My mission in Nepal came to an end after only four short weeks and I flew home happy with the work done but sad not only to leave the country I loved, but also the amazing MSF team that I had been living and working with in that time.
The normal post mission fatigue hit me harder than usual the first few days after my debrief and I put the couple of temperatures I ran down to the upset stomach I was experiencing and made a mental note to add probiotic yogurt to my next shopping list. Turns out medics are the worst diagnosticians when it comes to themselves however, as slightly over a week after my return I was admitted to hospital and diagnosed with malaria, albeit not a strain that I could have picked up in Nepal but more likely from one of my previous African missions and which had been quietly hibernating in my liver ever since.
A few profoundly uncomfortable days of medication, fevers, nausea, a dropping haemoglobin, a swollen and tender tummy and more needles than I care to remember followed – but all of that discomfort paled into insignificance when I received a phone call from the MSF Amsterdam office.
Nepal. An accident. Helicopter crash.
Then three names that left me sobbing for breath.
Raj – our mental health officer, whom I only met once in my last couple of days but was brimful of enthusiasm to be working for MSF and serving the people of his country.
Sandeep – our softly spoken medical Team Leader whose steady humour, gentle manner and quiet diplomacy was a much needed balance for our headstrong team of nurses.
And Jessica – whom perhaps I knew best and yet still not well enough. A Dutch doctor of near my own age – tall, beautiful, meticulous, determined, clearly a brilliant clinician, and super friendly and humorous to boot.
As kindly and familiar as my friends and family were – still are – there was something about this loss and grief that I couldn’t express with them over the subsequent days. Perhaps it was because they didn’t know my team – perhaps because I couldn’t express my guilt at having taken the same risks - flying over the same mountains - and yet have survived.
Next week, wrecked liver, low iron levels or otherwise, I will fly to the Netherlands to attend Jessica’s funeral. Maybe there in the company of some of my colleagues from Nepal some of this bottled sorrow will be able to be set free.
Raj, Sandeep and especially Jessica – I only knew you a few short weeks but the weight of loss I will carry for much longer. It was a privilege to know and work with you. I hope that you are living now in the presence of a peace more vast and profound than us left behind can begin to comprehend. We can only honour your memories by living the best and bravest lives that we can and continuing to serve the cause that you all so passionately believed in.
I pray that your families and loved ones are supporting themselves and each other though this as best as possible. And for all of us still here– we will just have to keep walking our own paths, and hope to meet you, faces lit and hands out stretched again at the end of our journeys too. But at this moment the great divide never seemed so wide before.
Live on, beautiful souls.