Life in Nepal

piggyback trips to the e.r.

My first week on the job, I was asked to identify outreach projects for the hospital–something that would not require extra personnel or funds from the operating budget. Doodling on a legal pad, I brainstormed in solitude, looking out the window every now and then. And that’s when I saw a man walking through the hospital gates with his mother on his back. He had been travelling over the mountains for three  days to get to us.

I was shocked at the sight, but quickly learned that this was normal in Nepal. Carried in makeshift stretchers or by piggy back, patients often travel by foot for hours–sometimes days–to get to a hospital. Every day after that, I saw patients being carried here, exhausted from travel, dehydrated, sometimes near death.

And I knew what had to be done. We had to take medical services where there wasn’t any. I walked across the hallway into Roy’s office and told him I had an idea. Without looking up from his desk, he said, Tell me about it when you’ve found the money for it.

The ambulance travelling through flooded, muddy roads to get to the village

My plan was to form a three-member mobile medical team to provide services one day a week in villages with no medical services within an hour’s walk. There would be a doctor, a nurse and a driver who would double up as an administrative assistant. But I couldn’t think of a way to make it happen. The project needed personnel and money.

I began hounding the Chief Medical Officer every chance I got to see if there was a creative way to juggle shifts and give me a doctor and a nurse just one day of the week. Finally he said I could have Tri Ratna, a lab tech, one day of the week. TriRatna could easily take vitals and assist the doctor–that is, if we had a doctor.

While I was waiting for a doctor to miraculously be provided, Surya,the CEO, and I began working on a budget  and targeting villages. We sent emissaries to village elders to see if they’d be interested in giving us rent-free space to conduct weekly clinics. All of them thought it was a great barter.

Patient registration and waiting area

We figured that we could provide services in a village, one day a week, for about $200 a month–cost of 4 days of wages for Tri Ratna  and the driver, the fuel and medical supplies. All we needed was a doctor for free and $200 a month.

While we were waiting for the doctor and $2400 to drop into our laps, a few more months went by. Looking out my window one day, I could not believe what I saw–a man walking in, his bloody forearm literally dangling by a strip of flesh. I heard him ask for the doctor saying he walked for four days to get his arm reattached. A month later, after coming close to death several times, the man recovered, but had lost his arm, without which he could no longer work in the field. Yet, with a big smile on his face, he said goodbye and thank you over and over again before he set out on his long journey back home. (I can’t seem to find the picture I have of him.)

Dr. Scott Leon with a patient

Watching him leave and not knowing how he’d survive was about as much as I could bear. The mobile medical service just had to begin, one way or another. And then suddenly, after all those months of waiting, everything came together. GEM asked Roy if there was a project that needed funding and Dr. Scott Leon, a fresh graduate of Loma Linda University arrived unexpectedly with his lovely wife, eager to volunteer. Even better was Dr. Leon’s enthusiasm–the more remote the area, the more excited he became!

Patients truckpooling to the clinic

We started with one village, one day a week. Over two years, the project grew to five villages receiving care one day a week. Every morning, I’d look out the window and watch the medical team get their gear together. It felt very good. Now, that was true job satisfaction.

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