Skip to main navigation Skip to main content

Beating the odds in the Bangladesh camps

“Four strong men, four strong men to OPD,” the radio crackles in my pocket.

Dawn breaks as patients start arriving for treatment at the Red Cross field hospital, Kutupalong, Bangladesh. Photo: Australian Red Cross/Antony Balmain

Moments later I watch the four strong men rush past on their way to the outpatient department to move an injured patient who’s just arrived in the Red Cross field hospital. It’s set deep in the world’s biggest refugee mega-camp in Bangladesh on the border with Myanmar.

I’m a paediatric nurse working with the medics as part of a huge team tending to the sick and injured. The children’s ward is a place of heartache and sorrow. It’s mixed with the sheer joy that only working with children can bring.

On my morning round I see one of my young patients Abdul needs antibiotics via injection in to his vein. He’s only four-years-old and both of his legs have been amputated after being run over by a Tom Tom, a type of motorbike cart common in Bangladesh.

After spending months in and out of hospital since his initial injuries, Abdul knows the procedure all too well. He cries and needs a lot of comforting as we insert the new intravenous line. Once he is settled, drawing and colouring a picture, he gives me a high five and a cheeky grin.

Australian Red Cross aid worker Tracy Zordan with a young patient.

I’m well aware of the trauma he has faced in his short life. He has not only made the arduous and terrifying journey from Myanmar with his family but then less than a year later he has lost both his legs in an accident.

He will walk again one day with the use of prosthetics but I am also well aware of the long process it will take to go down that road and learn how to walk again.

The resilience is inspiring. I’m shown on a daily basis how children here continue to find joy in the smallest of things.

I’ve been taking care of countless sick and injured children in the paediatric ward.  My work doesn’t end there. I also provide critical care as patients arrive, in the delivery ward when newborns require resuscitation and also as an added pair of hands on the other main wards.

This is true team work in action. Medics from Bangladesh work side by side nurses, doctors, psychosocial support workers, interpreters and technical teams to save lives day in, day out.

The radio crackles again and I’m called urgently to the outpatient department.

Three-year-old Nazia has managed to stick a couple of seeds up her nose, which the staff are having trouble removing.

Children around the world are all the same and amongst the crush injuries, burns and malnutrition found here, there are still kids being kids.

After a quick discussion via the interpreter, her father delivers ‘the parents kiss’ blowing air through the mouth and expelling the seeds from her nose. The father smiles as though he has been taught a new party trick. They leave the hospital happy.

Tracy Jordan (second from the right) with her field hospital colleagues from Bangladesh Red Crescent.

A short while later I’m looking after seven-year-old Mohammed, who has a special place in my heart. He arrived in a critical condition after being in a Tom Tom accident.

His lung had collapsed and filled with blood, he had multiple broken bones and serious cuts and wounds. For the first 48 hours we were lucky to keep him alive.

Mohammed would have been in an intensive care unit in Australia but due to a lack of hospitals in the region we have nowhere else to send him.

We inserted a number of drains into his chest to keep him alive and two days after he arrived we rushed him back into the operating theatre with further complications.

Two weeks passed and he’s now full of smiles as he blows his bubbles and balloons, which are the closest thing we have to chest physiotherapy and breathing exercises.

Every day he spends hours in the psychosocial tent with his brothers where they spend the day playing and being allowed to be children.

This work is so important to help children work through the trauma they have endured travelling to and living in the camps. So many have lost family members.

Parents present alone with stories of their wives, husbands and children killed over the past year. The adults also attend the psychosocial tent where they receive counselling to help them cope with the past events and their current situation living in the camps with no end in sight.

Inside the field hospsital. Photo: Kate Geraghty/Sydney Morning Herald/Fairfax

Four weeks after he arrives Mohammed is being discharged home to his tent in the camp. We celebrate with a paediatric dance party with lots of music.

He has beaten the odds and shown me once again the strength, courage and determination that children around the world have in common and the reason caring for them is such a privilege.

Tracy Zordan is a Red Cross paediatric nurse who has been working in the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent field hospital in the camps on the Bangladesh-Myanmar border.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Subscribe to our monthly newsletter for the latest news and inspiring stories