IFRC


Rescue boat medic: "The people we save at sea get a second life"

Published: 16 August 2016 14:25 CET

By Caroline Haga, IFRC

Seasoned Swiss nurse Nicole Rähle is part of the first Italian Red Cross medical team on board the ship rescue Responder, which left Malta last week to begin its life saving mission in the Mediterranean.

"I believe the people we save at sea are given a second life," she says. "Even though in terms of the whole migration crisis our work may seem like a drop in the ocean, it’s critical for each individual that we rescue.”

"They had not given up hope"

Despite having been on missions with the Red Cross for 16 years in war zones around the world, this is Nicole’s first time working at sea. Just 24 hours into her departure, she saw the first overcrowded rubber dinghy on the waves.

"'Oh my God', I thought when I saw how many people were cramped together. No matter how many passengers we helped on that boat, there were still more," she says.

"We rescued 151 people, including 41 women and eight children, who were exhausted and dehydrated. Some could barely stand up as they had been sitting in the same position for eight or nine hours."

"And yet, when they came on board they were able to smile with relief. They had not given up hope."

The challenges of working at sea

Nicole and her team have already helped to rescue over 400 people in four days together with a specialist search and rescue crew from independent charity Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS). She is one of two nurses in the team working alongside a doctor.

"The doctor checks on the condition of passengers as they are being rescued, while I count the men, women and children as they board. When the passengers have sat down, we visit each one to check how they are – not just checking for injuries but also general health conditions," Nicole says.

Working on a boat has its practical challenges such as limited space for treatment, storage of kit and medical supplies, not to mention the cramped living quarters. Yet, despite the long days and nights, Nicole was keen to head out to sea again after the boat returned to Sicily to take rescued people to shore. 

Every life is equally important

Although the Responder rescued 448 people last week, Nicole says that one person stuck in her mind.

"One pregnant woman seemed to have severe psychological difficulties and when I looked into her eyes I could see that she was scared to death," she says. "I imagine it’s very likely she has encountered violence in the near past. But when I held her in my arms she was able to relax and even slept later."

Nicole says the people that she meets in her work inspire her to continue. "I believe that every life is equally important regardless of who you are or where you’re from. It is why I do this work."




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