The book on Patan Hospital is about to be finished. I’m fortunate to have some great people supporting me. Now all the stories have been proofread several times and I’m closing in on a finished product. Hopefully I’ll get it printed in a couple of months.
Attacked by a rare syndrome
“It hurts. My leg. Where is mum?”
It’s not easy for Rikit Pal to express himself. He cannot move his legs or arms anymore. When he opens his mouth, only air comes out. Strangers in green clothes lift him and put tubes into his nostrils. The hospital room is so bright and scary. Nothing reminds Rikit of life in his village so far away in the Terai. He looks up from his bed with frightened eyes. Only a week ago Rikit was out playing with his friends. That evening he complained that his knees hurt. The next day he could not lift his hands, and the following day he was not able to walk. His parents brought him to the closest hospital, but nothing could be done there. By the time they got him on a bus to Kathmandu, he was totally paralyzed. At Patan Hospital, Rikit was immediately admitted to the new Pediatric intensive care unit (PICU). “Will he ever be better?” asks his mother Dhupkali Pal. “We have been terrified for him. I wonder if we have done anything wrong to upset the gods.”
Guillain–Barré syndrome is a rare disorder affecting the peripheral nervous system. Less than 2 people in 100,000 get the syndrome annually. By some unknown trigger, the nerves that control the body’s muscles are damaged, causing severe weakness beginning in the legs. This can spread up to involve the entire body, and in severe cases the patient will not even be able to breathe on his own. Rikit had such a case and was put on a mechanical ventilator.
“Intensive care facilities are scarce and mostly unaffordable in our part of the world. The hospital charity fund is limited, but we would surely like to spend it on patients like Rikit where a full recovery can be expected. Though it may take several weeks to months, no mental handicap or intellectual deficit will occur, as the disease does not affect the brain. However, without the intensive care services patients like Rikit would die gasping for breath,” says pediatrician Dr. Shrijana Shrestha.
“I’m worried for my son, but not so much for the money. We are poor, but I can sell my ornaments and we can borrow some money. His health is the most important,” says his mother. But she is probably not aware that the hospital bill after several weeks in the PICU already exceeds $1,000. They have paid about $200 in advance, but there is no way they will be able to pay the final bill. Along with so many other patients, they will rely on the hospital’s Charity Fund, but the need far outweighs the limited funds available.
Most people get well from the Guillain–Barré syndrome if they just get the support they need. It may take a few weeks to several months, but Rikit will get his strength back again.
Since 1981, Patan Hospital has been a beating heart in the Kathmandu valley, meeting the challenges of life in Nepal with compassion and care. It has a strong reputation for clinical excellence and a well-established ethos of service to the poor and disadvantaged. With a total budget of US$6 million, the hospital’s statistics are impressive. It would not be possible without the committed doctors and staff who are making a difference in people’s lives every day.
Life does not always turn out as planned. Too many dreams are crushed in poverty, underemployment, and the realities of life in Kathmandu. But inside the doors of Patan Hospital, no one is turned away because of money. It’s a tough mission in one of the world’s poorest countries.