I’m really sorry to all family members I got worked up over my last post! I was in the process of shooting you all a quick email, knowing that you would disregard my request not to worry and freak out anyway, but I experienced some internet connection issues and was unable to finish. Honestly though, you should know me well enough to have expected me to be the one to wind up in the emergency room in a foreign country, as I have a tendency to be a walking disaster (remember the back-flip-into-a-weight-lifting-machine fiasco of 2006?) You should also have known me well enough to realize that had anything been seriously wrong, I would have let you know right away! I didn’t say anything because it truly was no big deal. As it happens, I’m stuck at Little Angels College now to “rest” while the rest of the group visits an Ayurvedic clinic, so I figured it would be a good use of my time to share my first hand experience in a Nepali hospital with all of the readers of our blog as well as my family.
About a day or two after we arrived in Nepal, I got what looked like a mosquito bite on my ankle. I’m used to getting plenty of bug bites at home and it didn’t hurt, so I ignored it. After about a week of hiking and walking however, the area had started to bruise and swell. I showed it to Professor Geeta Pfau, who was born in Nepal and is a certified nurse, and after keeping a close eye on it for a few days she eventually decided it was time that I go see a doctor. It might not make a lot of sense to you all why I was actually pretty excited to go to a Nepali hospital, but the whole purpose for this trip was for us to compare Western and Eastern medicine. It’s been great visiting all of the medical locations that we have this past week, but nothing could compare to a true firsthand look at how a Nepali hospital functions. From the second we arrived, I was taking mental notes and trying to store everything away so that I could talk about it later in my final paper for this class.
The first thing I noticed about the hospital was that it was a tiny building, set in among a string of shops and restaurants on a busy street. There were no real enclosures, meaning that the building was wide open with only big metal gates to close it off at night and a roof to keep rain out. The offices and examination rooms were lined up along the open hallway, with only curtains for doors, and the “waiting room” was several benches set outside of these offices. Despite these obvious differences from the hospitals we have at home, I still felt quite comfortable. I got plenty of curious stares from the other patients waiting to see doctors, but none were hostile or unsavory. The other doctors would also smile at me as they passed and ask how I was enjoying my time in Nepal. During my examination, the doctor and Geeta communicated in Nepali and I could only catch a word or two here and there. It was a little nerve-wracking, but Geeta soon explained that I definitely had an infection (most likely from a spider bite) and that the doctor would like me to get some blood drawn just to make sure it hadn’t spread at all. I was then lead a short ways down the hall to the small lab, where I was relieved to see that it was very much like the ones we have in the States. The technician there tied of my arm with the rubber strip to control my blood flow, and the needles came in individual, sterilized packages. I have to admit that at this time I was pretty teary (the doctor had given my sore ankle a good squeeze), but the people that took my blood were gentle and efficient. They explained to Geeta in Nepali that the test would take about 20 minutes, and we were sent back to our bench outside of the doctor’s office to wait. A few of the doctors came to sit with us again to ask where I was from and why I wanted to come to Nepal, and it helped the time pass more quickly. When the doctor finally emerged from his office, he called Geeta over and they whispered together in Nepali. This made me even more nervous than I had been earlier, and our driver for this trip must have seen it in my face because he came over to sit with me and make me laugh. That is what I love most about the Nepali people, even if they don’t know you at all they are always willing to show you care and kindness. It was very sweet, and I felt better almost instantly.
A few minutes later the driver told me it was time to go, and though I hadn’t spoken with Geeta yet about what the doctor had to say about my ankle, I fully trusted her judgment. We met up with her over at the pharmacy where she explained that my white blood cell count wasn’t very high, and that the infection was luckily only localized to the one area on my ankle. The doctor had prescribed a strong antibiotic that I take four times a day, and an ointment that I apply twice a day. He said that with these two medications I should be completely healed within 48 hours. This news was quite a relief, as hospitals always get people’s imaginations running wild about what might be wrong, and I was no exception. As it is, only 24 hours after being on the medication I am confident saying that my ankle is 75% better, and I have no doubt that by the time my plane touches down in the states there will be no trace of anything having been wrong at all.
The one, most important thing I feel I should mention about my firsthand experience in the Nepali hospital was that my appointment with the doctor, blood work AND medication all combined only cost me 1180 rupees (about 15 American dollars). In the states, I would have paid hundreds and HUNDREDS of dollars for the exact same care. It is extremely heartbreaking to think that most families in Nepal have trouble paying even that, which is why so many people in this country die of diseases that are completely treatable. Many people in Nepal only make the equivalent of a couple US dollars a week, so my medical bill would have been several months’ salary for them. It really made me respect the Chattraputti free clinic we visited earlier this week even more, where so many people donate their time and money to provide healthcare to the people in Nepal who otherwise would be unable to afford it. I really hope that someday I too can use my Psychology degree and experiences here in Nepal to donate my time to helping people who can’t pay for the care they need, because in my opinion mental health is just as important, if not MORE important than physical health.
That being said, I hope this post served to both ease the worried minds of my family, as well as educate my readers about health care in Nepal. Where I went there was a perfect balance of Western influence in the medical practices and methods, and of the care and kindness that is a trademark of the Nepali people. Now I’m going to be a good little girl and go lay down with my foot propped up (above my heart, like you so adamantly taught me Geeta!) and wait for the rest of the group to return. As always, thanks for reading.