KATHMANDU, Nepal — At 11:58 a.m., I glanced at the clock in the lobby of the Yak & Yeti Hotel in the Durbar Marg neighborhood of the Nepalese capital. I walked toward the elevator, and the floor rolled in front of me. It felt like a small boat tossed by enormous waves.
I slipped and slid on the tile floor, and ran, leaning drunkenly to the left, toward the door. I was a few feet away when I heard the glass shatter. I swayed and leaned against a pillar; I looked desperately for a door frame. A hotel employee passed by me, and I reached for his arm. “Please, help me,” I said. I followed him into the room behind the reception desk and crouched on the floor. Another hotel employee inside looked as scared as I was.
She peeked out through the door frame. “Madame, go out into the garden. Go out into the garden now,” she said. I ran out the back door. A stream of water 2 feet wide rushed by the path in front of me; later, others described a foot of water from the hotel pool and dozens of goldfish from a nearby pond thrown violently into the air.
I settled on the grass a few dozen feet from the hotel and felt the rolling murmurs of aftershocks — some totaling 6.6 on the Richter scale, some sources are reporting.
The hotel employees around me were as shocked as I was. They dialed and redialed their phones, trying to reach their loved ones. They told me it was as scary for them as it was for us. As hotel guests approached across the trembling ground, asking what the next steps were, they shook their heads helplessly.
Up on the third floor, Dietric Hennings had just checked into his room and was preparing to call his girlfriend. Then he felt the building slide to one side, he said. The weirdest part was there was no sound — just the shifting and swaying of the floor. He was sure the building would collapse.
“In that moment, you realize how small you are,” Hennings said.
A general surgeon based in New Orleans, Hennings arrived in Nepal to train police and mountain guides (Sherpas) on trauma life support. With little to no ambulances available, these first-responders are often the only ones in a position to stabilize injuries and transport trekkers or victims of car accidents to the closest hospital.
And so Hennings’s next thought was for the injured. Once the tremors had stilled, he made his way down the stairs and found a hotel employee, who led the doctor to a man lying on the concrete outside. His overshirt and undershirt were soaked through with blood. Someone had fashioned a makeshift gauze dressing to staunch the bleeding.
“I undressed the cut, and I could tell at that point that it was pretty deep,” Hennings said. He was worried the glass might have punctured the man’s lung. He applied pressure until the staff brought gauze and water, which he splashed across the man’s right rib cage. No bubbles disturbed the water. “That was a good sign,” Hennings said: no punctured lung.
“I probed the wound. I actually stuck my finger in it,” Hennings said. “The cut went down into his rib bone.” Assisted by two Iraqi physicians in town for a UNICEF conference, Hennings cleaned and dressed the wound. Since his lung wasn’t punctured and the bleeding was controlled, the man waited an hour or so before heading to the overcrowded hospital. The man was back at the hotel within a few hours, sporting a ridge of stitches.
Now Hennings and his erstwhile patient and I are waiting in the garden for the next barrage. We’re told another quake may hit in the next hour or so — and it might be even worse than the first.
But if disaster strikes yet again, I wouldn’t want anyone else sitting beside me.
Schreiber is reporting from Nepal with the International Reporting Project.