September 8th, 2016
Kaaza in Spiti is the largest town in the Spiti valley, rapidly becoming a tourist destination for adventure tourism. Every year, increasing numbers of avid motorcyclists brave the rough and inhospitable terrain, with much bravado, while the residents who face these harsh conditions every day of their lives watch their dust trails in placid acceptance. Indeed, placid acceptance of life with all its inclement elements is the character of the archetype Spitian. Deprived of any access to specialized surgical or medical care, twelve thousand people in the villages dotting the moonscape wilderness live cognizant that any life threatening illness will mean death if they cannot leave the valley in time.
In continuity with our camps of the past years, the Lady Willingdon Hospital assembled a specialized team of professionals to provide surgical services to these people. Dr. Anju Aggarwal, gynaecologist from Delhi and her husband Dr. Sanjeev Tanwar, who juggles two hats of sonologist and anesthetist, Dr. Narjit Osaha, senior consultant Anesthetist from CMC Ludhiana, Dr. Avika Kanathia and Dr. Vaishu Verghese eye surgeons from CMC Ludhiana with their team of eye technicians Santhokh Singh and Anil Kumar, were the specialists providing their services on this camp. All other team members were from the Mission hospital. Dr. Bishan Shasni, was our constant team leader, guide and mentor. His extensive experience and familiarity with all of Spiti was a huge boon for all of us.
The team this year was a large one. Twenty seven people, two force travellers, one pick up truck and a bolero were crammed full of equipment and personnel as we set off over the Rohtang pass early morning. Thankfully, we all arrived well in time in Kaza, with enough daylight to unload all the equipment and find our tired beds for the night.
Over the next seven days, the team saw huge numbers of patients who had flocked to the civil hospital from all over the valley, as they received news of the teams arrival. One thousand and sixty nine patients were seen over the next five days. Since there is no ultrasound machine in all of Spiti, our portable ultrasound machine was extremely popular, as everyone had come fasting, prepared and extremely anxious for the ritual of being smeared with jelly and the black screen divulging life changing secrets. Patients with headache and knee pain found it difficult to believe that the black box would not help them in any way.
The gynaecologist performed surgery every morning, and a general surgery list ran starting in the afternoon till late at night every day. Eye surgeries were conducted in an adjacent theatre. In order to perform safe surgery, every inch of both theatres were scrubbed, carbolised, fumigated and every scrap of equipment and supplies were brought in from Manali, inclusive of a boyles machine. A steady supply of electricity was impossible till a neighbouring welding shop provided its generator to us which supplied the operating theatre every day linked through some wires strung across the courtyard and the wall of the hospital. The autoclave in Kaaza caused trouble till it was repaired by our multitalented driver Tej Ram. Every day, we returned to sumptuous and varied gastronomic delights served up by our camp cook Phunchok. His service played a huge role in keeping our spirits soaring.
Over the next three days we operated on sixty one patients , twenty eye surgeries, (mostly cataracts and pterygiums) and thirty five major gynaecologic and general surgical surgeries, in addition to six minor procedures. Besides routine cases of hysterectomies, and cholecystectomies, and varicose veins there always is a special case every year, a case that I call the reason de etre. Every year when we come, we come across an emergency that results in a life saved. This year it was a two year old baby with an imperforate anus, who was brought to us on the third day of life, with a bloated abdomen and in a very sick condition. Since it was a low type, we decided to treat the baby, and Dr. Narjit administered general anesthesia very skillfully in such primitive circumstances, permitting us to operate and create an anus. The child took a day to recover, but then did not turn a hair, greedily sucking up milk and doing all the things a normal baby should be doing.
All the surgeries went well by Gods grace and all patients were discharged well, We are constantly grateful to what we know to be God’s omnipresent protection on all of us. The team returned, tired but happy with the grateful smiles and thanks of the inimitable Spitians resounding in our ears. Joule ! till next year.