Posted by: Megan | August 7, 2007

The Tibetan Medical System!

A visit to hospital is not an ideal addition to any travel itinerary – as flexible as one may be! But would it be of any consolation if the view from the hospital window were to showcase a backdrop of snow capped mountains towering above 6000m? For one of my passengers (when I was tour leading) suffering from altitude sickness on an overland Tibet trip – the vista helped appease her distress from her acute headache.

Taking her to the hospital in Lhasa was a protracted parade of events every bit as hilarious as one could imagine the Tibetan Medical System to be! It was not at all told the little ‘optional’ excursion I had intended on taking any passenger to after a rendezvous at the Potala Palace! Most travellers though who arrive into Lhasa, being just over 3600m, suffer from high altitude sickness symptoms immediately. Just not all of them end up amongst the clamour of the local hospital ward!

I remember that night being quite the contrary experience from my day – spending time meandering in and around the temples and listening to the young monks debating at Sera Monastery. And, probably that very same night – my first experience where I engaged in a one off event of medical dodgem wheelchair races! Countless civilians set out to debut on their bicycles in an all time record event of beating my passenger in her wheelchair – as I attempted to push her to the consultation room first. I cornered the last stretch of corridor on one wheel to angle our way past our pained contestants who strived to arrive on their bikes first through the dark dim-lit corridors – of the emergency wing of the Number One (debatable) People’s Hospital! Being outnumbered by bicycles was a clear advantage with the abundance of them seeing us forfeit the race!

If the civilians (and us tourists) on their bikes (and wheelchair) weren’t making a noise then the babies crying certainly were. In came a slumped in pain Tibetan Cowboy from the Khampo region. Doctors in stained white gowns smoked in their patient’s faces during consultation. Bed linen looked as though it hadn’t been changed since the Dali Lama went into exile- urine stains patterning the yellowish sheets. Snotty tissues built up the doctor’s desk. The consultation chair was chained to the wall. While I was in tears of laughter at the time (thankfully my passenger had a great sense of humour despite her suffering) – it was all the same a very dismal affair!

I had to hope that if the 3rd World Conditions did not cure her then at least the oxygen would. Unfortunately, after leaving her to rest hooked up to an oxygen system for several hours neither the conditions nor the oxygen alleviated her pain. “Altitude Sickness” – clearly it is real!

Have you got an amusing hospital story from travelling? Do tell …


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