Ramesh kickstarts his motorbike and looks at me expectantly. “How should I get on?” I ask, thinking about Nikki, our clinic director, instructing us not to wrap our arms around our interpreter when riding the motorbike.
“Don’t grip with your knees,” Nikki said with a grin. I look at her blankly, thinking that you ride a horse with your knees, not a person. She explains further after noting my daft look. “It makes the interpreters very uncomfortable. And it is inappropriate to wrap you arms around them like you do in the states. The boys are very shy, but they have brought the squeezing with the knees thing up multiple times. Apparently, many of the American volunteers do it. And besides, it squishes their balls,” she adds wryly in her proper British accent.
Ramesh just stares at me. Clearly, he didn’t hear me. Meanwhile, I see Elissa, my team leader, jump on the back of Sachyamohan’s bike like a gazelle. She gently grips the handles on the rear of the bike seat and they are off. She rides with relaxed shoulders and ease in her torso.
It is time for commitment. I climb on behind Ramesh more like a lumbering gorilla. Mindful of my interpreter’s propriety and the health of his loins, I grip the rear handles and brace my feet to keep a demur couple of centimeters between my legs and his back. We ride through the narrow pedestrian gate of the monastery and out into the village traffic. The ride winds through valley roads, sometimes paved, sometimes not. We dodge chickens, ducks, people, and buses. A part of me soars with the thrill of the wind on my face and the mountains flying by. Another part of me is painfully aware of the adrenaline in my bloodstream and the clenching of my stomach. I understand why my predecessors have gripped with their knees without the ability to wrap your arms around the person in front. Ultimately, riding the bike becomes a major ab workout.
Fifteen minutes later we arrive at the Godawari (pronounced god-avri) Outreach Clinic. The clinic sits on the roof of an aqua concrete building that houses a Health Post on the second floor. The Acupuncture Relief Project has the run of the roof.
By 9:30 a.m., the sun is warm. I’m happy that I can take off a layer this early in the morning. The patients arrive slowly at first, but within the hour we have a full rooftop. We set them up in a semi-circle in the sun. “Namaste. My name is Lindsey. I’m very pleased to meet you.” The exchange of “Namaste” warms each face from behind the eyes and ripples across cheeks and lips. The brilliance of that first smile with each patient is noteworthy. When I ask ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions during each interview my patients wiggling their head back and forth atop their shoulders with a completely neutral expression on their face. Sometimes, the corners of their mouths turn down with the head wiggle. “Ah, bummer, I think, just before my interpreter will translate the gesture as a ‘yes.’ Even though in the last two days, I’ve started wiggling my head, the facial expression on my patients’ face continues to trip me up.
After exchanging names, I ask each person how I can help. Most of the patients are coming in for various body pain and I get to perform a slew of orthopedic exams. I note range of motion and pain levels in order to track progress. Halfway through the day, I take a moment to fully grok my surroundings. The rooftop is full with about eight patients mid-treatment and another six family members waiting in support. There are patients laying on mats, sitting in chairs, and one in a massage chair. The sun is bright and warm. There are temperate jungle covered mountains ringing the valley, and the majestic, gleaming white razor edge of the Himalayas in view. I am outside and I am doing what I love.
Later in the day, when I am treating a shoulder pain case, I ask my patient to roll up her pant legs. She acts a little shy and tells me apologetically that she fell recently. On her shin is a puckered scab about the size of a nickel. The edges are slightly red, but there is no heat coming off the skin. The wound does not look clean, although it does not have any signs of pus present. When asked, she tells me that she fell on a sharp rock a week ago. I ask her to go downstairs to the Health Post to get the wound cleaned out, but she informs me that the Health Post closed early due to the public holiday. Ramesh and I take her temperature to make sure she is not running a fever and then glove up. I prepare to clean my second wound in as many days. My travel kit does not have the antiseptic wash that I would prefer, but I make do. My interpreter and I clean out the wound, cover it with some triple antibiotic ointment, sterile gauze and a wrap. I ask her to keep it dry and to see the Health Post doctors immediately after the holiday.
My team leader, Elissa Chapman, informed us that many patients will come in for pain and have major wounds or burns that they neglect to tell us about. According to Elissa the minor wounds and burns don’t interfere with work as much as the pain does, and a sense of basic first aid to prevent infection is not a commonly shared knowledge here.