Well, some of you have been asking me to provide news from Tommy Tsunami whenever time and energy allow, and as buzzed as I am from the day, I guess now there is some energy to burn before I hit the hay.
Today was the type of day I have been hoping to have for three days now - where I actually got actively invovled in the aftermath of the tsunami. Specifically, I played Santa Claus at the hospital in Phang Nga, handing out little goodies to the 150 or so injuried people here. Phang Nga is the middle point of a three way axis between Khoa Lak, Phuket and Krabi, and after having made no substantive process getting anyone in Krabi to tell me how I could help in a substantive way (in Krabi or on one of the islands), I got word from a woman on my diving trip that I could be of use in Phang Nga.
Having been communicating with Tamsin by both email and phone, we were both wanting to find a way to be useful, and she had succeeded in spades (see copy of her email below). As of last night, our plan was to meet up in Phnag Nga this am, and either help out at the hospital (if they needed our help) or head to Khoa LAk to see what we could do there. I caught the early bus from Krabi to Phang Nga, and by 9:00 was in town and reading an email from Tamsin telling me to come to the hospital - she had been asked to engage in a substantive way with helping the injured with whatever their needs might be, and she thought there was plenty of need for moi.
Within an hour of arriving here at the hospital (where I still am at 9:00 PM), I was enlisted to help provide the injured with little nicities to ease their pain. This entailed me going around the various wards and asking people what they would like - I framed it as "if you were in a store right now, what would you get." By the end of the first ward of some 20 people, the list was well established. Soda, deoderant, skin lotion, something sweets for the bored mouths (too much rice and noodles for three days), soda, razors and shaving cream for a few men, new underwear for the women, soda, something for the kids (read crayons and drawing paper), some non-Thai food (read chips), juices without lots of sugar, and ... soda.
The response was immediate - people were psyched to get these things, and given the season I was dubbed Santa by many. What was most rewarding, though, were the responses: lots of thanks, a good number of "this means so much", plenty of smiles (probably the best part of it all), some tears (for whatever numerous reasons they had to cry), and some very moving emotional hugs (most people were too banged up to want - or be able - to give an actual hug). It was quite profound how somethings so simple to obtain could mean so much. And for me, the responses were more than enough to give me reason to think I finally had done something to help. It was so big, and in some ways so sad, how impactful these simple acts of giving were touching the people here. A very good reminder of the value of a simple act of kindness.
Maybe even more moving for me, though, was seeing how badly beaten up these folks were from what one fella called "surfing through the jungle." Without a doubt, I have never seen so many painful looking cuts and bruises covering so much of so many peoples' bodies. And lots of very loud moaning would come forth as people were being moved about (because for a lot of them, they needed to be moved because they couldn't move their own bodies). People who needed straws to drink the soda or juices because their faces/jaws hurt too much to try and open and swallow. Two women passed on the gum because they were missing front teeth. The wave kicked ass, literally! And not just ass, but basically eveyr part fo the human body - there were some pretty graphic sights today.
But the most tearful and probably the most disturbing part of the day for me was seeing the wall of missing people. A bulletin board some six feet by four feet in size, filled with pictures and fliers of missing people - babies, kids, adults; all shapes and colors and sizes. And tears for Tommy. Reminded me of a cross between the back of a milk cartoon and a telephone pole from NYC after 9/11 (as depicted in many photos I saw from back then). Ther are still a lot of people trying to find a lot of people - I heard and saw too many stories of missing people today for my own good (adding insult to injury with respect to the stories I've heard during the past three days).
Which leads to tomorrow. While I may again play Santa, I suspect that I'll end up doing something different - specifically, going to Khoa Lak to help people identify if the loved one(s) they are missing is/are dead. The bodies from Khoa Lak are being moved to a temple just south of town, where apparently forensic experts are identifying the bodies by distinguishable "markings." So, to bring the process full circle, someone needs to work with the people looking for their relatives or friends to help them ID that person's distinguishable markings - such as birthmarks, tatoos, jewelry, scars and the like. Then the two bits of information will be compared, and if a similarity emerges, people will be asked to come and try and ID a certain body.
Heavy stuff, so I am not sure how much I want to dive into that. But the need to help the injured is waning, as probably more than half of the 150 or so people here were moved out today on route to home, and it sounds like more will get moved out tomorrow. Meanwhile, the need to help people find their loved ones increases, as these folks must be beginning to experience some hellish desperation to get some information about their family members or friends (personally, it boggles my mind to think about what they must be going through). So, as heavy as it may be, if the need for volunteers to help with this ID process is as big tomorrow AM as it seemed this afternoon, then I'll very likely be off to Khoa Lak tomorrow. Back to the scene of the crime!!!
All in all, today was a very rewarding day, as well as a very disturbing day - Yin and Yang alive and well and dancing about at the Phang Nga hospital. I am so very glad I got to help in what seemed to be a small but significant way. But I know I saw stuff that will be with me for sometime now, hopefully not messing with my emotional well-being too much. I'd do it all over again if given the chance, which I almost certainly will be tomorrow.
In closing, thanks to those who wrote me today - felt good to hear from you. And as some of you have mentioned, for every person who is writing me, there are many others who are wondering how Tsunami Tommy is doing with all of this - and that feels good too. The answer is "well" - as best I can tell. But then again, I'm not sure of the psychic fallout. What I do know is that I'm very glad to be here now and helping in any way I can; but I also know that I shed more tears today than I do on an average day in the Bozone. So, what all that means in terms of my own personal dance of the ying/yang, only time will tell. But right now, it feels very good, and I know there are some people heading home with fresh deoderant on, some have clean underwear, and everyone of them showed their thanks to me in some way that I feel very grateful to have received.
As for you all, hug someone for me - and for yourself. It's times like these that the human connection becomes even more important - as we deal with the emotional aftermath of the big kid with the waterhose and firecrackers messing with us ants in the sandbox.
Email from Tamsin two days after the tsunami.
Thanks for your emails and so glad to hear you're fine and well. Yes, I am fine thanks. I was incredibly lucky and am completely unhurt. As far as is known everyone connected with Sea Dragon escaped unscathed - Everyone on shore is accounted for. When I was there, there was some uncertainty about the live-aboard boats currently out but general confidence since all boats that have returned so far felt little effect of the tsunami, save a rising and falling of the water level - even the long tails out on Sunday returned safely. Yes, Khao Lak was very badly hit - many injured and many missing. Most seafront resorts were pretty well flattened. A few of the dive centres were amazing in rallying around to organise people, and resources for food and transport to hospitals etc. Yesterday the authorities began to provide real help - medical support, food and transport. Khao Lak has been completely out of communication, with all electricity and phone lines down.
Funnily enough, I was just making the decision to head to Krabi on Sunday when I heard a commotion of people outside - little could I have guessed the cause. I was in the staff house when the wave hit and, incredibly, had no notion of it until I heard people moving about, calling and shouting - it could have been a procession or carnival for all I knew until I went outside to see what the fuss was about and saw people half naked and bleeding coming up past the staff house. Garden beach resort, a few minutes walk towards the beach was completely flattened, as were most of the beach-front resorts.
Yes, I too hope to be as useful as poss in the aftermath. I'm currently in phang-nga hospital, having accompanied an eight-yr-old boy here yesterday. He was lost from his family and there was a rumor that his mother was in Taqua Pa hospital, so I spent a frustrating evening trying to get some info on his behalf to locate any of his family (seems that his whole extended family were on holiday here when the wave hit). He was moved late last night and I understand that his uncle arrived to take care of him and that his mother is ok - so hopefully he's ok. I've been given a contact number for his aunt in Hong Kong, but have yet been unable to get through.
I am considering returning to Khao Lak today too - all my things are still there in the staffhouse and, like you, I feel I have more of a connection there. Good to be with people I know. However, I may be of more use here at the hospital now. When I left yesterday, most people were apparently being transported out of Khao Lak in trucks etc - at long last we had some official support in rescue and reconnecting people: the army stepped in to transport people and provide a temporary medical center in Lak Kan Temple, South of Khao Lak. Most of the seriously injured were transported to hospital in various ways on Sunday and the remaining yesterday. I don't know what's going on in Khao Lak now but I'd imagine the main task will be to start to move dead bodies and identify them, and to clear up the place - although people here are saying that the foundations of buildings won't be safe. I'd hope an official operation will be set up for such a task. I've already been asked by a desperate woman whether there's somewhere for identifying dead bodies - but for many, I think the time to give up hope is not yet here.
The situation here at Phang-gna hospital seems fairly well under-control in terms of the material/physical - the wait for medical attention is not long and there is free food, water and floor to sleep on for those not in hospital wards, free internet and free international and embassy calls. There are a number of volunteers here now - mainly Thais from nearby or from Bangkok. Apparently a number of German doctors have arrived here also.
The biggest struggle here seems to be with the numbers of people still in search of lost ones and in need of gaining the means to get home having lost all. I may spend some time helping at the 'info point' which is largely concerned with trying to contact other hospitals to locate people. They have a v inefficient system of trying to phone the eternally engaged lines of the other hospitals and, what's more, when people are moved out of a hospital they are not removed from the list - v chaotic. The children's ward is also a fairly traumatising place to be - so I may spend some time up there, have already picked up a few kids books - choice was v limited you can imagine!
I don't know what the state of play is like in other hospitals.
But I do want to get back to Khao Lak soon to see what's going on there and to stay in touch with everyone. If you get this message would be wonderful to hear from you - email and/or phone. Unfortunately my mobile battery is v low and I can't make calls or add credit, but I've received calls and can generally send text messages. My number is 040790963 (Thai simm card so hopefully not too expensive to call!).
Take care and hopefully see you soon - if not in this country then another one day!