Day 21: Bir Hospital

Trip Start May 20, 2008
Trip End Aug 19, 2008

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

After a more rushed morning routine than usual, Christina and I hopped on a minibus bound for the city. Bir Hospital, "where chronically ill Nepalis go to die, not recommended" (Lonely Planet), was our destination. Steve backed out for fear of being more a liability than help and tempted me to do the same in lue of mutually dubious medical credentials, but I held me ground. The stuffed gorilla accompanied us on the journey and got to ride on a random generous passenger's lap while we held onto the railing for dear life. Something seemed amiss in town. Street merchants were packing up at ten in the morning, the cops were out in full camo & armor force, and the two of us exchanged "what are we getting in to?" looks. The King was going to officially step down today (thought that already happened? I guess not) and tense feelings were abound. Thankfully no political ickiness erupted, but the situation didn't help what was already becoming one of the greatest bouts of trepidation I've had since arriving in Nepal. This hospital, if the infamy was to be believed, could render me sleepless for the next week.

The bus dropped us off at a giant, drab, almost Soviet concrete monstrosity straddling central park. Faded lettering across the building's entrance spelled out "Bir Hospital (+ Hindi Scribble)" and confirmed we were in the right place. Before entering, we made a pit stop at Bir's pharmacy to pick up some Malaria pills for Christina's upcoming jungle trip. Of course the only type of pill they, the largest government hospital in the country, carry is the one formula that doesn't work against the Nepali strain of Malaria. Good logic, yes.

After giving the pharmacist a good juicy "wtf?," Christina led me through the evil double doors into the hospital itself. Posted on the main reception's wall was what looked like a giant menu of treatments and tests. "Carioscopy - 400 Rupees, Neuroscopy - 600 Rs, Thisscopy - 400, Thatscopy - 700" etc. The interior was not much different than an oversized NYC subway station, a maze of leaky concrete walls and ceilings, extremely functional with absolutely no thought or money given to aesthetics. Whatever gets the job done, I guess. Strange and probably noxious chemical smells were abound in some areas, sewage smells (minus actual sewage) were abound in others, but there were none of the garbage heaps or stray dogs that Jesse described. These were only the main hallways, however. Sealed metal double doors blocked our ways into the actual wards, and I'm not sure I wanted to imagine what was behind them. There was no way to get through them without Steve's girlfriend and her inside connection in any case.

There were only a handful of unsealed wards: the physical therapy section, the kids section, and, of all things, the surgery section. Christina wanted to visit surgery after her observation appointment at physiotherapy, but the "Please remove your shoes and socks" (and walk barefoot across a hospital floor?? 'tf?) sign kept me out. Anyhow, Christina proceeded to the deserted physiotherapy section for a rendezvous with the head doctor, and I split of and headed to pediatrics, stuffed monkey in tow. The main room, a large and dank but brightly lit chamber with rows upon rows of beds was, like physiotherapy, utterly deserted. Perhaps all the parents figured their kids would be better off staying at home with folk medicine than even setting foot in this place? They'd probably be right.

Hoping to be pointed to wherever the terminally ill kiddies had gone, I approached the nurse's office (seven female doctors sitting around twiddling their thumbs) and engaged James Bond mode. I flashed my volunteer card and in as simple English I could think of explained that "I am Doctor Benimoff, I'm an American pediatherapist (lie) sent by VSN (lie) to entertain the children." They just looked at me funny. I whipped out the monkey and kind of bounced it around while repeating "Entertain! Kids! Kahaa (where) are kids?" in hopes that they'd get the message. "China, china" ("don't want/don't have") came the confused and slightly annoyed response. My Patch Adams plans thwarted, I just plopped the monkey onto my shoulders and started trotting around the halls giving it a piggy back ride. Scored smiles half the time, looked like an idiot the other half. This went on for maybe twenty minutes until I had the full length of halls covered. I probably should've tried harder and with more confidence to get to the patients (or maybe not, if I'd just get in the way. Who knows.) I dunno. The whole charade was probably misguided and pointless, but getting a few people to smile in a place as depressed as that had to have contributed something.

Out of time for now, adios.
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