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Jessica Wood - Medicine in Nepal

Spending time with the school children July 2012 was the summer that took me across the world to one of the poorest countries. I had just graduated from high school and wasn’t quite 18 when I decided to get on a plane in small town BC, Canada and make the two day long journey to Nepal by myself. I didn’t want to just talk about going into the medical field, I wanted to actually get a taste for it and volunteering seemed the best option. After pitching the idea to my parents I started researching and found Projects Abroad.

Projects Abroad’s High School Special helped to ease my mother’s fears of me traveling all the way to Nepal without any support. Although I wasn’t worried and opted to stay for an additional week as a regular volunteer (it was a long way to go for only two weeks).

For some time I couldn’t believe I was actually going to Nepal, but as the weeks went by and I prepared for the trip, applying for a visa, booking my flight, reading up on the culture and all the other fun stuff that comes with travelling, I became very excited.

Finally arriving in Nepal

After traveling for long hours on the plane, from home to Vancouver to Hong Kong to Bangladesh, I was honestly exhausted but happy when I arrived in Kathmandu, Nepal as I was done with planes!

On my arrival at the airport I met with Projects Abroad staff who took a few other volunteers and me to a hotel, as we arrived quite late at night. Sadly, being so exhausted, I wasn’t able to see much and my first moments in Nepal were very blurry.

I managed to get a good night’s sleep, so I was ready for the next day. We traveled to Bharatpur, in the Chitwan region where we were going to do our volunteer work. Actually awake this time, I got see Nepal for the ‘first’ time. Coming from a small town, I found the busy city, full of cars and people, along with its beautiful countryside, the mountains and the rivers, incredible. The car drive, on the winding roads, was bumpy and noisy but all part of the experience of being in a different country.

Medical placement

Nepal's beautiful scenery

I was placed at Bharatpur Cancer Hospital on my first day and had the opportunity to see things I would never have been able to see at home. I visited some of the wards and followed the nurses as they made their rounds. The nurses were very helpful and informative. They explained what each patient was suffering from and how they were being treated for their condition.

That day we then watched a surgical procedure, the removal of a urinary conduit (a tube used to drain urine out of the body following bladder surgery) which was incredible. Later that day, I got to visit the pediatric unit where I spent a great deal of time playing games with the kids. I was astounded by how much they appreciated life and, despite being sick, they were happy and wanted to play.

I had an eventful first day and the two weeks that followed involved visiting several other hospitals and witnessing more procedures. At all of the placements I found the doctors and nurses extremely friendly. At the Bharatpur Eye Hospital I got to watch some routine eye check-ups and learnt all about the different parts of the eye. I was also able to visit the Marie Stopes Family Planning Hospital and watch some procedures as well sitting in on many consultations.

The majority of my time in the Chitwan hospitals was spent at the Chitwan Medical College. I spent a good deal of my time in the ICU, which was well equipped with modern technology. I had the chance to see doctors use a defibrillator on someone, which was exciting (the man survived). I also witnessed the removal of tumor and bone reconstruction in the operating room.

Once again all of the doctors and nurses were very informative and happy to answer questions about any of the procedures or patients.

My third and final week was spent in a small hospital north of Kathmandu, in Bhaktapur. Since it was a smaller hospital I spent the majority of my time in the ER and got to do an ECG on a patient. I was also taught how to properly take someone’s blood pressure using a non-digital monitor.

Free time and food

Not all of my time was spent in hospitals, as I had many amazing adventures on the weekends and of course it wasn’t a good day in Nepal if you weren’t caught in a monsoon walking home!

The first adventure was in the Chitwan National Park where we went for a hike to watch a breath-taking sunset over the river, went on a hike through the jungle where we saw two rhinos and went bird watching.

We also got a chance to make our own momo’s (a Nepali dumpling that is extremely delicious). My momo ended up looking like a deformed round ball of dough! Other than that, we also visited the amazing temples in Nepal.

The food in Nepal was delicious; I loved momo’s and the traditional dal baht (rice, with a lentil soup and typically curried veggies). Most of the time we ate at the hospitals in the canteens, but the food was always good.

In my last week I got to go to a traditional Nepali BBQ where they served boiled goats head. Being a vegetarian, however, I did not eat the goats head but it was an interesting custom to watch.

Another memorable trip, was teaching a group of school children how to brush their teeth properly. We ended up playing games with the school children who were so happy to see us.

Host family

For the first two weeks, the High School Special volunteers stayed in a hotel. This was great because it gave me chance to meet and get to know the other volunteers who I ended up becoming really good friends with. In our third week, we stayed with a host family. I was a little worried about it, but they were very welcoming as they normally are in Nepali.

Saying goodbye

Saying goodbye to Nepal was very hard, especially when my new friends all returned to their own parts of the world. Going home was exciting, though, (besides the long flights) and my experience in Nepal was unlike anything I could have ever imagined.

Nepal taught me how to welcome guests and how to be a good host. I also learnt that happiness isn’t something that is bought and that simple things can make you happy. I wouldn’t change my experience for anything and every moment in Nepal left a lasting impression that I will have for the rest of my life. Namaste.

Jessica Wood

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