Reflections on a human tragedy

I am holding in my hand two plastic blossoms with the names of two young men I never had a chance to meet This is the last day of a nursing conference in Santa Maria, Rio Grande do Sul, Brasil. On 27th January this year a devastating fire broke out in the night club Kiss and claimed the lives of over 242 young people and has deeply affected everyone in this town of 270,000.  The colourful blossom in my hand, the hand of an outsider who was invited to partake in the celebration of a life that ended before it could blossom.

This is a city in mourning, everyone is touched by s tragedy that was unforeseeable, sudden, transformative.

It catapulted Santa Maria onto the international evening news around the globe. For all the lives lost, many more have been shattered for ever. Another young person died in Porto Alegre this morning.

A doctor I spoke to said that treating the respiratory effects of smoke inhalation is only one terrible part of the story. The emotional trauma, the anxiety of the young patients who come to see him regularly; the fear to be in a room where the windows are closed is unimaginable. 

Everybody who worked on that fateful night, gave more than they thought was ever possible. Casualties kept pouring into the hospitals, some at a distance of more that 20 kilometres from the city centre. Makeshift beds in the corridors, emergency services, nurses, doctors, ordinary people were joined together. The most fundamental resource that night was the human being. Months after the event, I got a glimpse of this amazing resource in the form of the nurses, the doctors, the students in Santa Maria. Equipment may fail or may not be ready to use but the imagination, creativity resourcefulness of these people will not. They command the most powerful resource there is: love and care.

They hug a lot in Brazil. Perhaps, even more since that fateful night in January in Santa Maria. The comfort that is sought and found in the touch and embrace of another human being does not compare.

So, I attach the plastic flower bearing the name of Joao and David to the tree, think about them, not about their deaths but about how their short lives have touched so many others and how they now travel in my thoughts and heart to places they did not get a chance to see. 

The people I met in Santa Maria carry their hearts on their faces. They may look at you with a laughing and a sad eye, with a spectrum of emotions like the colours of a rainbow in Scotland. But in the end, it is the smile that will find your heart and warm you.