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Monday, January 30, 2012

Thimphu Hospital and Angels

A couple of days ago three of our teachers got sick.  Reidi and Sara were vomiting for a whole day and Tim had a bad case of travelers’ diarrhea.  When I came back from a long hike, I was shocked to find that Reidi was in worse shape than I had previously left her.  I was really worried about her because she was moaning in pain from her stomach, crunched in a ball and dry heaving.  She could barely walk and I feared that she needed medical care.  So I called our coordinators to get advice for taking them to the emergency room in Thimphu.  Shortly after my phone call, our coordinator called the hotel owner to take them to the hospital nearby.  Terra, Ashley and I volunteered to go with them to make sure everything was going to be ok.  I have to admit that I was on the edge going to a location where a bunch of sick people were gathered and could easily spread their illnesses to me, but I wanted to go for support.  I would also hope that someone would do the same for me if I were ill.  Good Karma!

As we arrived outside the hospital, the first thing I saw were two men trying to lift an unconscious, fragile male onto another man’s back to carry him into the hospital.  His body was like a noodle and his neck couldn’t support his floppy head.  My first thought was I wonder if he has bird flu because we were very close to a bird flu infected area, which I had been in earlier that day (that’s another blog).  The sight of the limp man struck an awful feeling in my stomach that stayed with me for hours.  

Once we were in the hospital, the staff immediately took the three sick teachers in a small room to record their symptoms and write them prescriptions.  I felt like we were going to be well taken care of.  Terra went in the room with them while Ashley and I stayed in a cold, metal, dingy waiting room.  I was glad that Terra went because she had a motherly warm aura around her that was very calming to be around.  I felt as though she held the group together in a cohesive way.  The hospital had an eerie feel and I was out of my comfort zone.  I could see how awful Reidi looked through the cracked open door and I felt horrible for her because I knew that she wanted her family.

Anybody who knows me well knows that I am a very empathetic person and sometimes too sensitive where my heart swells with compassion for those who are in discomfort physically, mentally or emotionally.  As a child, I would cry when others were in pain and as an adult it still hurts me to hear of others misfortunes.  Sometimes I can even feel the emotions of others.  A spiritual teacher once told me that I want to heal everyone as well as the world and not to exhaust myself trying, which caused me to change the way I offer healing.   When I perceive someone in discomfort, I say a silent prayer for them as well as send them my angels.  Thus, going to a hospital in a less innovative country than the U.S. for the first time was emotionally difficult for me and sparked a series of prayers.

As a result, I started to feel a little ball in my throat and began to tear up in the waiting room.  Ashley told me to STOP as well as gave me this look like “hell nooo, don’t you dare start crying on me”.  So I took a few deep breaths and said to myself that crying would make it worse and the only thing that I could do is offer a healing prayer.  I prayed silently to myself so no one could tell that I was praying, not even Ashley.  I said something along the lines… “Dear God, please send my beautiful healing angels to heal Reidi, Sara and Tim.  Please surround them with white healing light.  Let them be healthy, whole and at peace.  Take away all their pains and protect them…” Then when I looked up, I saw that the line of sick people was growing and I extended my prayer to everyone in the hospital and as far as it could reach throughout the country. 
I'm trying to tighten my scarf.

After the sick teachers got their symptoms recorded, it was time to get their vitals checked.  We all walked down a cold, white hallway and entered a room filled with about eight patients lying on simple hospital beds surrounded by their family members. Everyone stared at us foreigners entering and I felt very uncomfortable like I was suffocating.  Maybe it was my bounded beanie on my head or my scarf that was suffocating me since I had tightly strangled it around my nose and mouth trying to prevent getting an airborne illness.  Ashley also had her fleece yanked up over her mouth and nose.  We were the only two who were clearly paranoid and the doctor looked at me like “are you serious?”  And yes we were!   

Ashley's Mask
I was relieved when a nurse quickly took us into a bare room with no other patients.  It was outdated, maybe from the 60s or 70s.  The beds were small compared to the massive electric hospital beds in the states.  They had a tattered divider screen in the room that was older than my grandma (no offense grams, your wise and I love you).  The beds had green sheets on them, which were flared on the edges from overuse, stained and holey.  There was no medical equipment anywhere.  The walls were painted white, so I could see all the splattered blood stains.  One stain in particular haunted me.  Near one bed there was a large bloodstain the size of a grapefruit almost at the top of the wall and you could see where the blood had poured down all the way to the floor.  I kept wondering what caused this stain and if the owner of this stain was still alive.  I kept imagining some large organ landing on that wall and sticking as the blood slowly ran down like a waterfall in slow motion.  Ewe it was scary looking!  It seemed like everywhere you looked you could find some kind of body fluid that had been sprung out of a patient and crusted over as it dried.  So of course Ashley and I also had our hands jammed up our sweater sleeves so we couldn’t touch anything.  People were staring at us and even though I didn’t want to offend anyone, I left my homemade protective suit on because it felt comforting with just my eyes peering out.
Mother Theresa AKA Me

As I stood next to Reidi’s bed, a cute little boy around the age of eight was leaning in our doorway looking at me probably because I looked ridiculous.  I will never forget his face, especially his somber eyes.  His clothes were covered in filth and his face was dirty too.  I don’t think that his clothes had been washed in months.  As we looked into each others eyes, I could sense that his thoughts where in a vortex of worry for someone dear to him.  I wanted to comfort him as well as bathe him.  I later saw him pacing back and forth around the hospital.  Finally, the most touching moment came when I witnessed him assisting his extremely elderly grandpa out of the hospital, which I believe this is who he was in distress over.  Although the boy was tiny, he wanted so desperately to help his grandpa walk.  His grandpa was as stiff as a board and the boy was reaching up with fully extended arms to support his grandpa’s rigid body as they literally inched their way out.  It made me feel so grateful to be limber and “young” at this moment.  Not surprisingly, I once again turned into Mother Theresa minus the protective suit…”Dear God bless these two…”  
Can you see some bodily fluid?

Furthermore, Reidi was offered an injection to stop her vomiting, but she refused it.  The good thing about the hospital was that we were given immediate care, got prescriptions fairly quickly, got free treatment by being in the country and we weren't bombarded with paperwork or insurance nonsense like in the states.  Reidi and Tim were cleared to leave.  Unfortunately, Sara needed a couple of IVs and had to stay longer.  I’m happy to say that shortly after we left the hospital, our three teachers got better.  I like to think that the angels assisted them along with the medication 
Reidi not vomiting...


I felt a huge relief to leave the hospital  and I couldn’t wait to return to the hotel to scrub down.  When I got to the hotel, I took out my Lysol and cleaned everywhere I thought that Reidi might have touched since we share a room for now.  Ha!  This experience made me think about how fortunate we are in the states to have sterile hospitals filled with massive volumes of innovation.  As Reidi and I went to sleep in our side by side twin beds, I thanked her for letting me go with her to the hospital and sharing this experience with me because it broaden my perspective of the world.  She laughed that I thanked her and insisted on apologizing, but I was serious about the gratitude.  Even if we don’t have the best health care system in America, our hospitals look vastly different from the one in Thimphu and that makes me a little sad.  I want the Bhutanese to have what we have and not have to go to India for better healthcare, which I “had” to buy health insurance to cover me in India in case I need a major operation while in Bhutan.

Overall, in one instant I have a new respect for technology, laws, standards, and the basic cleanliness/sterilization for the hospitals in the U.S.  I don’t know how to express it anymore other then we are dam lucky for innovative medical technology in the world.  My dad and Oprah have said that we are lucky to live in the states for all kinds of reasons and now I saw first hand one of the reasons why.  I know that one day Bhutan hospitals will also have up to date technology readily available to all their patients and that it’s only a matter of time.  Everyone deserves to be healthy and have cutting edge medical treatment.  The Bhutanese are intelligent, driven and caring people, especially for the welfare of others.  They already have started the foundation for a great healthcare system: every Bhutanese citizen gets free healthcare unlike those in America.  I hope to return to this blog in several years and update it with pleasant news about an innovative hospital in Thimphu.  Until then please say a prayer for those in need in the Thimphu hospital, the stiff grandpa of the sad eyed boy, and don’t forget to extend your prayer around the world…

Please feel free to join my blog, share it with a friend, or write down your prayer in the comment section...


  1. Thanks brina hook this into the BCF sight so more can share in your adventure...

  2. hi sabrina... it was really nice of you 2 share ur concern on our bhutanese health care system...

  3. My husband was seriously ill in Thimpu during our short 5 days tour in Bhutan. The rest 12 people of our tour group went further to Paro while we (I, my husband and my son) were left in Thimpu with a bus driver and a local guide who knew nothing but the way to Thimpu National Hospital.We went right to the emergency room. I was surprized we didn't have to go through a whole lot of paper work , registration process or showing our identification. At the moment ,we saw 4-5 beds in the room were occupied. The very first bed on the left side was now being helped with PCR, meaning that the patient was in a very critical condition. Everybody in the emergengy room was helping him. My husband was really pale with pain now. I then asked the driver to take us to the Bankok Hospital which I happened to see the sign on the first day we came. We urged there but we were shocked because the place was just a referring office to Bangkok Hospital in Thailand. We had no choice but coming back to Thimpu Hospital hoping that now there would be sombody free enough to help us. Luckily, that critical patient was moved to somewhere already. I saw a woman doctor . I went right to her. Not wait until we were asked because my husband was in a bad condition now, my son told her he himself was a Thai doctor and my husband (a pediatrist) had what kind of condition. Actually, it was a professional manner to let the doctor in charge giving the first opinion about the patient's care. The Bhuthanese doctor was very helpful and willingly discussed the condition as well as treament with us. She kindly operated the condition by herself and gave us very useful advice. She prescribed good medication for us without any hesitation. We were allowed to be at bedside while my husband was rest during observation. After everything was relieved, she even nicely wrote down a referral sheet for us so that we could go to the Paro Hospital in case of emergency when we moved to Paro later. Never in my life that I had experienced these : state medical service without waiting queue, no complicated or involute registration and a free of charge service. The name of the kind doctor is Sarah ( I read from her hand sign). I and all of my family will never forget her and I deeply appreciated what she had done for our family. I myself was graduated from USA sometimes in the 80s . I was a student and a foriegner at that time. I could recall a hectic and suffering moment when I was sick in USA. Compare to this, The medical service in Bhutan is a heavenly gift for us. Sometimes, It's not the high technology that heal sick patients. It's the kind heart and helping hands that cure them.

    This is just to share the moment of fearful when the one we love is in a very serious condition. You may have different experience from me but I have various experience , from your country as well as from my own country and Bhutan. The emergency Bhutan medical care is considered a very good medical care in terms of ethics and patient's cocern.

    1. I 100% agree with you that sometimes it's not all about the fancy and high technology that heal sick patients, but the kind heart...and good medical care in terms of ethics... I lived in Bhutan for about a year and a half. This story was my first perspective during the first weeks I landed in Bhutan. A perspective from a person who had only been to the doctors in the states and new little about Bhutan's medical services. However, over time as I grew to love the country, people and culture, my understandings about their medical care deepened. I went to the doctors several times for mild illnesses throughout my time in Bhutan and was always taken care of with great compassion and kindness. When I re-read this post, I smile and frown upon some of my thoughts back then in that moment and I hope that they did not offend you.

      Thank you for sharing your experience and perspective. I'm happy to know that you and your family were taken care of with such kindness and professional care.