Theresa Bui - Medicine in Nepal
The second I stepped out of the plane at Tribhuvan Kathmandu International Airport, I could feel the humidity envelop me like a marshmallow. Within ten minutes, I was sweating profusely; within twenty, I was already thinking of the airplane ride back home to my familiar shower with cold water. However, as the days passed by and the end of my two weeks grew nearer, I became very fond of this beautiful country that had so much to offer.
Both hotels that I stayed at, Hotel Lion (Kathmandu) and Hotel Global (Chitwan) were clean and hospitable accommodations. The staff was incredibly friendly, which was a trait that seemed to pervade throughout communities there. The food was delicious, especially the famous momos that Nepal is famous for – they are basically dumplings with either chicken or vegetable filling. Wifi in both hotels was attainable almost all the time, with minor gaps and mishaps along the way.
The first day or two was spent recovering from jet lag and culture shock – meaning, it gave us volunteers a little time to explore the capital and get to know each other. In the two-week project I was a part of, there were volunteers from America, Egypt, Britain, Belgium, Ireland, France etc. It was such a diverse group of people, and from them I learned so many things about other countries and cultures that I otherwise never would have known back home. Together, we toured the new capital of Nepal. It was exciting, with cars and motorcycles zipping everywhere, and we took every chance we got to go out to the grocery stores and buy snacks.
Placement in Chitwan
Because I went in July 2015, which was only months after the earthquake that shook the country, we could not do the placement in Kathmandu due to all the rubble and damage still present in the capital. Therefore, we did our entire placement up in Chitwan. We were allowed to visit a large variety of different hospitals; we were divided into groups and rotated between visits to the general hospital, eye hospital, cancer hospital, and family planning clinic, among others.
The hospital staff was generally very welcoming, and some even let me use the equipment and perform simple check-ups on patients. Many spoke English and explained the procedures to us as they were being performed, such as with the abortions at the family clinic, eye check-ups at the eye hospital, and the birth and afterbirth at the general hospital. It gave me the chance to really experience work as a health provider and see things up close, experiences that I never would have been granted back in America – visiting and working alongside doctors at the eye hospital enforced my desire to become an ophthalmologist.
In addition to all the visits to the many hospitals, the placement also arranged for us to have medical classes at the hospitals and medical centres. We had a lecture on the history of tuberculosis, and at the medical centre, we received an anatomy lesson where we got to examine real human organs and preserved bodies. Despite my prior uneasiness, I quickly became fascinated by the complexity of the human body, and became more knowledgeable with the information passed on by the Nepalese doctor who was with us.
My favourite part of the work in Chitwan was when we travelled to a children’s school and got to meet young Nepalese kids. We were there to teach them how to brush their teeth, since as a developing country; health measures in the country were still sparse. We came armed with packs of toothbrushes and paste, and in return, they gave us beautiful handmade bouquets of bright red flowers. The children were adorable; immediately after receiving their new gifts, they made it their job to become the best at brushing their teeth. The entire schoolhouse was filled with the sounds of teeth scrubbing and giggles of children with soapy froth in their mouths.
For our weekend excursion, we took a trip to the Chitwan National Park. We were all given life jackets and crammed into seemingly unstable canoes onto a large river. The river tour was incredible – it was so peaceful, and we were lucky enough to see a white rhino along the way. After, we embarked on a 3-4 hour trek through the wilderness that was Chitwan National Park. I can easily say that that was the most enduring thing I’ve ever done; and to add to that, it started raining an hour into the hike! But it merely heightened the experience – it was so fun and everyone was exhausted but giddy after.
Overall, Nepal was an incredible and memorable experience. The extent to which we were allowed to see in the hospitals was astonishing and helped us learn so much. The day trips and excursions gave us a chance to observe and participate in the Nepalese culture – making momos at Hotel Global and getting henna for the first time were definitely experiences that stuck with me! I made lifelong friends from around the world, and fell in love with the breath-taking atmosphere of the modest country. I would do it all over again if I could.