Yesterday we performed a free medical camp in a small village area in the hills on the other side of Kathmandu valley, approximately 2 hours from Anandaban. We set up in a combined school/health post building in the area. Compared to other camps, fewer people came (<200). It was a smaller community than others we’d previously targeted but there were people there in need. Many of the first to arrive were children and orphans. Some were so small. Nine year old boys that were the size of a properly fed Nepalese 4 year old. (I asked several times and checked with an adult nearby.) In our team for the day, we had several foreigners that work here in Kathmandu – a Swiss nurse, a retired pharmacist, an Aussie pediactric nutritionist - plus a Nepalese dental assistant and a couple of Nepalese doctors that were in town who’ve served for years in more remote outposts, besides some of the Anandaban clinical staff (doctors, nurses, pharmacist). There was also a Aussie couple that is volunteering at Anandaban for 3 months (GP and occupational therapist). We collect clothes during the year for these camps and we never seem to bring enough for the kids. An older local boy (maybe 12-14yrs) in a school uniform helped to distribute the clothes with us. For most of the morning while the clinical people tended those who came, one of the Nepalese women in our team talked with the kids, clipping their fingernails. Some of the orphaned kids were managing to live with extended relatives but were supporting themselves by working odd jobs (no schooling). Child labor is common here with estimates that 42% of children 5-12 years old are working. I could not get much information on how they had lost their parents. Life here is hard. The hills are steep, falls and injuries occur with little access to or money for health care.
Early on, we found a woman needing cataract surgery in both eyes. We made arrangements for her to get checked in KTM and potentially have surgery (1-200 USD). One tiny elderly women hobbled in for gynaecological consult. She had a prolapsed uterus about the size of a grapefruit. The nurses helped her onto a couple of school desks arranged back to back in order to give her an exam. The Swiss nurse was stunned at what they saw. The woman had been in this condition for 5-6 years. Unfortunately, the demands of life here make this an all too common problem. This woman had been living for years hauling water and bags of supplies up and down hills, planting and harvesting rice and other crops, hand laundry, tending the animals and family in this condition. I do not even know how she could sit much less work. The medical staff discussed what to do. As there were no lights in the room and the windows had to be closed, I stood to block the door from others coming in while also trying to not block too much light so the doctors could see (Seth’s flashlight once again was most gratefully appreciated). A nurse tried to explain what the doctors wanted to do (push things back into place and something to hold things back in place). The tiny woman got very nervous and wanted her husband. One of the nepali doctors walked to the hill behind the building to get the husband who agreed to the procedure. It was over in a few minutes (performed on the desks pushed together). They gave her some Tylenol and water to drink. She sat there shaking. After 5-6years, in a room full of strangers, it was traumatic. Aftercare and provisions for further problems were explained – she may still require surgery. They were given some clothes and she quickly went home.
The medical team told me that they had done 3 of these at a previous camp – but as I had not helped in the OB/GYN room, I’d been unaware. With hundreds coming in a day, I can only glimpse some of the cases. The dental team stayed the busiest, extracting 28 teeth. A maoist motorcycle rally was going on for a couple of hours a few hundred meters downhill. As we were finishing the clinic, one of the kids that had been running about all day appeared again waving the red communist flag that someone from the rally must have given him.
As we packed to leave, someone mentioned that there was a tent resort area nearby with great views. We visited it on the way out. There was simple restaurant with a number of tents spread out on the steep hillside. But the view was stunning: the breadth of the Kathmandu valley with the crowning white Himalayas becoming visible in the clouds above the surrounding dark foothills. Afterwards, we drove back for a couple of hours downhill on roads that are mostly only wide enough for one vehicle. If another vehicle is encountered someone has to backup up until a site is found where one can squeeze past the other. I really appreciate the Anandaban drivers!
I’ve tried to post some of the pics from the camp below. I’ve now figured out how to compress photos making them easier to post with our internet issues.
These can be difficult places to work – but the need is great. It is a privilege to be given the opportunity to do something here. I hear stories from others that have been placed abroad to work. Horrible tales, unfathomable need. And the problem is that what we see is not isolated – it is all too common. But common does not dull the pain. Lift up your eyes. There is just so much that needs to be done.