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Return from Kaaza 2017

Posted by: Philip Alex | Posted on: October 16th, 2017 | 0 Comments

Joule! The cheery greeting rang out as our cavalcade swept into Kaaza after an arduous twelve-hour bone-rattling journey over rocks that serve as a road. We were twenty-six people in three vehicles with one pickup truck jammed with all our equipment and supplies. We had left late from Manali because the “Raid Himalaya” road race was scheduled for the same day and delayed our departure. A rock falling on one of our vehicles provided some excitement as we extricated the vehicle, thankfully still roadworthy, and continued on our journey, to arrive in Kaaza by nightfall. Dr. Ganesan, a senior radiologist, and Dr. Pankaj Mallik, anesthetist, were the most senior in the group. Dr. Sathyavani, an obstetrician from Bangalore Baptist hospital, together with her surgeon husband Dr. Narayanswamy were the youngest consultants. Dr. Satish Thomas, a veteran of our camps, was the ophthalmologist from Believers hospital, ably assisted by Dr. Naveen from CMC Ludhiana, also no stranger to our camps. Mr. Rajinder, the eye technician from CMC Ludhiana teamed up with Mr. Shivdayal, our eye technician. The entire team of surgeons, nursing staff, operating room staff, anesthetic technician, lab technician, pharmacist, drivers, helpers, and a cook was quite a posse, headed by our dynamic leader Dr. Bishan Shasni, who actually works out the logistics of all our camps every year. Without him, I do not know if we could successfully complete any camp.

This year was different. In previous years, the camps had always been funded under the NRHM or the national rural health mission. This year, the government was late in opening the expression of interest. This invitation provides a pathway for organizations to apply for funding for the conduct of these surgical camps and expenses are reimbursed at government rates. The only certainty was that winter was fast approaching together with the reality of the high mountain passes closing for the year, cutting off these people from access to health care and surgery for the year. Every year we have been providing elective surgical services to the population of twelve thousand people living at this high altitude. For many who could not afford to leave the valley, we were the only recourse, and this year we did not have funds for it. So we prayed, and we felt that we should go ahead with whatever money we had with us to continue this service. So this year, this camp was conducted with our own money. The costs of arranging such a camp are not small, given that all expenses have to be met, and the patients are treated free.

Since it was too late to set up the operating room, the vehicles were unloaded and the team retired tired. The next day the morning was spent in setting up the operating theatre. The outpatient clinics started after a brief meeting with the public explaining why we were doing this and sharing our motivating factors with them. Dr. Bishan shared our commitment with them and explained our endeavor over the past years. The outpatient clinic was packed, with long lines of patients waiting to be seen by the general surgeons, gynecologist, and the eye doctors. The ultrasound machine was most in demand. Patients arrived, wanting an ultrasound for their headaches and backaches. The perception was that this little box would uncover any hidden disease by one wave of the magic probe. We had trouble with the ultrasound machine, but the ever-resourceful Dr. Bishan managed to solve the issue. Dr. Sathyavani was impressed with the antenatal care received by the ladies with the existing facilities, though for most of the pregnant women, the single ultrasound examination we conducted for them would be the only one done. 

That very day we were required to perform an emergency surgery on a patient in acute distress. Dr. Narayanswamy handled the situation immediately and the patient was relieved of his pain. One wonders what the patient would have done if we had not been there. He would not have been able to make it nine hours to the next surgical facility (ours) in Manali. One consequently wonders how people manage all year round. Though the kaaza civil hospital where we had set up base had enough facility for safe surgery under local or regional anesthesia, there is no surgery being done here until we arrive every year.

Over the next four days, we saw one thousand two hundred patients, performed 23 major surgeries and 24 minor surgeries, 25 eye surgeries (mainly cataract surgery), and conducted over four hundred and sixty ultrasound examinations. Every department worked smoothly, the members functioning together ceaselessly to provide a high standard of surgical and medical care. This being the fourth year of our camps, we testify to the faithfulness of God in providing care and healing to every one operated upon without a single complication.

Because Dr. Swamy and the surgical resident Dr. Shreya were able to finish all the minor surgeries in the morning, our operating lists finished every day by dinnertime, which was different from previous years, when the lists used to finish at two am, since we started late. Surgery for gallstones was by far the most common surgery. There was a patient in sepsis with a burst appendix and a little boy with abdominal tuberculosis. For both these patients, our intervention meant life saved. Most surgeries were conducted under spinal anesthesia. We had brought in every piece of equipment and medicine, down to the sticking plaster and bandages.

It was cold in Kaaza. We were at the very cusp of winter, and to emphasize this, there was fresh snowfall one night that dropped the temperature and sprinkled snow on the high pass. For some in our team, this was a new experience. The final days had some highlights in being able to visit the highest post office in the world (Komik village), where every team member posted a postcard to their homes. We were also very grateful for local co-operation and hospitality as we were hosted for a meal on two occasions. Our cook and helper had kept us very well fed and though a few of us had headaches due to the altitude, none of us fell ill.

It was with a sense of accomplishment and gratitude that the entire team departed from Kaaza on the 16th morning, satisfied that we were able to do this yet again, this year. We bid a fond “joule” to the wide open spaces and stark scenery, the cheery smiles of the amazing people living in this region, imprinted not just in our cameras, but in our hearts. 




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