Regular Phuket Hero
February 19, 2012 -- Today the Thai publication Phuketwan ran a short but helpful item by Alan Morison about a nurse on the resort island of Phuket whose job involves coordinating the local response to disasters, such as a chlorine gas leak that reportedly sent 37 people to her hospital a couple days earlier. The piece,"Nurse Jenny, Regular Phuket Hero," describes not only the nurse's role in dealing with the chlorine incident but also her experience in previous disasters, including the devastating 2004 tsunami that left many on the island dead. The piece is not too specific about what "Jenny" actually does for patients, but it does allow her to provide substantial comment on how the hospital handled the chlorine incident, and it indicates that she is a leader in disaster response, receiving training elsewhere in Thailand and an "exchange scholarship" to study in Vancouver and Seattle. We thank Mr. Morison and Phuketwan.
The piece focuses on Hathairat Rangsansarit, a nurse and "liaison officer" at Patong Hospital whom "many people know as 'Nurse Jenny'" and who is reportedly "the first person that people on Phuket call in any emergency on Phuket's popular holiday west coast." Although the recent chlorine exposure was apparently a new issue for the island, "Phuket's doctors and nurses are prepared for anything." Jenny explains what happened:
The first thing we had to do was decontaminate everybody by putting them into showers. Otherwise others could be affected. Those who were struggling to breathe were given oxygen and medication straight away. As this was happening, the 'cascade' call system was bringing in people to help. Usually the Emergency Ward only has five or six staff. But people did what they were trained to do, and quickly called others in their networks. Before long, we had 50 doctors and nurses treating the 37 chlorine-affected people. Most of them suffered irritated skin and inflamed nasal passages. The alert began about 10.30 when the first cars from Phuket Orchid Resort and Spa and Karon council began bringing in distressed people. Two hours on, it was all over.
The piece adds that after Patong Hospital, the closest to "the incident," conducting "respiratory triage," it distributed some patients to other Phuket hospitals in accord with the island's disaster plan. The article also says that "Phuketwan watched Nurse Jenny directing the action yesterday and supervising a list of names placed on an outside wall." The caption under the accompanying photo of Jenny says that she "oversaw the gas victims' treatment." The piece reports that by "a stroke of good fortune, Nurse Jenny had returned late the previous night from a seminar on disaster planning in another province."
This is a good portrait of a nurse both as a leading disaster responder and as a media expert. Jenny briefly describes what the hospital did in handling the chlorine incident and why. The reporter says that she had recent training in such care, and he notes pointedly that she "direct[ed] the action," a great description that suggests she was no handmaiden. The photo caption likewise says she "oversaw" treatment. It sounds like the reporter actually watched what was happening and reported it, rather than basing his account on pre-existing assumptions that only physicians matter--which, sadly, is how too many reporters cover disaster response, turning out stories that suggest physicians direct everything and only they need be consulted. We could have used a little more detail on what Jenny or the other nurses did specifically; Jenny does mention several care activities but not who did them. However, many readers will likely conclude it was Jenny or nurses like her. Curiously, the piece does not explain what caused the chlorine leak, or for that matter how Jenny got her nickname, so maybe we should be happy with the detail we have. (An article in the Phuket Gazette reports that an experienced pool technician had run out of liquid chlorine, so decided to substitute powdered chlorine to the tank instead, causing the toxic chemical reaction.)
The piece also provides helpful background on Jenny's work. In December 2004, when the tsunami struck, Jenny was "the hospital's midwife" who "delighted in delivering babies and had never seen a dead body." But within a few days "she had identified, bagged and labelled 153 tragic victims, while also helping to cope with scores of injured at the 60-bed hospital." Jenny "did such a great job in the week after the tsunami that she won a national Rotary award, a boost to her confidence that enabled her to apply for and win an exchange scholarship to Seattle and Vancouver." Jenny also reports that last year, after a flash flood knocked out the hospital's basement generator, causing a partial evacuation, the local public health department invested to lift the hospital perimeter walls. Today, Jenny "is an integral cog in a fairly well-oiled disaster planning system that deservedly reassures residents and tourists that Phuket's hospitals can cope with earthquakes, landslips, tsunamis, bus crashes, chlorine gassings . . . not that anyone wants to think about these things too much." The piece concludes by noting that many of the hospital staff are getting "daily English language tuition" so they can communicate with tourists better, but that "in any language, having a Nurse Jenny on hand is a real asset when there's trouble."
This is a marked contrast to much of the reporting about the 2004 tsunami, which embodied the traditional physician-centric approach. Jenny comes off as a serious health professional, able not just to cope with the extraordinary demands of a major disaster like the tsunami but to do so well that she won an award and an overseas scholarship. And the piece presents her as someone qualified to describe the issues stemming from the more recent flash flood. Again, we could have used more detail about her care or her skills, including her midwifery--the only real specific we get here is that she "identified, bagged and labelled" tsunami victims--but overall it's still helpful information.
We thank Alan Morison and Phuketwan for a short but unusually good portrait of nurse as a local health leader.
See the article "Nurse Jenny, Regular Phuket Hero," by Alan Morison published February 19, 2012 on the Phuketwan website.
The story was covered by many other press entities around the globe, including Reuters, which did a video piece, and Agence France-Presse, whose print article was run in Australia, India, and Indonesia. Unfortunately, Nurse Jenny did not appear in these more widely circulated items.