I had the amazing opportunity to volunteer at Dr. Iwamura Memorial Hospital and Research Center in Sallaghari, Nepal this summer through a group called Projects Abroad. Five days a week, I would commute Nepali-style, usually riding in the luggage rack of a decrepit bus, 40 minutes to the hospital. I began each day by going to the emergency ward, consisting of four beds and an examination table, to see how I could be of help there. After I had finished there, I moved on to sit in on consultations, and by the end of my trip I had worked with a Cardiologist, an Internist, an Orthopedic Surgeon, and an Obstetrician/Gynaecologist. I was also able to assist the Anesthesiologist during a hysterectomy.
Most of the cases we dealt with during ward rounds were COPD, UTI, and hypertension, but I also saw ailments that aren't very common in the Western world, such as duberytrens contraction, malaria, and tuberculosis. I learned the most from the Orthopedic Surgeon, who actually worked full-time as the Head of Orthopedic Surgery at NORVIC, the only internationally-recognized hospital in Nepal; Dr. Prajwal Man Shrestha taught my fellow volunteer and I about epicondylitis, plantar and palmar fascitis, examination technique, and anything we could think to ask him. He even had us try to diagnose patients before he told us what he thought, and all we had to work with was the patient's gestures and facial expressions, because nobody spoke English; we proposed diagnoses accurately a majority of the time!
Aside from the medical experience, I learned about Nepali culture. I lived with four other volunteers at the home of a Newari couple in Banepa. English could only be used minimally, and I can speak more Nepali now than I had thought I would need. My host family traditionally worked with silver, and continue to produce beautiful ritual ornaments, but Damoda, my host dad, went to school to be a physiotherapist and now works for HRDC, a free pediatric clinic funded mainly by the American Himalayan Foundation. He spoke English fluently and took me for a tour of the clinic, where I witnessed some of the most gruesome conditions I had ever seen... cobra bites, clubfeet, fractures requiring external fixators, and some conditions I don't know how to describe.
Back to Nepal itself, I was surprised at the filth everywhere, disregard for public property, and desperation of some locals. I had been to Burma, Laos, and Thailand before, but Nepal was a whole new level of human struggle for me to observe. There were knock-off brand-name goods, salespeople yelling at you to come inside just for a look, and maimed beggars on the streets, but none of that was new to me. I still haven't come to an answer for why Nepal seemed so different and worse off than other third world encounters I've had, but my experiences there are valuable beyond words, and I encourage everybody to get out into the world, into an uncomfortable place, a place where you will learn not only to appreciate what the United States has, but also how you can make a difference in the world. Personally, I know that I want to become a traveling doctor in Asia, and my time in Nepal has further confirmed that conviction in me.