Health Camp

Note: This blog was written by Les – usually Debbie is the one posting.  Les went on this health camp last week and we thought it would be interesting to share.

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Pyuthan District is just 2 districts west of Palpa where we are located.  It seems so close on the map – only about 40 miles as the crow flies.  However, on the roads in a bus, it took us 10 hours to arrive!

Wednesday morning at 6 AM, 13 of us set off from the hospital to serve at a free medical camp in Pyuthan district.  Our group included 2 GPs, a pediatrician, a general surgeon, an orthopedic surgeon, 2 resident doctors, 2 physicians’ assistants, a dentist, a dental assistant, a pharmacist, and a pharmacy technician.  We were 2 missionaries and 11 Nepali Christians. The group was sent by the Tansen Hospital Christian Fellowship, invited by the local church in Pyuthan, to minister to the community.

The trip, especially the final bit, was quite slow and dusty.  The location is very close to where UMN had a hydroelectric project in the early 1990s on the Jhimruk River. The church had arranged for our team to have the health camp at the local government health post.  The Health Post had moved into a new building 4 months ago, and the old building, just adjacent, was standing empty, so we could have our own space without getting in the way of the staff.  After we arrived, we found out that the local health post in charge had just done the refresher training (MLP) for 3 months in Tansen, and had a very positive regard for how we had helped her.  So she went out of her way to help us.  The local church had arranged for tables and chairs, but we needed more than that to do everything we were capable of.  This person gave us access to the procedure room in the new building for surgical procedures, which allowed our surgeons to actually treat some people with tumors, abscesses, and other surgical problems.  She also arranged that patients needing laboratory tests could go to the health post lab for blood counts or urine tests.

Our accommodation was arranged in the local hotels.  I shared a room with our pharmacist.  We had twin beds in the room, with cotton “mattresses” about 1 inch thick.  It was probably very good orthopedic sleeping posture, but I had to keep rolling in the night when my hips or shoulders started hurting!  We shared a bathroom with 2 other people in the hall.  No toilet paper or towels were provided, so I was glad I had packed some.  The floor was bare cement.  The local church had set up a mess hall in a believer’s home, about a 10 minute walk from the clinic and hotels.  Volunteers from the church prepared meals and cleaned up.  The food was village Nepali style; rice, lentils, and curried vegetables.  A local squash called lauka is in season, so we ate that almost every meal.  I was thankful for the food, even though it started to all taste about the same.  Needless to say, I was very grateful for the variety when they gave us goat meat the second night.

We had purchased about $3000 worth of medicines at a pharmacy in Butwal on our way there.  (Money had been donated by a group from overseas for the funding of the entire camp including medicines.) We spent Wednesday evening setting up the rooms, and on Thursday we started with an opening ceremony, including a hymn, a prayer, the required speech by the local politician, and also a word from the pastor of the local church.  Then we went right to work seeing patients, who had been informed about the camp ahead of time, and were eager to be seen by a doctor.  The church volunteers worked at crowd control, registering people as they arrived, and directing them, a few at a time, to the doctors’ examination room and pharmacy dispensing area.

Many of the patients had minor chronic complaints like knee pain and back stiffness, for which we just advised exercises and some pain relieving drugs.  Some were more interesting.  One of the ladies with back pain mentioned that she had an old cut injury on her knee.  When we looked at it, she had an old fracture of her patella (knee cap) that had never united.  She could not actively extend her knee. So she was walking with her knee flicked into a locked position, and this was what caused her back to be working unevenly and cause the pain.  Our orthopedic surgeon was able to advise her about coming to Tansen for surgery to wire her patella back together, and then to do therapy so she would have a normal pain-free gait.  Another man wanted advice about his diabetes and hypertension, and casually mentioned that his leg was weak “since a fall during childhood.”  That leg had normal sensation, but showed the obvious muscle wasting typical of a polio survivor!  He had no idea that he had lived through polio, and was happily putting up with his “childhood injury”.  He was obviously living a bit too well, and we were able to advise him about diet and weight control, as well as ways to compensate for the weak leg when he walked.  One man had a big fatty tumor removed from his back.  A young lady had an unsightly congenital growth removed from her chin and lower lip.

At the end of patient visits on Thursday, the pastor invited us to visit his birth home, which was just an “easy wade” across the river, to meet his family, who were now all believers.  The 2 female volunteers decided not to go, so about 12 men followed the pastor down to the river.  He walked upstream till he found the shallowest part, but it didn’t look so shallow to me.  He said we can remove our shoes, socks, AND TROUSERS, for the wade across; no problem!  So there we were, following his example, in our underwear, wading through the water mid-thigh deep, to the other side.  If he can do it, by golly so can we!  We re-robed, and had a nice visit with his family.  We also visited the first church in Pyuthan district, established just 13 years ago.  Now there are almost 20 churches in the area.  I was again humbled, seeing how actively the Nepali believers are showing God’s love to their neighbors, and inviting them to come to church.

By the end of Friday, 866 patients had been seen.  Not only was the crowd well controlled by the volunteers, but everyone who came was able to be seen.  All treatment was given for free.  There was only one dissatisfied patient I am aware of; she grumbled about that fact that we couldn’t do thyroid testing at the camp.  We are happy that for the most part people are very grateful here still for whatever care that we can give. There were also tracts and gospel literature available, and volunteers to chat with people as they waited, or to answer their questions about health or about the Christian faith.  We trust that the seeds planted will take root, as the church continues to grow all across Nepal.  The camp was officially closed on Friday afternoon with speeches of thanks, certificates of appreciation, and prayer.  $750 worth of remaining medicine was donated to the local health post.

Distant mountains

Ladies cutting rice

On Saturday, we left the camp early to start the trip home.  We stopped for some sightseeing, as well as to visit one of the volunteer team members parents’ house, arriving back in Tansen about 7 PM.  I was inspired again on this trip by seeing how everyone on the team tried to serve without counting the cost.  It’s great to see our Nepali sisters and brothers taking up the mantle of caring for the still many poor and needy across this country.

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