Scalpel's Edge

A surgeon's notes


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Every Saturday fortnight, we have an english church service in Tansen hospital guest house.  It is multi denominational and the “preacher” is often one of the missionaries, trying to give a message that is meaningful, but open enough for people who practise different versions of christianity.  They are great services, with childrens’ church every week, and the service reminds me a lot of old style church camp.  It is the only service our family attends as a group.  We attempted to take the kids to nepali church early on, but it is hard work and involves a lot of distraction.  Some manage it, but we don’t, so Luke and I take turns attending Nepali service and everyone attends english church together.  I give a hat tip to those missionary superpowers who manage with their kids in foreign language church every week.

After church we have dinner together, spread across three tables and most of the couch seated area.  We chat and catch up with new arrivals and visitors, some of whom we know from previous visits.  There are some Nepalis who attend and sometimes stay for dinner, and any ex-pat christians in Tansen usually pop by too.  The kids run through the adults, playing “secret agents” or “freeze tag” and usually injure each other in some way (tonight it was by throwing unripe fruit from the gardens at each other).  There is noise, and chaos and community.  

Today we said goodbye to and welcomed some cool people. It reminded me of the great community we have here.  

Goodbye to our dauntless hospital director, who has worked here for decades, speaks all the nepali dialects perfectly, with an clear english accent. (The fact that I can hear everyone’s accent and not understand what they’re saying is still funny to me). She is the constant in all our celebration parties and games nights and serious meetings and email chains.  She has a wicked ability to sledge others, which she mostly aims at the australians and south african, and others she knows will cope.  Tomorrow she goes home for furlough for a few months, and we will miss her.  Tonight she looked a bit lost by the fact she was about to leave her home for so long, even if to visit her homeland.

Goodbye to our friends who travel back to the USA.  The children grew up here in Tansen and return for summer holidays each year.  So this year they slotted back into their routine here – the youngest even attending Nepali school with his friends.  They have helped and served and worked while here and now return home until next year.  The mother is a powerhouse of activity and sweeps everyone up in her path, causing flurries of activity to follow her around.

Welcome back to our German friends who have returned from visiting their home.  The three children expand the school room again, and convert the games to rougher versions by raising the average age.  The father is a paediatrician, with a wicked sense of humour and a collection of pop culture t-shirts, who deals with more infant mortality than he ever did at home.  The wife looks out for our community and her children and works with the church services.  She is refreshingly honest about herself and her family.  We welcome parents with kids, because it’s hard to feel very missionary-like when you’re carrying a five year old out of dinner for punching his sister in the chow line.  The more parents who are dealing with the same thing, the better.  They arrived home concerned that Luke might have painted their house a bright colour, as he did for another friend on home leave.  He hadn’t.  Maybe next time.

Welcome to our friends from Australia, who I knew before coming to Nepal.  It seems like a long time ago now, and is certainly a different world.  He comes to be a general surgeon and we will work as colleagues, rather than mentor-student (although the mentor-student thing doesn’t really go away if the senior person has enough experience to share).  Ironically, his wife I met when she was helping prepare me for living in another culture, and she was sharing stories about living here, in Tansen, many years ago.

This week I also welcome back one of our Nepali surgeons, who has been back to his village for an extended visit.  He tells me that he spent time with his parents and caught up with friends.  A lot of his friends work outside the country now, as they have not been lucky enough to find work here.  These guys work overseas in many different countries on long term contracts, visit irregularly and send money home.  Many families in Nepal are fractured in this way.  This surgeon and I have great fun working and operating together and tease anaesthetists and ward staff alike.  The work is a lot more fun when he is here.

When I left Australia I felt pretty alright about myself, volunteering, etc.  When we arrived I walked into a room of people who were also volunteering, had done it much longer than I had, with less support, and could speak better Nepali while doing so.

Easily one of the best parts of working in this hospital, is that we all live as well as work here.  We socialise with our work friends, who are our neighbours.  And our friends are our colleagues.  And the kids at school are also at Sunday school. Not to mention that half the patients are related to staff members in some way, which you find out after the operation by a text message from someone completely unrelated.  Tansen is about community, and what inspiring community to join.

PHOTO: View from my bedroom window of the hospital (corrugated iron) in foreground and shanty town built up the slopes of Shreenagar hill.  The days are getting mistier and foggy now.

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