The air in Gorkha was so close, the long dry season was coming to an end and the rains were due to fall. From the banks of the turbulent river you could just about see Manaslu, the mountain of the spirit, through the oppressive air.
It was day three of the health camp, being run by the National Institute of Neurological and Allied Sciences. The devastation from the worst natural disaster to hit Nepal since 1934 was still evident one year on. The building in which the health camp was set up itself was falling apart. Rooms were utilised in only one half of the building whilst the other half was left to crumble.
Gorkha earthquake had claimed almost 9000 lives and many more thousands were left injured, the region itself has only 8 doctors to treat over 270,000 people in an area spanning 3610 square kilometres. The people queuing to be seen here had travelled for sometimes over three days to be seen, maybe for the first time since suffering injuries one year ago. 3000 people passed through the doors in just 3 days and over 30 operations were performed in makeshift theatres with limited resources.
One of these people was Sumeesha, a young mother of a two year old boy plagued by rectal bleeding since birth, desperate for someone to save the life of her son. She had been walking from her small village for 50 hours; exhausted, she begged the professor to perform life saving surgery on her son. It was high-risk surgery when performed by specialist paediatric surgeons and almost unthinkable given the paucity of suitable equipment and absence of trained professionals to deal with potential complications.
Stunned by the decision to go ahead, I could barely bring myself to watch surgical appliances more suited to a thirteen year old being used to attempt to remove a polyp, which would almost certainly lead to fatal bleeding in the not so distant future if left untreated. I felt there was an element of playing God and my conscience was slightly unsettled.
I had to take a step back and ask ‘who am I to judge’. In scenarios such as this, which are all too common in the developing world, this poor mother has no other choice. She cannot afford the journey to the general hospitals in Kathmandu and certainly cannot afford the appropriate treatment if she were to arrive there. She had no option but to place her son’s life in the hands of a neurosurgeon with no recent experience in the operation he was about to perform.
Lost to follow up, I will never find out the eventual fate of the young boy but the image will remain forever in my memory.