Dr. Robert Schemmer, a dermatologist from Canada , joined our medical team as a first time volunteer to Bhutan recently. He treated monks at the Rinpung Dzong Monastery as well as patients in the clinic. His services were much needed and appreciated by the Bhutanese people. Surgicorps will hopefully incorporate these services into future trips! Thank you to Dr. Schemmer for sharing some of his daily blog posts.
Day 2–up at 5 AM and the surgical team was in the Operating room by 6:15. I went along for some supplies and am now waiting to see patients at a local monastery–that should be interesting. Meanwhile the surgeries–will number about 15 cases per day are busily underway. Interestingly about half of the team members are young–refreshing that so many people are up to this challenge, willing to offer their time and go to the expense of a very worthwhile cause. Wonderful scenery, although a bit cloudy so no view of the snow capped Himalayas.
Day 3 Bhutan at the Rinpung Dzong Monastery–Today I worked with the monks seeing about 20 odd for minor little skin and other medical problems. As I got to go inside the monastery where the public does not get to, it was quite an honor to meet the Lama or head and have tea and lunch first followed by a group medical consultation. About twenty or so monks ranging in age from about 15 to 60 were all gathered together listening to each individual’s medical problems along with my translator and driver. This was a bit unusual for me and I was thankful that no “personal” areas of the skin were involved! Everything was dealt with from actual treatments to advice on better eating etc.
At the end of our little 4 hour session, I enjoyed a ceremony–PUJA followed by a group photograph in the courtyard of the monastery. This created a lot of tourist interest and suddenly we became the focus of a lot of photographers. Anyway, all was done and I had a great time and will go back today to deliver some much needed medicine for those that were diagnosed. More to follow…..
Day 4–Today I spent most of the morning and a bit of the afternoon seeing patients with the team of Traditional Medicine Doctors. Very interesting are their treatments and we treated some with traditional medicine and others with allopathic medicine.
The highlight was the Royal luncheon hosted by the Queen and her daughter in their small palace (really huge and one of several). We all had to go in traditional dress called the GHO for men and KIRA for women and walked in twos up to the palace where the queen greeted us. We then went inside and a number of questions were asked and when team leader Dr. Jack (it’s his 9th mission) introduced us and told her Majesty that there was a Dermatologist amongst us, she immediately talked about her (bad) experiences with Dermatologists (no personal information of course in front of the group).
We then had a wonderful luncheon and after we ate, the Queen invited me, her daughter and one of her aides to do a personal consultation. She is a wonderful, warm and down to earth majesty and we talked and I examined her and gave her advice. In all I was with the three women for about 20 minutes. A real privilege. Afterwards we went into the courtyard with our group and a number of high ranking officials to have group pictures taken by the official photographer as private pictures are forbidden. Then we said our goodbyes and the Queen presented each of us with gifts–mine was a book on Bhutan. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity and most enjoyable.
Day 5–Today was somewhat uneventful but included is a typical house/building showing Bhutanese architecture along with some of the patients that I saw including the 88 year old father of the Governor (Dzongda) for the entire Paro district. Again, an honor that a high official would bring his father to see me.
A lot of infectious skin diseases here, along with common ones like I see in Canada. I cannot take any photos in the operating room for patient privacy but will try to send a few (if I get them from the official photographer) to give you an idea of what the surgeons do her. (there are examples on the website as well). Tomorrow its back to the monastery after some hospital clinics to see the monks–the children are so cute and it almost breaks your heart that 6-10 year olds have been taken there to get an education as their parents are just too poor to raise, feed and educate them.
Day 6–Friday–Well the week has certainly passed by quickly and the surgical team has done over 70 surgeries working non stop and long hours. My clinics have been busy both in hospital and at the local monastery and today was another trip there after my morning clinic. Surgicorps team members are expected to multi-task and one of my tasks today was not only to see the monks with their skin problems, but also to do some simple refraction for reading glasses.
First, we were graciously invited to lunch with the lama (head of the monastery) in private quarters, but because of time constraints (this week was a very holy week, filled with prayers and ceremonies, lunch was delayed as the fun with refraction started. The sheer joy on the monks’ faces, both old and fairly young, when they tried out their new reading glasses was heartwarming. Part of their life of dedication is studying and do they read a lot–often under poor lighting conditions.Between refraction, a stream of young, and older monks mixed in with various skin issues were treated. My translator and assistant was a huge help as I focused on the medical and we managed to see about 50 patients. Then a delicious lunch of rice, asparagus and a potato vegetable (mild) curry. was enjoyed .
Back to the hospital for a couple of patients and tonight our gala dinner at one of the ore upscale hotels here in Paro. Tomorrow our group will hike to a monastery perched literally on a cliff–so our weekend will be more recreational. Sunday its off to Thimphu, the capital, for more sightseeing. Of course, Monday is the final day of work. The surgery team will check the post operative results and I will see as many patients as I can before the touristy part of my trip throughout some of the country starts.
Day 7–Well the week of work passed quickly and over 70 surgeries were performed by the team of plastic surgeons, anesthetists and nurses and other volunteers and as for myself I saw between 125-150 patients visiting the local monastery three times with another visit planned tomorrow as there were a few children that not only had skin diseases, but also pink eye.
This weekend we started off on a trek to the famous Tiger’s Nest–a landmark in Bhutan. This monastery is perched against a rock-cliff over 10,000 feet elevation the the climb takes about 2.5 hours starting from about 7500 feet elevation. We started off at 7:00 am as the sun gets hot later. One can ride a horse part way up, but of course that takes some of the fun out of this adventure. At the monastery–you finally think great I’m here, but then there are a lot of steps to continue the climb up and into the inside. All materials were brought up there manually and partially with pack animals although they cannot use them the last 30 minutes as the path is too narrow. The building which burned partially in 1998, took 10 years to rebuild and is truly a wonder and the views are fabulous. not for those afraid of heights. Today it’s off to Thimphu, the capital, to look around. The skies are brilliant today, the air is fresh and what more could one ask for.