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Shannon Casey - Medicine in Nepal

Volunteering in Nepal

Having graduated from college a quarter early with a B.S. in Biology and knowing that I wanted to go into the medical field, I decided that a few months of dedicated volunteering would be a great way to transition from college to the next chapter of my life (and let’s be honest, it’s a great excuse to travel!).

People always asked, “Why Nepal?” but I never could nail down a major motivating reason. Rather, I was drawn to Nepal by a series of small influences that accumulated into a resolute desire to visit that country: a previous trip to India left me wanting to return to a similar region, the beauty of prayer flags blowing in the breeze seemed alluring and the cultural normality of being vegetarian was a practical plus. Between the delicious food, friendly locals, and rich culture, Nepal quickly exceeded my expectations.

My Medicine placement

I lived and worked in Patan, which is about 30 minutes outside of Kathmandu by taxi or bus. On the first day of my placement, I was shown the way from my host family’s house to Alka Hospital by a Projects Abroad staff member. He was very helpful and pointed out many landmarks along the 30-minute walk, which enabled me to successfully find my way back home that afternoon.

My Host Mother

Over the course of my three months in Nepal, I was able to shadow several different doctors in various departments. In the Emergency Room, Dr Anish encouraged me to stand close to the patients and Dr Upadhyay explained how to read an ECG. After trying out a few Nepali phrases with the nurses in the Maternity Ward, they quickly warmed up to me. Dr Prabesh pointed out an occipital lobe haemorrhage on a CT scan during the tour he gave me of the ICU and let me read the patients’ charts. One morning I even had tea with the hospital chairman Mr Kumar Thapa.

I spent the most time (by far) with Dr K.C. because he was especially willing to teach the other volunteers and me and would often engage us in interesting conversations. Once, he told us, “In Nepal, there are 36 hours in a day,” which I interpreted as his way of explaining the laid-back lifestyle of the Nepalese.

My host family in Nepal

Nepal’s culture may be relaxed, but my host mom Nita never seemed to stop working. One night, we made a special dinner together – momos (dumplings). I mixed the flour and water together for the dough while my roommate diced the vegetables for the filling. After adding spices to the fillings (one chicken, one vegetable), Nita rolled out the dough and cut out circles from it using a water glass. She then proceeded to show us how to pinch the dough wrapper around a spoonful of filling, which was quite tricky. The momos were then steamed for 10–15 minutes. Admittedly, the final product looked a little sloppy but was delicious nonetheless.

Festivals in Nepal

Some evenings, Nita’s 11-year-old nephew, Diwas, came over to the house to play or work on his homework. He loved to ask the other volunteers and me a barrage of trivia questions, such as “What is the longest river in the world?” but they weren’t all that easy.

We made shadow puppets when the electricity went out, arm wrestled and attempted to build a house of cards. We even played football, which was surprisingly fun given the small, slightly deflated ball and the tiny balcony that acted as our field. On one occasion Diwas sang the Nepalese national anthem for me and on another we sang The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” together – a song he was learning in school. I asked him what he wants to be when he grows up and he replied unexpectedly, “an ordinary man”.

Free time in Nepal

On the weekends I enjoyed going on excursions with the other volunteers (some of which were organised by Projects Abroad and some of which we planned independently). One highlight was celebrating Nepalese New Year, which fell on April 13, in Bhaktapur. A volunteer from France had volunteered in Nepal several times before and when we arrived in Bhaktapur her friend Santulan, or “Balance” as he nicknamed himself, met us and became our unofficial tour guide.

Santulan told us the legends of the ancient kingdom of Bhaktapur over lunch and led us not only to the main attractions, such as the golden gate and snake pond, but also through the narrow neighbourhood streets. In the late afternoon he took us up on the rooftop of one of the shops at the edge of Bhelukhel Square where the night’s festivities would be taking place.

We had a great view as hundreds of men pulled in unison on thick ropes in order to raise an incredibly tall pole. Little did we know the process would take nearly three hours, but when they finally succeeded, there was an enormous uproar of excitement from the crowd of thousands. Darkness had fallen, but the festivities weren’t over yet – a handful of daring men scrambled to be the first to reach the top of the pole. Apparently, the young man’s prize for reaching the top first was the promise that his first child would be a boy. The following day, the square was still bustling with activity as multitudes came to offer sacrifices.

In Nepal, there is plenty to explore whether it be after work in the afternoon or on weekends. I couldn’t have asked for a better host family and I was grateful that the vast majority of the doctors at Alka were so welcoming. I definitely enjoyed my experience.

Read more about Medicine in Nepal

Shannon Casey

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