Doctors in Achham are God. Ask the woman with a sick ten month old baby waiting outside the outpatient department (OPD) at Bayalpata Hospital and she will convince you that they are. As one of our doctors and his clinical staff walk the long path to the OPD, a horde of patients runs to them, trying to sneak in an early checkup. The woman with the baby hovers around the doctor, hysterical. “Dactar (Doctor) Saap please save my child, I have been waiting since ten in the morning,” she hollers, with all the air in her lungs. On a Sunday, the desperation of many other patients is similar if not the same.
The woman’s child looks pale and sick. For her and those around her, Bayalpata Hospital (BH) is the only place in Achham that has given them hope to live, to save lives, and to prevent diseases. “My in-law wanted to take my son to the witch doctor, but I know that the best way to treat him is to bring him here. For us, the doctors here are incarnations of God,” she says, holding the young child in her arms. She had fought with her in-law to bring the child to BH. BH is a haven, where sick patients walk for days from places as far flung as Bajura, Khaptad, Ramaroshan, and Doti in order to see a doctor. On a Sunday, BH sees more patients than the Government hospital in Achham’s headquarters of Mangalsen. Sometimes, the number exceeds three hundred patients a day.
In Achham, BH has become a recognized health service provider. Even the rival medical practitioners in Sanfe and Bayalpata bajar have started to refer their patients to BH. Still, most visitors to BH find a lot of room for improvement. Most are quick to notice the flaws that, in other facilities, could be taken care of in a matter of hours. It is indeed hard to comprehend why things as simple as cleaning the hospital premises or keeping the patients in a queue can be hard. You know you’re in BH when reaching a person over the phone can be a process that might take you hours, if not days. But working in Achham is not easy. It is more than a test of time. If you work here, you understand why complaining cannot make things work, why the internet keeps failing, and why the people never seem to understand what they ought to do.
In spite of all these flaws, there is a charm to BH that both the patients and the staff acknowledge. There is something that makes working in Bayalpata more appealing every day, that keeps them here, that makes it more fun, and that makes you feel at home in the middle of nowhere.
Survival is the basic human instinct. In Achham, it is all that really matters. Regardless of whether you are providing healthcare or receiving it, being able to live is a blessing. Achham is not for the faint-hearted. BH is all about standing still amidst the wind, rain, chill, and heat, both metaphorically and literally. But despite all of the problems faced, BH never fails to shower warmth, love, and affection. The grim social realities pertaining to politics, development, poverty, and war are simply not excuses for people to be rude and unfriendly.
BH is full of contradictions. So close to death yet so full of life. You fight your battles, but remain cozy in BH’s cradle. It suffocates you in despair to see the aspirations and dreams that lie above the clouds. It shatters your expectations, only to show you the possibilities that lie within the impossibilities. You sprain your ankles but not enough to stop you from climbing the mountains of life. You feel abandoned, but it is secretly cradling you in the cushions of love. Before you start questioning whether you love it or hate it, you realize that you have become stronger because BH is the way it is. You are who you are only because it taught you the hard way. It is strikingly amazing how the place where you came to contribute has given you so much more than you could have given it. You are thankful for what it has taught you and, as you look towards the beautiful green valleys from the staff quarters, you are amazed at the endless possibilities it has in store both for Achham’s development and for your own. It is beautifully strange how this place has transformed me in five months, and has became a part of me in less than that time.
BH has become synonymous to hope, for patients and for staff. It isn’t for nothing that patients walk hours and even days to reach BH. Being able to survive is one thing; giving the hope of survival is quite another. Doctors aren’t god but giving hope for life is definitely akin to godliness.
Agya Poudyal is the Community Health Director at Bayalpata Hospital. She graduated with an MA in International Relations.