Sunday, June 12, 2011

Musings on Nepal

Namaste.  (nah-mah-stay).  This simple Hindu greeting is expressed by pressing the palms of the hands together in front of the heart.  The head is bowed slightly as the word is spoken.  It literally means “the spirit or light within me recognizes and honors the spirit or light within you.”

We very recently returned from a journey to Kathmandu, Nepal, a valley burrowed deep in the recess of the Himalayas, the highest mountains on earth.  Our primary purpose—to assess the medical facilities and prepare for Operation Walk Syracuse’s November trip to Nepal to perform desperately needed hip and knee replacement surgery.

The stark contrasts of reality that we witnessed are staggering and pervasive in both city and village life.  The region and the people are primordial, yet caught in the throes of modernization.  It is a place of breath-taking beauty and unspeakable poverty.  Sanitation is more than a pervasive issue.

Kathmandu lies deeply isolated in a valley surrounded by mountains.  City roads are dangerously crowded, unguided due to the lack of traffic signs and signals.  Travel by car, bus, or motorbike is a treacherous, grueling affair.  Most mountain villages are reachable only by dirt roads and footpaths.

The pollution is pervasive.  Noxious fumes hang low over the city and we observed many people struggling to protect their airways through the use of masks or scarves placed over their mouths and noses.

The hospital environment will be challenging.  The medical facility falls far short of those we comfortably use in the U.S.  The challenges in providing effective medical and surgical care are very apparent.  Paucity of resources, a hospital physical plant that is lacking hot water, adequate toileting facilities, and up-to-date equipment and supplies add to the already challenging care environment.

By contrast, the physicians and orthopedic clinical staff areknowledgeable, enthusiastic, motivated, and committed to meet the needs of their patients.  We were warmly greeted and welcomed to the Medical College.  Our hosts were extraordinarily gracious.  We collaboratively planned for our November surgical joint replacement marathon which will include our team of nearly 40 health care providers who will travel with us to Nepal.  In addition to the cordial welcome from the medical staff, hospital administration, and the Minister of Health, we were warmly greeted by twenty of the prospective patients.  We left the hospital bearing the x-rays for fifty (50) patients who are hoping to receive ninety-three (93) joint replacement procedures during our abbreviated visit in November.  A daunting and overwhelming task is at hand.

We saw so very little during our short visit but more than enough to make us appreciate what we have here, and how much we take that for granted each and every day.

It was all about the people.  We were struck by the extremes of everything they experience, yet are sincerely welcoming and positive.  Ox-drawn carts and cows share the roads with taxis and other motorized vehicles.  T-shirt clad teenagers sell roadside wares next to sari-clad women washing clothes at a public well.  As we wandered through the narrow brick streets of Bhaktapur, an ancient city with Hindu and Buddhist temples that seem unchanged for centuries, or gazed across the terraced-fields that lie at the gateway to Everest after hiking to the highest point of Nagarkot, we remained most in awe of the remarkable inhabitants of this country. 

As we departed Kathmandu dreading the long, jet-lag filled return to Syracuse, we were energized by what we had seen and what promises to lie ahead.  We eagerly look forward to the next time that we will be met with the greeting we received from everyone in Nepal, rich or poor:  Namaste.  This humbling gesture is meant to recognize that we essentially are all on equal standings.  We are one with these people as we prepare to travel more than 7,500 miles to the other side of the world on this life-altering trip.  Until then, we will hold on to the people of Nepal and so many of the lessons learned.


In the Streets of Bhaktapur

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