On 6 February 2023 at 4:17am an earthquake registering 7.8 magnitude struck southern and central Türkiye (formerly known as Turkey) and northern and western Syria. It is estimated that over 57,000 people died and over 120,000 people were injured in Türkiye. There were more than 10,000 aftershocks in the 3 weeks that followed. An estimated 14 million people, or 16% of Türkiye’s population have been affected. Development experts for the United Nations estimate about 1.5 million have been left homeless. It is the deadliest earthquake in present day Türkiye since the 526 Antakya (Antioch) earthquake, making it the deadliest natural disaster in its modern history.
I have loved my career in nursing and found myself in many different settings due to the nature of our skill set. More recently I added training as a first responder nurse and I am now on the register with Samaritan’s Purse (SP) in their Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART). SP is based in Boone, California with an office in Sydney, and has many medical professionals on their books whom they deploy in rapid response teams to such events.
I watched this event unfold on my television on the Tuesday morning and joined with the world as we saw the devastation of the initial and ongoing earthquakes. SP called me on Thursday 9 and I was flying to Antakya (Antioch), Türkiye as a first responding nurse on Friday 10th February! By Saturday I had been on several plane flights and finally met up with the rest of the first wave team. The final stretch was in a Chinook helicopter due to road closures and we were delivered in the middle of a paddock.
The rest of the weekend was spent hearing priorities, erecting tents, unpacking supplies, building beds, stocking medical areas and pretending that jet lag is just a myth!
On Monday February 14 one week after the event at 0900, SP opened its 52 bed tent hospital to the residents of Türkiye.
SP staff were buddied up with local interpreters and set to work quickly. The SP professional team included several orthopaedic surgeons, trauma specialists, nurses who could cover Triage, Emergency Department, Intensive Care, Post acute care, step-down and ward nursing. Each SP Emergency Field Hospital has a pharmacy, X-ray equipment, lab technician, stores and supplies team along with locals who are employed to cook and clean to keep the hospital running efficiently and hygienically.
I worked mainly in triage where I met a great number of tired, broken and exhausted people. We had many patients presenting with complex fractures, burns, head injuries and complicated trauma. The mental and emotional impact of the earthquakes had also taken a huge toll. Children were frightened to go to sleep, and families were now sleeping in cars or tents, as they were unable to return to their homes.
On the following Saturday we had two subsequent earthquakes registering 6.4 and 5.8, which began to give us some insight into the fear our brothers and sisters were living through over the previous 10 days.
After my stint in Triage I was allocated to the Women’s ward and loved the switch to providing nursing care. The ward was full of beautiful ladies dealing with complex injuries, flashbacks, nightmares, and ever-present fear. I created a very basic "Day Spa" outside our tent which we were able to get our patients out to attend. It was lots of fun and created friendship and relaxation. I encouraged everyone to come outside, whether they were in a bed, on crutches, in a wheelchair, or walking , we organised them to come and rest in the company of others, have their hair washed, their feet massaged, their hands rubbed and engage in conversation together.
From that day, many relatives found reason to bring in Turkish tea, Turkish coffee, baklava and so many delicious treats for the patients (and staff!) to share. It was wonderful and the continuous highlight of our every day. Staff joined us when possible and our afternoons in the fresh air enlivened our souls. Finally love, life, and laughter, filled hearts again. The echo of fellowship rose through the air!
We saw over 1,000 patients each week during my 4 week deployment. I did not meet them all, but those for whom I cared showed kindness, gratitude and love, in a way I have rarely experienced. I left a better person after caring for these Turkish people, listening to their stories and experiencing their gentleness. I am very grateful to SP for the opportunity to serve others.
Please continue to pray for the people of Türkiye and Syria. The event has slidden quietly off the News headlines, but the heartache goes on and the rebuild is slow.
I will always know that God is there. He is present and He will heal. God is at work bringing His light into the darkest places.
Gabi Macaulay RN AFCNA Chairperson