A Himalayan Elective
Well, 2 weeks into my elective in India I have finally remembered my agreement to write a blog about it. Better late than never I suppose. For my elective block I eventually decided to split it into two blocks of 4 weeks; the first spent at home in Manchester, with the second spent in the Himalayan foothills at Dharamsala, home of the Dalai Lama and many more exiled Tibetans. I had decided to focus both placements on infectious diseases, and try to compare the differences and similarities between UK medicine, and the medicine practiced in a much more resource limited system.
Firstly, a little bit about the hospital. The Tibetan Delek Hospital is set on the steep hillside between Dharamsala and the popular traveler town of Mcleod Ganj. It serves the large local Tibetan population, as well as the local Indian one. Its 45 bed set up is quite basic, though perfectly clean, and all the staff are incredible, making the best use of the limited resources available to them. Whilst the outpatient clinic can at times seem pretty chaotic, it seems to work perfectly well, and by the end of the morning I am always surprised at how many patients have been seen. Apparently it gets even busier as the warm season truly arrives, and people who have been further south over winter return.
I will spend some more time talking about the hospital at a later time, but for the bulk of this entry I would like to share a pretty amazing story I have heard from one of the doctors here, which she herself has witnessed firsthand. A little over 20 days ago now, a Tibetan monk from the local area had arrived at the hospital, had succumbed to his illness and had passed away. Yet, despite being clinically dead, his body ‘didn’t die’. None of the normal post-death changes occurred. He had no pulse, was not breathing, and yet there was no rigor mortis, no decomposition, no smell etc. According to the doctor this phenomenon is called Thukdam, and this is the 3rd case she has seen over the past few years whilst she has been working here. It is apparently associated with some particularly senior monks, and is akin to a meditative state. I have found the whole story pretty incredible, and would have been more than a little skeptical if it wasn’t for the doctor acting as a firsthand witness.
As of last Tuesday, the last time she visited the hospital where the monk is currently being observed (about an hour from here), it had been 17 days since his ‘death’ and the changes had still yet to occur, though according to some of the senior monks the time was close, and hence may have already passed. This is a shame as I would have loved to witness it first hand, though I can’t say what I would be expecting.
Anyway, I hope that story was an interesting one, and I hope I may have intrigued some of you enough to at least google Thukdam. Unless I come across any more interesting stories, the next blog entry may have to be about the medicine, though there is still plenty of interest in that regards here. I shall try remember to do a few more entries before I leave.