Medicine & Healthcare, Physiotherapy in Nepal by Melanie Wright
Leaving a husband, three teens and a beagle behind for a month to volunteer in a spinal injury rehab clinic in Kathmandu sounded like an amazing idea – wow, I could do all that stuff that people my age dream of doing – ‘finding myself’. The idea of jungle trekking sounded much more exciting than trekking around a supermarket, and boy, did the idea of a limited and basic diet sound a Godsend to a girl trying to shift some really, really stubborn pounds that had hitched themselves to her hips over the last couple of years! Seriously though, having worked in the physiotherapy department of a large, local hospital for a few years, and having my own sports and therapeutic massage clinic I felt that I had something worthwhile to give.
On day two, I was taken to my host family’s house and quickly introduced then whisked off to the spinal injury clinic in Jorpati. Luckily there was another volunteer Sarah, who showed me the ropes. After work Sarah who was coincidentally living near my host family decided I needed to know where the best coffee and cake café nearest our houses was, so the shedding of pounds had to be put off, temporarily! A stroll back to my house afterwards (by now, it was getting dark) proved a little tricky as I ended up walking into the completely wrong house and having to make a speedy exit – ditched an ounce or two in my haste though!
Living with a host family can be easy and interesting as long as you make the effort. My hosts were very hospitable and keen to know about my life back in England; luckily I had packed some family photos which made it easier for them to figure out who was who. Each evening over dinner we would talk about our day and they were really interested about my work at the spinal rehab clinic – unfortunately I think they thought I was more qualified than a physiotherapy assistant as when a member of the family came down with a really sore throat they insisted I take a look (torch provided), and asked for my opinion, so not wishing to offend, I did and then playing Devil’s advocate, I offered her a Strepsil.
My time at the spinal injury rehab clinic was a real eye-opener. The Nepali staff was a wonderful group of dedicated and kind people. It was a residential unit where a patient would stay for a couple of months or so, with a relative acting as carer, who would also wash, cook and clean for the patient, assist with all physiotherapy rehab sessions and generally be their right hand person. It was for me, an employee of Western medical care, humbling to see how in the Third World, the basic needs of the hospitalised patient were met by a relative and not a healthcare professional.
Due to inadequate and sporadic electricity supplies in Nepal reliance on electrical equipment was futile, so it was great to see how easy it was to treat patients in the rehab setting using improvisation. Each afternoon all the patients would be wheeled (by their relative), out into the quadrangle and we would have hours of games coaching patients in wheelchair skills and increasing their mobility – these games included all the relatives, and staff taking turns too!
I made sure I got to see some of the beauty of Nepal by taking some trips out of Kathmandu, and visited Chitwan National Park, Pokhara, Nargakot etc. I took loads of photos but now I am home it’s not looking at the photos of my month away that brings it all back, it’s what’s in my head that makes me smile. I made lots of friends, British, American, Canadian, Dutch, Swiss, German etc., etc., and to know that so many people had the same idea as me has made me realise that I didn’t need to ‘find myself’ – I wasn’t lost, just curious!