One of the most memorable patients I met in Nepal was a woman in her 40s or 50s. She was a housewife and came in to my clinic with a huge goiter. I looked at her and asked her about it. She didn’t know if it was benign or malignant. I told her was only going to be at that location for three days and probably wouldn’t be able to significantly help her condition. She said that this was not why she came. Even if it was malignant, she accepted this as a natural course of events, but more important was her painful right shoulder. It was so painful she had a hard time doing housework and, even more pressing, she couldn’t turn the Buddhist prayer wheels during her daily kora, or walk around the sacred Buddhist stupa. I was deeply struck at how accepting she and many of my Nepali or Tibetan patients were of the impermanence of life. People in the US spend millions of dollars just to stay alive one more day, even if it means added discomfort and suffering. While nobody wants to die, I noticed considerably less anxiety in the life and death process.
There was a case in one of the monastery clinics my wife and I stayed at for 4 months back in 2001. In the middle of the night a young teenaged monk came to the clinic carrying his companion into the treatment room. I was woken up by the guard. My wife and I went down to find this monk had suffered from dysentery for almost a week. He was brought to the clinic only after he actually fell into the (squat) toilet from complete exhaustion and dehydration from the diarrhea. We treated him with acupuncture, moxabustion and sugar water from the kitchen. He left the clinic a few hours later feeling better and I warned his companion that he had better wash his hands or else he would be next. He laughed and took his friend back to the monastery dormitory. Sure enough, a few days later that caretaker monk was carried into the monastery with the same condition. Over the next couple of weeks several monks came in with severe dysentery. All of the monks recovered with herbs and acupuncture (I carry herbs for emergency use) and made sure the monastery taught the monks proper hygiene. Hygiene and common sense health issues are an important component of OHM’s health mission.
One striking case that I always teach my students concerns an older man (actually he was about 50) who was from the outlying region of Mustang. According to his story, about 2 weeks before he fell ill. Believing that he would die, he traveled by foot to Kathmandu, a journey that took him 4 or 5 days to see his son. His son, not knowing what to do with him, took him to our clinic and left him there. The man had severe chills, slight fever. He was shaking, moaning and curled up on the bed. He also had diarrhea. Such a case is rarely seen in modern society. But this was a condition that was well documented in the Shanghan Lun, the foremost Chinese classic text from about 2000 years ago. Borrowing herbs from the Tibetan doctor and providing acupuncture, he stayed there the entire day until his son returned from work and brought him home. This repeated for 4 days. After that he didn’t return to the clinic and I didn’t know if he survived or not. However a few days later as I was walking along the alleys, I saw him and his son walking together going into a restaurant for lunch. It was such a treat to have helped this man recover from a condition that is not always successfully treated even in a modern hospital.