten that all grades of staff in the Accident Service and the Colombo National Hospital played a significant and crucial role in dealing with the aftermath of this unspeakable calamity that was a national tragedy. They were indeed the nameless, faceless and unsung heroes and heroines of that fateful Easter Sunday. This writer saw it with his own eyes. They were the guardian angels of the injured who required their assistance so desperately in their hour of need. None of the wounded persons was left wanting.
Please, do ask any of the patients who survived. They would be the first to acknowledge the way they were looked after. Staff members who toiled so hard in the Accident Service that day richly deserve a resounding encomium and the tributes of our entire nation.
** A NOTE:
What is described here is a worldwide phenomenon when either natural or man-made disasters strike: many [but not all] human beings in the vinamcinity respond with alacrity and humanity. Such responses were seen recently when a group of Thai youngsters were trapped in a cave. But perhaps the most striking example was when the tsunami hit Acheh, Thailand and Sri Lanka on 26th December 2006
A THOUGHT: That Easter Sunday three policemen died when they raided the house of a suspected jihadist killer and his wife detonated a bomb that killed herself and children [thereby ensuring their journey to lie at the feet of Allah –as they would believe]. I would like to know the names of these policemen who died in the line of duty. They should receive special commemoration.