Tshering, a 28 year-old mother, brought two of her three children to the Paro District Hospital, in Bhutan. It was screening day, and they joined the scores of patients crammed into packed hallways, waiting to be evaluated by Surgicorps’ surgeons. Leaving her six-year-old boy Nima behind, Tshering traveled for two days by bus to reach the hospital. Sonam, her five-year-old boy, and Pema, her lively two-year-old girl, were tucked by her side. With Bhutan having no plastic surgeons in the country, patients wait months or years to be treated; many will never be seen.
In 2010, Tshering was pregnant with her first child when her husband came home drunk, accused her of infidelity, then beat her and set the house on fire. She was able to escape but suffered severe burns that kept her hospitalized for two months. Her husband remains in jail. Tshering went on to have two more children and supports the family by working as a nanny. She works seven days a week, taking two buses each way to her job. Rising early each morning to prepare all the meals for her three children, Tshering must then leave them at home to care for themselves. Nima helps Sonam when he comes home from school, and together they play with Pema until their mother arrives late at night to put them to bed. With a smile on her beautiful but sad face, Tshering explains that she receives no support from her extended family.
Surgicorps treats many burn patients, as over 3 billion people worldwide are using open flames to cook and to heat their homes. In early 2015, Sonam was burned while sleeping, when a kerosene lamp spilled on him. He suffered severe burns to his legs and perineal area, and can’t stand upright due to the contractures from his wounds. With the significant recovery time necessary for perineal surgery, coupled with the lack of suitable care at home with mom working, the doctors opted to only graft the small area on his leg. Sonam will hopefully return this year for the bigger procedure, which will undoubtedly change his life.
After his graft, Sonam eagerly joined in playtime with the other children on the ward. Despite his obvious disability and constant pain, Sonam was full of resilience and limped to catch up with them.
Tshering was hoping for surgery on her own burn scars last year, but was urged to come back in 2017 when she would have others to help with her children while recovering. She did not complain nor become angry, but rather, she thanked the surgeon and then went back to caring for her little ones.
Much like all the others in that crowded waiting area, Tshering and Sonam have experienced unimaginable pain, loss, and sadness. Through it all, these stoic people exhibit courage and bravery. They are grateful for the opportunity to be given a life-improving surgery. Many will have surgery, but some cannot. No matter what the reason, when they are turned away, they leave the hospital with a thank you, and a smile.
Surgicorps will be in Bhutan from April 22 to May 2, 2017 for our 11th trip to Paro District Hospital. Please stay tuned for updates and pictures from the ground and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.