July 25, 2014

By Rinchen Dolma

In Dharamsala, sun rises around 6am but most people here start their day around 5:30am. Early in the morning, you could hear neighbors chanting mantras. They circumambulate around the temples and prostrate in the temples.

Fig: Early morning sun rise in Dharamsla

Fig: Early morning sun rise in Dharamsala

I also start my day around the same time. I go for the shorter circumambulations around Tsuglhag Khang, which is one of the main Tibetan Buddhist temples and the original one is in Lhasa Tibet. Every morning as I head to the temple, I meditate for a few minutes and reflect on the past days and also plan for that day. In this way, I can focus more on my work and also brings peace and satisfaction.

In Dharamsala, most offices start around 9am and that timing also applies to Delek hospital. I have been working both at the main hospital as well as at the branch clinic in McLeod Ganj. I go there few minutes before 9am to prepare my camera settings.

Around 9:10 am, one by one the TB patients come to take their daily medicines. Some of the patients are local Dharamsala but a lot of them are from different parts of India. Those who are from outside of Dharamsala rent places around the city for medication and regular check up purposes. At both hospitals, all the nurses are so gentle and motherly caring.

Most patients who come to take medicine at the branch clinics are those who were discharged from the main hospital. Most of them are MDR (multi-drug-resistance) TB. But now all of them are TB negative, which means it’s not contagious. Here when I refer to TB most patients have pulmonary Tuberculosis. Most of them have been taking medicines for months and some of them over a year. For MDRs, they need to take medicines for 2 years.

Some of the drugs are very strong, so the side effects are also very strong. For instance complexion wise, most patients appear relatively darker. However, compared to their earlier stages, they said that they have recovered a lot and they feel a lot stronger. Without assistance, they can walk and eat healthy foods etc.

One day, I remember asking one of the patients why they were coming all the way to the clinic just to take their medicines instead of taking the daily medicine at home. She replied that if they take the medicine at home there is a chance that they might miss it, which is very dangerous for TB. She also said that she feels happy to see and talk to the nurses and it is also good exercise.

There are different types of patients; some talk less than the others. Some are very jolly and carefree. They create jokes and make everyone laugh. I noticed the nurses put lots of effort into make the patients feel comfortable and happy. I have seen the senior nurse calling the young male patients “Amae Bhu” which means “mother’s son” that what typically Tibetan mother’s call their son. One day I asked about one of the guys taking medicine. She said, “When he came here for the first time, he didn’t talk to anyone. Most of the time he looked unhappy, but now he talks with nurses and he calls me mother.”

Later I asked him if he was comfortable giving me an interview but he was too shy in front of the camera.

One of the interviewees has been to the main hospital for more than one year. It is saddening to hear the kinds of MDR drug side effects they endure. She said that one time, she almost went blind. Fortunately, she told to the doctors and they changed the medication, so now she is fine. According to her, after going through many stages of pulmonary TB, she learnt many lessons.

At a certain stage she said, “I found myself advising the new patients, I was telling them what should to be done and what shouldn’t be done. After all we (patients) formed a community of help among ourselves. I made many friends at the hospital.” After enduring so much hardship, I am impressed the way she continuously carries on with her life and still very bright and optimistic.

In most of my interviews, almost all interviewees expressed deep thanks to their doctors, nurses and health workers at Delek hospital. Personally, just as the patients express their gratitude, I was deeply touched by the level of compassion and kindness of how the Tibetan diaspora in India are fighting against TB.

Along with the improvements in people’s living and social conditions and the availability of modern technologies, the result is that the Tibetan community’s fight against TB is tremendous. There is a drastic decrease in the TB rate, but the fight against TB doesn’t ends here.

DorjeeToday (25/7/2014) Dorjee Wangdu is completing his two years of MDR medication and after going through serious of hardships he is still very optimistic about his life afterwards. He said, “Before falling a victim of TB I was a college student with a career and so many dreams in life. At some stage in my life I thought this illness has shattered all of them but TB has taught me lots of lessons in life. I am still very young. I still have plenty if opportunities to do whatever I want to do in life! The most important lesson I understood what does it mean by ‘health is the most important thing in life.’ ”