After Mexico Earthquake, Tremors of Anxiety

When Henry Rodríguez felt the tremors from the southern Mexico quake on Saturday, he fled his home without a shirt, socks or the grab bag he typically keeps with him during any emergency — and there have been many.

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People slept on a sidewalk after more tremors in Mexico City on Saturday.

Credit
Henry Romero/Reuters

Mr. Rodríguez is the head of mission for Doctors Without Borders in Mexico, and is largely focused on providing psychological care for survivors in the wake of disaster. He tells his staff members every time they are deployed that to counsel survivors of trauma, they must have their own necessities close at hand. But this time, he broke his own rule, springing onto the street with everyone else, wearing nothing but a pair of pants.

Days earlier, when the big quake struck, Mr. Rodríguez witnessed the actual catastrophe, a first for him in 17 years of emergency service: the city convulsing beneath his feet, buildings toppling, friends left homeless. In the last few days, he manifests the same symptoms as his patients — coiled anxiety, sleepless nights woven with nightmares, near constant fear.

This time, Mr. Rodríguez is a survivor.

“We are part of a group that has to react to these events, whose responsibility it is to help others, but we are also humans, and we feel these traumas too,” he said, processing for the first time the toll the earthquake had taken on his own mental well-being. “When you are there for an emergency, involved in the incident, you become a part of it, too.”

Countless Mexicans up and down the economic spectrum have found an outlet helping others, seizing a sense of unity amid the destruction, a remarkable feat in a society typically marked by social divide. An endless supply of men and women, cloaked in orange vests and white helmets, have marched across the city day and night in search of ways to contribute.

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