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Medical workers face supply shortages in Indonesia

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia—Dr. Maryunani, who runs a field hospital in this devastated provincial capital, is worried that his homeless and destitute patients won't leave after they've recovered from their injuries from last week's tsunami.

"This is my problem," said Maryunani, who like many here goes by just one name. "I'm very worried that this hospital will become a refugee camp instead of a medical center."

The hospital's work is already overwhelming.

Antibiotics and syringes are in short supply—so short that when a plane hit a cow at the airport Tuesday, closing the facility for nearly the whole day and preventing deliveries of supplies, Maryunani worried that he'd run out.

"I have enough antibiotics for just one more day," the doctor said. "We need more right now. Can you help me?"

Serious wounds have been made more serious by delays in treating them. One man walked nearly 50 miles over days with a gash in his abdomen that exposed his intestines. Another had to have a 4-inch patch of flesh cut from his leg because it was infected.

Many are suffering from the trauma of what they've been through.

"Please give me medicine so I can sleep," said Sukriah, a patient whose parents, husband and 9-year-old son disappeared in the tidal wave. "I keep having nightmares."

Sukriah, 38, has a broken pelvis, a broken leg and pneumonia. Her body is covered with cuts and bruises.

"I'm in so much pain," she said. "Please help me."

After inhaling seawater, many patients have severe respiratory problems. Their bodies are covered with infected sores that could kill them if they're left untreated.

The Indonesian Air Force set up Maryunani's field hospital with support from two Indonesian relief groups and some doctors from Singapore. It has 19 doctors and 11 nurses.

Other facilities are more precariously staffed.

At Lhoknga, south of Banda Aceh, the lone medical facility was manned Wednesday by 20 volunteers organized by Global Rescue Network, a relief agency based in Jakarta.

"As soon as I heard the news, I knew I had to come," said Luigi, 25, a recent Indonesian medical school graduate. "I can't do much to help, but I will do whatever I can."

The outpost consisted of a tent pitched on the beach. A dog gnawed on a woman's corpse nearby. A decapitated head lay on the ground in a motorcycle helmet. Most of the residents of Lhoknga perished in the disaster.

A stream of refugees wandered past, many with gaping wounds, infected cuts and severe respiratory problems. They were hungry and dehydrated.

The volunteers gave them food and water, and provided medical treatment for the most seriously injured.

In spite of the hardships, the volunteers said they felt compelled to help.

"My heart told me to come here," said Asung Putranto, 24, a psychology graduate student, who like most of the volunteers lives in Jakarta.

Luigi has cried many times, moved by the refugees' dignity. She said she'd heard no one complain, even people who'd lost their entire families.

"I met a man who lost his wife and three children," she said. "He doesn't blame anyone. He said God has a reason. And he feels blessed that he is still alive."

The strain is such that most volunteers are rotated out after seven to 10 days.

Still, they find the experience inspirational.

"I must try to get really close to my God," said Luigi, who like most Indonesians is a Muslim. "I must do my best for everyone. I must be a better person."

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): tsunami

GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20040105 TSUNAMI HOSPITAL

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