23rd June 2023

DCHS physiotherapist shares her experience of volunteering in a disaster zone

Earlier this year, advanced physiotherapy practitioner Claire Dexter volunteered in Turkey to support victims of the Turkish-Syrian earthquake.

Photo of Chloe outside tentThe earthquake claimed more than 54,000 lives, displaced 3.2 million people and injured more than 130,000 people, either directly by collapsing structures, or indirectly while extracting themselves or rescuing loved ones from beneath the rubble.

Claire was deployed to Turkey by UK-Med, a World Health Organisation-verified emergency medical team that provides vital healthcare worldwide when crises or disasters hit. Its register has hundreds of NHS medics who are rigorously trained for emergencies and are on-call to provide support at disaster zones.

“I am privileged that my first deployment with UK-Med after six years on the on-call register was as part of the UK Emergency Medical Team (second wave team - weeks four to six) responding to the Turkish-Syrian earthquake,” said Claire.

“We provided a rather cold, muddy and windy tented primary care health facility in Turkoglu, supporting a tented Turkish facility in the grounds of a hospital that was no longer safe to use as it was destabilised by the earthquake.”

Claire worked as part of a medical team consisting of ED consultants, nurses, paramedics, GPs, maternity care and paediatric services, a pharmacist and psychological support. The team worked more than 12 hours a day, seven days a week, operating from a base camp of tents and experiencing daily aftershocks.

“My caseload was predominately providing assessment and advice including x-ray imaging, strapping, POP, analgesia, and exercise as well as providing rehabilitation,” said Claire.

“Presentations varied from direct earthquake related injuries of delayed presentation of MSK problems – for example, “my wardrobe fell on my shoulder in the earthquake”, rib fractures and spinal injuries to indirect earthquake related injuries, including falls over rubble, overuse injuries of the back/upper limbs while partaking in rescue, retrieval and clear-up, as well as acute exacerbations of chronic MSK conditions such as osteoarthritic secondary to cold uncomfortable sleeping arrangements (over 70 per cent of patients were temporarily residing in tents following the destruction of their homes).

“The days were long, the patients were so grateful despite having lost so much, the team was amazing, we had great interpreters and providing you are happy to go back to basics, experience regular aftershocks and rough it in a tent for a few weeks (including using the squatter loos!) I would highly recommend joining UK-Med. I felt I made a valuable contribution to the team and people of Turkoglu, it was an amazing experience I’ll never forget.”