After a short visit to Kathmandu, I was headed to work in Dhulikhel, about 25 kilometers from Kathmandu. Our taxi driver got us to the hospital where we expected to see the guesthouse nearby, but it was nowhere to be found and no one knew where it was. The roads by the hospital were steep and the taxi cab driver was slipping and sliding up and down hills trying to find out where we were supposed to be. We even had to get out of the taxi at one point in order for the car to make it up a hill. The driver was getting angry after driving around for 35 minutes and as he was about to give up and kick us to the curb, Lisa and I figured things out. We let our taxi driver go, and the hospital transport came by and took us to the guesthouse about 2 km away.
Welcome to our new home… a brick building with 3 floors of rooms and a 4th floor which had a flat roof with lines for laundry and a small room that contained a kitchen (the one in the middle of the picture). Our room was very bare. We had an attached bathroom with a shabby window that just let super cold air into our room and the water leaked under the sink so it was a really more of a swamp. At night, our room was super cold; we needed double heavy blankets and had to get under them to stay warm. After 5 months in the tropics, we were ill-prepared for the cold.
On the plus side, we were paying only $6 dollars/night for each room ($12 total since we had 2 rooms). The guesthouse manager, Min, made awesome dinners every night, except on Saturday (his day off). It was always delicious and fresh and almost never a repeat. The other big plus was that the other people in the guesthouse were fun to be around. There was a group of four med students from Germany doing an 8-week externship at the hospital. We would all gather up in the kitchen and have an animated talk about what we did that day, plans for the weekend, things going on in the guesthouse, etc. Later, two American students and an Indian professor joined us, along with a few others that came and went.
The guesthouse was also in the load shedding zone. This meant we had power for usually 4-6 hours at some point in the day, but never at the same time or with any discernable pattern to the schedule. There was an app to keep you updated on when you could expect power, but it could be off by minutes or hours. During load shedding, we only had a small light bulb in our room. When power was on, it was time to charge electronics ASAP.
My work experience at the Dhulikhel Hospital was excellent. Since my career has been in Public Health, the staff thought I was a Public Health dentist. Thus, they expected me to be a teacher and, for the next three weeks, I was to teach public health to 3rd year dental students. They figured I had slides and presentations ready to go. Oh boy, were they wrong! But what could I do? I looked over the textbook and started preparing for the next class. I also sent out frantic e-mails to my co-workers and a “real” public health dentist pleading for help. They provided me with some presentations which really saved me. My students were great; they were extremely polite and attentive. But even better, they were fun and made my time teaching them very enjoyable. Not only did I get a chance to teach them in the morning, but we had a lab where I got to help the students work on previously extracted teeth. They were quick to learn and great listeners. Did I mention that the Nepali work week is Sunday to Friday?! When not teaching, I had the opportunity to provide dental care to patients.
One of the kindest things that occurred in my last few days was a party thrown by my students. They hosted all four of us to dinner. We had momos to eat, which are delicious. We talked about dentistry, travel, and then they talked with our kids. We talked about movies, TV shows, the Friends reunion, etc. I was surprised how much we had in common, and how good their English was. We ended the night with ice cream cake and they gave me some very precious gifts. It was a great night and they are a great bunch of dental students and I wish them the best of luck and hope to see them again some day.
But my favorite thing was when I got to go on outreaches. This means that I go to provide dental care in some very remote and sometimes hard to get places. One such place was about 5 hours away by car, through the town of Kathmandu and over two mountains. I worked in a building in the valley, close to a river, while some of the other dentists worked 1500 feet above me on a mountain top at the local school. (and on the way back we made an impromptu stop for maize and spicy ramen, it was my favorite).
One of my favorite outreaches was at a Buddhist monastery that was very close to Dhulikhel where we treated monks from age 6 to 25. It was a beautiful place and I was allowed into the temple and got to take pictures of the interior (this is usually not allowed). We provided cleanings and extractions and provided referrals back to our hospital.
The last outreach was my favorite because it was an overnight trip to a very remote location. The first site’s original hospital had been destroyed in the earthquake last year as it was at the epicenter. Fortunately, they had already built another small hospital where we worked. Again, the main service we provided was extractions. After lunch, we then drove another 5 hours up mountains, over rivers, and through some super bumpy “roads” to an even more remote site.
We were one valley away from the tall white mountain tips of the Himalayas. We also were sleeping in tents. They were actually a bit warmer than my guesthouse as the blankets were bigger and I got a sleeping bag that was set for -10 degrees and a couple of thermal pads to sleep on. The next day we saw over 50 patients. This was followed by a long trip back home that included our headlights going out, trucks almost hitting us, and dark mountain roads. When we got back I said good bye to my colleagues and went home expecting a farewell party with our friends in the guesthouse.
But…. back at the guesthouse there was excitement, but not the kind that anyone wants to be a party to. Three of the German students were running from their rooms to the bathroom with diarrhea or vomiting every 20 minutes or so. Or they were wrapped up in the fetal position, rocking themselves trying to keep from doing so. So much for cake and wine. So it was just the 4 Daileys and the Indian professor at the “party.” And that was just the beginning. It proceeded to get so much worse… I had not had a BM for 6 days and the next morning, after some strong coffee, I needed to go really, really bad. I didn’t use our bathroom because the bidet was really weak and there was not adequate ventilation, so I ventured into one of the shared bathrooms. And, boy oh boy, I let it go, and go, and go. Then the flush… or not… no water… there was NO WATER in the tank and I had just filled one of the two toilets with a substance most foul. Did I say that the students did NOT have attached bathrooms and these two public spaces were the only two toilets they had to use?!?!?! I then heard someone make a puking noise outside and realized I had to fess up to the mess. The guesthouse was about to become a nasty place. It would be another 2 hours before the power would come on and we could pump water into the tank and finally flush. All I could think was that we picked a fine time to be leaving!