A WOKING nurse has spent four weeks in Bangladesh, helping refugees who have fled violence in Myanmar.
Karen Marshall, 52, who works at the Royal Surrey Hospital, recently returned from the country, where she was one of three theatre nurses supporting doctors in Kutupalong “mega camp” in Cox’s Bazar which is home to 600,000 people.
Karen said the camp was cramped and unhygienic. “The monsoon season had just started when I arrived and the flooding in the camp needed to be seen to be believed. Most of the land in this area is sand so when it rains it just washes everything away. Building enough ’shelter’ for the people – the most basic of human needs – is a constant battle,” she said.
Karen and the rest of the team were mainly draining large infected abscesses on children under general anaesthetic. They were suffering from pyomyositis, which are abscesses deep within the muscles from an infected insect bite or muscle trauma or just general skin infections. They can be fatal if not drained quickly.
The pyomyositis in the refugees is caused by the very poor and unhygienic conditions the children are living in at the camp combined with malnutrition.
“I will always remember one 12-year-old girl who was admitted to the paediatric ward around the time of Eid [the Muslim holiday at the end of Eid]. She had a huge infected abscess on the side of her neck. We could not get the full story of what had happened to her parents. She was partially sighted and also had some severe congenital deformities making her look a lot smaller than her age.
“She was in such pain and was so frightened when she came to theatre. We put her to sleep and performed the surgery. The next day she was sitting up in bed with a huge smile on her face wearing a beautiful new dress that she had been given for Eid. That image of her sticks in my mind to this day,” Karen said.
She was working with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent and also deal with complicated births and worked on several emergency caesarean sections.
“Some of these babies survived but, sadly, many did not,” Karen said. “Despite these deaths, I felt our presence was making a real difference to people’s lives. Our team were providing the only frontline, 24-hour surgical service in the area.
“I really enjoyed working alongside my Bangladeshi Red Crescent colleagues in the hospital as well as the other international team members. I felt part of one large team working towards a common goal.”
Karen said she hopes to return to Cox’s Bazar after Christmas to help more refugees living in the camp, where the Red Cross is building safe toilets and bathing facilities.
If you wish to help the Red Cross reach hundreds of thousands of people by donating to the Myanmar appeal, visit www.redcross.org.uk/Myanmar