Monday 18/12/17: The North Face-bedecked doctor pulls up his baggy jeans with one hand while wiping his sniffly nose with the heel of his other and asks me what’s wrong. There’s half a dozen or so nurses all watching and smiling and whispering while Dr North Face carries out his “examination”. I explain that I’ve had diarrhoea and vomiting for the last two days which unfortunately got worse overnight when I became far too well acquainted with my new family’s squat toilet. Every so often one of the giggling nursing minions comes over and pinches the skin on my hand or says, “you’re feeling good?” Yeah, never better, sweetheart.
I’m not even sure I really need to be here. One of my volunteers has been sick for the last week and as I’ve not been well over the last couple of days, the project coordinator decides that it’s better if we both just go to the hospital. It’s a pretty miserable taxi ride from our host homes in Changunarayan to the local hospital in Bhaktapur, in the suburbs of Kathmandu. We take a shortcut which translates as 45 minutes of hell over the bumpiest road imaginable. Not great when you’re trying to keep your insides, inside. I stop the taxi once to vomit up stomach lining. Man, I wish I’d stayed in bed.
Dr North Face asks me to sit down and I carefully choose a bed with the least visible stains. A smiley minion comes over and takes my blood pressure, through my jumper. I offer to pull up my sleeve but she motions that there’s no need. My blood pressure generally runs high and sure enough, another nurse comes over for a second opinion. They’ve still not asked me for my medical history but as my phrasebook is at the bottom of my rucksack and the project coordinator is away filling in forms and no one here speaks decent English, we’ll just have to assume it’s okay. Someone else sticks a thermometer under my armpit and forgets about it for 15 minutes. Eventually I just hand it back to her and she smiles at me. I lie down and feel sorry for myself as a blanket is put over me. It’s freezing cold in here and most of the nurses wear sweaters or puffer jackets under their white coats; I even spot a leather jacket. After a few more minutes, a new nurse comes over and ties an elastic band tight around my wrist. She starts massaging my hand and we deduce that she’s about to insert a cannula into the back of my hand for an IV drip to rehydrate me. Sure enough she starts digging away with a needle. This is not the most fun I’ve ever had. Her colleague starts on my volunteer and I ask if she remembered to tell them she’s allergic to penicillin/amoxicillin and basically anything that ends in -lin. There’s a bit of a panic while we try to make ourselves understood but thankfully the project coordinator comes back and we’re reassured it’s fine.
After 15 minutes, we’re handed two of the tiniest, itsy bitsy, teeny-weeniest sample jars for our pee and poo. Brilliant. This day just keeps on giving. I know that on the grand scale of world disasters and awfulness, this doesn’t even remotely rate, but for me and my phobia of all thing faecal related (I can’t even handle fart jokes, for god’s sake!) it can’t get much worse. And then it does. There are only two toilets in this hospital and one of them is “full”. The better alternative is something that would be turned down from Trainspotting for being too gross and I have a little cry while my brave volunteer goes in first. She’s a proper trooper and I genuinely don’t think I could have done it if she hadn’t gone in first. She comes out after a few minutes and I cry some more as I walk in to the stall. It’s a squat (obviously) and there is poo on the walls and spider-webs on the ceiling. Thankfully the light doesn’t work and the gloom hides most of the horror. I’ve blocked out what happens next but 5 minutes later I walk out, shaking and teary but successful. My genius volunteer remembered wet wipes and after we use half a bottle of my hand-sanitizer (the taps, naturally, don’t work), we get hooked back up to our drips and lie back down in our beds, a shadow of the people we used to be.
There are no curtains around our beds which means a couple of other patients’ visitors wander by curiously to stare at the sad looking white girls. We’re like really rubbish celebrities.
A distressed girl is brought in who is obviously in a lot of pain and as the nurses cluster around her, I turn on my side to give her some privacy. My gaze falls on a piece of blood-soaked cotton wool on the floor so I close my eyes and surprise myself by falling asleep. The day rolls on and after 3 IV bags, we receive our blood-test results and are discharged.
While the standards may not match what we’re used to back in the UK, it’s actually been a pretty quick process and our project coordinators made sure it ran as smoothly as it could. My volunteer has been seriously ill with dysentery while I’m rather disappointed with my “normal diarrhoea” and mild urinary tract infection diagnosis. I’m pretty sure I could have slept that off!
The journey back feels far less traumatic, until our piece of junk taxi stalls on a hill and the car behind crashes in to the back of us. Our driver jumps out to examine the damage and exchange numbers. Unfortunately, he’s also having a bad day as minutes later, a bus tries to squeeze past us as we sit in the middle of the road and we hear the grind of metal as the bus crunches in to the other side of our poor little taxi. Thankfully we make it home without any further excitement and I conk out on my bed for a 13 hour sleep. It’s been a shitty day – oh, look at me making poo jokes!