Linda Hehir - Acupuncturist in Nepal
After retiring from my NHS managerial job, I recently took the opportunity to go to Kathmandu, Nepal as a volunteer to provide Traditional Chinese Medicine Acupuncture. I qualified in TCM Acupuncture in 2006 and gained my MSc in 2008. My work involves undertaking a Traditional Chinese Medicine diagnosis, developing a treatment plan and treating a variety of conditions with acupuncture, acupressure, moxabustion and cupping the condition.
Life style advice is also given to patients to encourage them to make changes to help improve their condition or help prevent further exacerbation or reoccurrence of their condition. I have provided treatment for patients with all types of pain, infertility issues, IBS, carpal tunnel, migraines, arthritis, tinnitus, CFS amongst others. I mention this to show that acupuncture can help for many conditions not just pain.
After retiring from my NHS work, I decided to use my acupuncture skills to help others and to expand my experience. The opportunity arose on searching the web where I found Projects Abroad PRO offering short-term posts in Nepal. Having never been to Nepal and thinking the weather shouldn’t be too hot I chose to give it a go and duly went to Nepal for almost 4 weeks. Although I could have raised money to pay for my trip I chose to be self-funding and did not regret my decision.
Life in Kathmandu
On arrival to Kathmandu, I was met by a Projects Abroad representative and taken directly to my accommodation. Usually volunteers are provided with hotel accommodation on the first night, however a general election was being held in Nepal and there was disruption to transport. I was to stay in a family home, which I was nervous about, however I was pleased to see I had been given a single room, as requested, and that there were other volunteers already staying at the accommodation, which helped me feel less vulnerable.
This was my first time to travel on my own and I don’t mind admitting I felt somewhat anxious about what I was endeavouring to do. The family was warm and welcoming and guided me through the process of changing money and buying a local sim-card.
I had a few days to wait before starting my placement, due to on-going election disruptions. During the wait I was taken to the local office and provided with induction information, mostly around the culture, places of interest and local weekend excursions available.
The Acupuncture Placement
The day finally arrived when I was taken to the Sahara Rehabilitation Hospital where I was to practice. I remember feeling excited and keen to get started. At the hospital I was shown up to the room I would be working from. No other acupuncturists were working there so felt a bit fearful not having any support for the work I was to do. I had been prepared that my clientele would be mostly stroke patients, however the first few days I treated patients with sciatica, some of which had been in hospital for a few weeks on bed rest.
After this I had a mix of patients with sciatica, strokes, neck pain and upper back pain. All of which, I treated sometimes on a daily basis. I felt some satisfaction with my patients with sciatica, and upper back pain being discharged fairly quickly after a few treatments.
It wasn’t until my last week, that one of my stroke patient’s son advised me that his father had regained a lot of strength over the past few weeks that I felt I was making some headway in that area. A couple of other patients also began to feel sensation on needling and were beginning to make some small movements of fingers.
Challenges I faced in the clinic included the continual electricity cuts and lack of information to work the electro-acupuncture machine safely. The cups did not hold their vacuum and I ran out of the common size needles. Delays in getting fresh needles resulted in me having to use longer needles.
The electricity cuts meant the lift stopped working, even though the hospital had a generator that kicked in when there was a cut. The room was on the third floor so patients could not come for treatment. During these periods I worked on the ground floor in an open room, protecting the patient’s dignity as best I could with screens. I found working on the ground floor helpful, as there were plenty of physiotherapists, who all had good English, to help when I was treating someone with little or no English.
On the whole I was pleasantly surprised at how many people could speak English. Physiotherapists, all of whom were friendly and helpful, staffed the hospital. They worked in two large open rooms with a number of trolleys providing physiotherapy for patients on couches. I was impressed at how dedicated and knowledgeable and open to learning new techniques from two Australian student volunteers, the physiotherapists were.
On one occasion they also asked me to present to them trigger point techniques. I had shown a few individuals what to do over the course of my stay and went over the presentation with the lead physiotherapist so he could give it to the others at one of their lunchtime meetings. Surprisingly there were no nurses providing in-patient care. The patient’s own family members solely provided care.
During my stay I was invited to attend a presentation about the work of the Children’s Nutrition Centre. It was heartbreaking to hear some of the stories of the children requiring treatment for malnutrition; however the staff and treatment plans were successful in saving many children’s lives.
On learning of my profession I was invited back to demonstrate acupuncture pressure on points that could help with some of the symptoms the children were having. A beautiful boy of about 5 years old lay quietly on a floor mat, whilst I showed staff and parents the points I thought might help. I think this was greatly appreciated and the staff were keen to learn and practice finding the points.
Outside funding supports many of the care centres and I saw how well the money was being put to use. Generally there is a huge shortage in qualified staff, up to date equipment and the niceties we all take for granted. The clinic and hospital staff greatly appreciates the help provided through monetary donations and volunteers coming to help.
As a volunteer I learnt a lot more about stroke conditions, which I personally hadn’t treated before. I felt humbled and inspired by the care provided by the staff I was fortunate enough to meet and their ability to be warm, welcoming and happy to share and learn. I would encourage everyone to take the opportunity to give some of your time to voluntary work. It is very rewarding and it only requires a minimum of two weeks, when undertaken through Projects Abroad.
I worked from about 8am to 2pm, Monday to Friday. So there was time to relax and do some sightseeing. The area surrounding the local Stupa held a selection of cafes and restaurants to relax for a few hours in. The Garden of Dreams also provided some peace and quiet away from the city.
Projects Abroad staff is so helpful. They will organise flights, accommodation and provide support during the placement. I send my thanks to all the people who helped make my time in Kathmandu enjoyable and hope that through reading my story you may be able to offer your support in helping the staff and their patients in some way.