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Stories from Dolpo: Bearing Witness

I have already shared photos of Lake Phoksundo with it's unreal color and incredible legend. I share it again here to start the story of our first Nomad Clinic on the south end of the lake in Ringmo, Nepal.

Ringmo is a village with a lot of access, relatively speaking, as many people come through here (on foot or horse) on their way to upper Dolpo. The village is actively under construction with the building of several hotels in preparation for more tourists. It is also home to a military base.

We had 2 days of clinic here, in tents and in the building the military kindly let us use.

As the women waited in line to be seen in the "Women's Clinic" (the blue tent in the photo below) we had a blood pressure check station. Everyone was very interested in their blood pressure readings, including the women and the young military men from the village.

This woman having her blood pressure checked had picked marigolds and was wearing them as earrings. When I smiled and pointed at one she immediately took one out and offered it to me. This gesture represents the spirit of the people we encountered in Dolpo. The women were full of gratitude and smiles, put at ease by the grace of Pasang (left), our incredible translator. Pasang is the extraordinary Sherpa who recently won the National Geographic Explorer of the Year award for her efforts after the devastating earthquake in Nepal in April of 2015. Having her with us made all the difference in the care we could provide.

In Ringmo was our first chance of many to see new life, thanks to Dr. Ranjit and his portable ultrasound. How incredible to show women their babies and assure them they are doing well. The joy this brought infused the entire clinic; the word spread quickly that we had this to offer.

The last stages of life were also witnessed on this day, again with the aid of the ultrasound.

A man of 84 years arrives, after traveling a day to get to the Nomad Clinic. He was having a lot of trouble breathing and for this reason was quite weak. Upon exam it was suspected he was in the late stages of congestive heart failure. This was confirmed by Dr. Ranjit with the ultrasound, as his heart was not able to pump but a small percentage of his blood.

With much fervor, everyone brainstormed how to help him. They asked if I had any herbal diuretics. I did not but I had a high potency homeopathic I thought could help. The man graciously accepted the pellets, and patiently waited as we discussed how to proceed. Fresh from the West with medications, imaging and hospitals typically a step away, the practitioners were discussing how to get him to the city to get more care; even though at home there would not be much "to do" except to make him comfortable.

I will always remember Roshi Joan Halifax's reminder. Roshi (left) was present and listening intently throughout the evaluation, and eventually said "it's okay to die."

This man has lived a full life, longer than most in this region. The goal became to alleviate his suffering, not prolong his life. We gave him what we had for diuretics to help his breathing, but something else would help him, likely much more.

Roshi gathered a picture of the Dalai Llama, crouched next to the man and gave it to him, then started chanting. He put the photo to his forehead and then tucked it in his knitted cap. He joined her in the chanting and his breathing changed, becoming less effortful and more fluid. Medicine in the form of a chant; a comfort, a signal that his time is near and he can lean in. He departs full of dignity and gratitude. He thanked each of us with a bow; he looked directly into each of our eyes, into each of our souls.