Medicine & Healthcare, Physiotherapy in Nepal by Sumya Hussain
Growing up in neighbouring Bangladesh, I vividly remember seeing both young and old with various physical deformities. I felt powerless that I was just a sympathetic spectator, unable to find a remedy for their ailments. Since then, I developed a strong desire to gain the knowledge to help people lead a healthy, happy and productive life.
I completed my undergraduate degree in Biology and Philosophy and am currently preparing to get into the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) School. I thought what better way to add to my physiotherapy experience than to volunteer and learn in a country facing similar healthcare challenges to Bangladesh. Upon searching for opportunities to volunteer, Projects Abroad came up, and as soon as I got in touch with them, they were prompt at helping me plan and set up the two week Nepal trip, start to finish. Being a student, it was certainly convenient for me to have everything arranged and ready at such a short notice.
Arriving in Nepal
Despite my delayed landing at a bustling Kathmandu Airport, I still found Pushpa from the Projects Abroad staff happily waiting to pick me up. We chatted in the car as our skilled driver weaved through the narrow roads of an almost empty Thamel. Within a few minutes I was at Hotel Excelsior, where I was able to freshen up and recharge after the lengthy journey.
The next day after breakfast I was whisked off to my host family, post-induction, to Banepa where my placement was. Banepa is mostly an agricultural village, about an hour’s drive away from Kathmandu. My host family was especially welcoming. Damo dhai (dhai meaning older brother) as I called him, also works as a physiotherapist at the Hospital and Rehabilitation for Disabled Children (HRDC). Damo and his wife have two delightful little boys.
I also met Geertje from the Netherlands who was also staying there. She offered to take me around Banepa and showed me the neighbourhood shops conveniently stocked with the essentials that a traveller might have forgotten back home. She even treated me to my first delicious momo (dumpling) experience which anyone visiting Nepal should savor!
My Physiotherapy placement
My first day of volunteering entailed a twenty minute hike up along a terraced rice paddy, radish and cabbage fields with my supervisor, to HRDC. It is a tertiary level hospital, treating both in-patients and out-patients. The hospital is well known for treating clubfoot, a congenital deformity of one or both feet at the ankle joint where the feet are bent inward, appearing like a golf club. It is treated with Ponseti plaster casts, orthotics and prosthetics, exercise and in severe cases, surgery.
HRDC also treats cerebral palsy, post-burn contractures (PBC) (meaning stiff joints), Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita (AMC) which involves contracture in multiple joints, scoliosis along with a plethora of rare disorders which walk through the hospital doors. I participated daily in applying Ponseti casts, which help to correct these contracture deformities and align the feet or other limb joints to a normal position.
In addition, I learnt about Thermoplastic splint applications and got to help patients exercise in order to increase their range of motion, strength and balance. A typical day comprised of entertaining and comforting children while they received treatment, observing evaluations and going over treatment options with the physiotherapists. I saw how the orthotics and prosthetics were made, attended ward visits and had a full day observing at the operation theatre.
We gave rides to the patients going downhill with their parents as they were unable to walk. Even through the hardship of carrying walkers, using wheel chairs and having an Ilizarov apparatus attached; these children were determined to walk and pursue the path to recovery with all their might. The motto of the hospital near the entrance is “Let the children walk”. I am certainly grateful I got to help them do so in this magical place.
After every shift l got the opportunity to play with the children in the soft room where we read, wrote, created drawings and made origami. It always felt like the perfect ending to my day.
Later during the evenings, I met the locals and went to temples nearby with friends. One readily grasps that Nepal is a country of gods and goddesses, entwined in spirituality. We once went to a Hindu festival at 3am with bonfires and a torch-lit procession ending at a Shiva temple.
I headed off to Thamel on my first weekend and saw the famed Boudhanath Stupa. Afterward, I went to the nearby Buddha Bihar and bought souvenirs from the local shops.
The weekends comprised of lively music, visiting eclectic restaurants and cafés. One amazing aspect of Thamel is that you get the chance to meet people from all over the world. The area has an incredible vibe hitting you all at once with its culture, fusing the old and new traditions together. Nepali people cook delicious and healthy vegetarian dishes, so don’t forget to try the local cuisine. One spice shop owner was so nice that he even gifted me Himalayan Pink salt to bring home on my last day of shopping.
My two weeks had been an adventure. I miss the welcoming smiles of the locals as they treat you with so much love. One should gear up for the pleasant surprises that lurk when you end up in such a friendly country like Nepal.