Rescuer turned victim seeks way back to normalcy
It was a spontaneous decision, coming to the aid of others in distress irrespective of the dangers involved. But never did he imagine that it would end up in a personal tragedy, crippling and turning him penniless, at the mercy of others.
The morning of April 24 was like of any other day for Mohammad Sohel. He was working as a knitting machine operator in a garment factory adjacent to Rana Plaza in Savar.
But as the clock struck 8:45am, the nine-storey Rana Plaza came crashing down, trapping thousands of workers employed in its five garment units.
A natural instinct to save his two cousins working there kicked in and the 23-year-old sprung to action without waiting for firefighters.
Scaling the layers of floors, piled like pancakes, using protruding rods, he searched for the fourth floor where he thought their workstations were. He found one who miraculously survived the collapse pretty much unscathed.
Although the other cousin was nowhere in sight, Sohel knew he could not turn his back on others in need of help.
“There were other volunteers… together we pulled out one body after another, irrespective of whether they were dead or alive,” he told The Daily Star recently.
“We found long lengths of cloth, tied them to columns and threw the ends down to other rescuers waiting below. Those were also used as makeshift slides to get victims out,” he said.
Caught up in the frenzy, he and others moved into the darkness, deeper into the building, using flashlights on their cellphones. “That was when I saw a woman with her top half covered in debris,” said Sohel.
In the dim light, he started pushing the rubble off her, unknowingly removing the support of bigger concrete slabs on top.
The slabs came crashing down, pinning him to the floor and smashing his right kneecap. He regained consciousness in the nearby Enam Medical College Hospital and underwent surgery at Shaheed Suhrawardy Hospital.
An internee physiotherapist at the Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralysed (CRP) said stainless steel wires were used to keep the kneecap in one piece.
Sohel can barely stand now. His discharge certificate clearly mentions that he has to live a sedentary life, something he cannot afford to do. He lost his job which requires one to stand for long hours.
“The hospitals were generous enough to treat me completely free of cost,” Sohel said.
But Sohel needs to remove the wires around April/May and requires further physiotherapy to regain the strength in the muscles of his right leg which are affected by atrophy.
With no job and savings running out, he now faces uncertainty as to whether he will ever recover enough to work again and share his five-member family's living expenses.
“I cannot pay my house rent, let alone my medical expenses,” said a distraught Sohel.
He had already sent his parents away to a relative in Bogra to lessen the burden on his elder brother who earns a meagre Tk 7,000 working in the Ansar.
Now the fear of being forced to stop his eighth grader brother's schooling and making his work to save money for his own treatment continuously haunts him.
“I do not want to ruin his life,” he said.