Forth Valley Royal doctor flies out to treat Nepal earthquake victims

Doctor Paul Holmes
Doctor Paul Holmes

When he heard about the second quake, his first thought was ‘I should be out there’.

Dedicated doctor Paul Holmes could have been forgiven for thinking how lucky he was to be back home when the second earthquake struck Nepal on May 12, killing over 100 people and injuring 2500 more.

I was working at Forth Valley Royal one minute then flying off to Heathrow the next

Dr Paul Holmes

But the Forth Valley Royal Hospital consultant obstetrician, who had left Nepal only days before the second quake, was only upset he was not still out there to help. His first thoughts were for the people who would require medical treatment.

It was this attitude that had led the 48-year-old father-of-four, a member of Ochil Mountain Rescue, to put his name forward for the UK International Emergency Trauma Register (UKIETR) and commit to flying out to Nepal after the first earthquake hit on April 25, leading to the deaths of 8800 people and injuring 23,000.

“It was slightly surreal,” said Paul. “I was supposed to be out there for another week and in my mind I was ready to go out to rural areas to visit several different villages a day, camp overnight and then do the same thing again the next day.

“Then I was told I would be going home.”

Originally from Northern Ireland, Paul moved to Scotland when he was 18 to study medicine at Edinburgh University and has been here since. Married to Pamela, the couple have four children, aged between nine and 17.

Paul’s journey to Nepal began in 2014 when a colleague at FVRH, who knew of his involvement with Ochil Mountain Rescue, suggested he might like to join UKIETR.

He said: “I went on three training courses between September 2014 and March this year.”

The last training course, setting up a field hospital in an actual field in Northampton, happened just weeks before the earthquake struck Nepal.

Having declared his availability to help the relief effort, Paul had actually come to terms with the possibility that he would not be going.

“I heard a team had been selected and I hadn’t been contacted, so I was cycling into work thinking they don’t want me. I was a bit disappointed.”

Then Paul got an urgent e-mail and things moved quickly after that.

“I was listening to the news on Tuesday, which was April 28, and I heard the UK was sending out a team of medical experts.

“You don’t normally think of yourself as a medical expert, but I realised then that I could be going.

“I was working at Forth Valley Royal one minute then flying off to Heathrow the next. My colleagues were very supportive and covered for me while I was gone.”

His family were apprehensive, but supportive.

“My wife was keen to get my life insured,” Paul joked. “And my kids asked if I could take some of their teddy bears to give to children over there.”

Meeting the UKIETR team at Heathrow, Paul then spent the next 20 hours travelling to Nepal, eventually arriving in Kathmandu at midnight on Wednesday, April 29.

“What you think is going to happen and what does actually happen once you’re out there is totally different. I thought we would be busy treating people all the time, but we never deployed our field hospital.

“I had imagined we would be setting up in a car park and treating people there, but there were local hospitals still standing and we ended up helping out in them.

“The majority of buildings I saw were still standing and supermarkets were open, but you would turn a corner and see that three buildings had collapsed. There was no pattern to it.

“I never felt in any danger while I was there. People would say did they feel that aftershock at 3 a.m., but I slept right through it.”

Paul visited an impromptu clinic which had been created by local medical staff in a ground floor car park.

“They felt that was a safe place,” he said. “It was all laid out in different sections, one corner of the car park was intensive care. There were a couple of pregnant women who had lost their babies as a result of injuries caused by the earthquake, and those women were in the same room as women who had successfully delivered their babies.

“Normally you would want to have them in separate rooms, but they couldn’t. It was just a matter of space. It was an eye -opener.”

A month on from the original earthquake, the efforts of Paul and the rest of the UKIETR team were praised by International Development Secretary Justine Greening.

She said: “Thousands were killed and many more were left homeless and in desperate need of medical help. Britain moved quickly to deploy a highly-skilled team of doctors, surgeons and paramedics from across the UK, who put themselves at risk to treat people suffering from crush injuries, broken bones and infections.

“They have played a vital role in helping Nepal recover from this disaster.”