A key to a healthy relationship between neighbouring countries is to respect each other’s concerns. The phrase “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” does not have to be read in the context of a particular political philosophy considering that Communist and Socialist thinkers are credited with its origin; it is relevant for all ideologies across countries.
As a hospital administrator I have the privilege of working with our Ministry of External Affairs to facilitate building of medical and hospital infrastructure in Bhutan apart from doing my regular duty in the prestigious All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). My trips to Bhutan have been frequent during the last decade. It is with a measure of satisfaction that I record my association with the establishment of two hospitals in the Himalayan Kingdom namely the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH) in the capital of Thimphu and Eastern Regional Referral Hospital in Mongar 460 kilometres away as well as the Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Sciences of Bhutan originally conceived as the Bhutan Institute of Medical Sciences. In the process I have been exposed to the scenic splendour of the country and hospitality of its people.
Politics is not my cup of tea. I also claim little knowledge of international intrigues. In such matters I am a layman. Yet, I can feel the strategic importance of Bhutan in international arena. Not only its topography but also the fact that Buddhism is its state religion reminds me of Leh district in the idyllic Ladakh region of my home state Jammu and Kashmir.
My latest experience is firmly etched in my mind. It has confirmed my previous expressions that Bhutan is a small country with a big heart.
My last trip to Bhutan was in November. This was in connection with establishing haemovigilance programme in Bhutan with our National Institute of Biologicals (NIB) taking the lead. Before I return to my own story it is quite relevant to understand the significance of haemovigilance which is derived from the Greek word ‘hema’ (blood) and the Latin word ‘vigilans’ (watchful). It is a set of surveillance procedures covering the whole transfusion chain from the collection of blood and its components to the follow-up of its recipients intended to collect and assess information on unexpected or undesirable effects resulting from the therapeutic use of labile blood products and to prevent their occurrence and recurrence. It is an important tool for improving safe blood transfusion practices in a country. The Haemovigilance Programme of India (HvPI) was launched on December 10, 2012.
According to a release posted by Bhutan’s Ministry of Health on its website, “Blood Safety and Diagnostic Programme, Department of Medical Services, Ministry of Health conducted a CME workshop from 8th-11th November 2016 on establishment of the first National Haemovigilance System in Bhutan at Chuniding Resort which was resourced by our four experts, Dr Surinder Singh, Dr Shakti Gupta, Dr Ravneet Kaur and Dr Akanksha Bisht from National Institute of Biologicals, Noida, India. By establishing the haemovigilance system in our country, we hope to strengthen and enhance the quality and patient safety during the blood transfusion in all the hospitals.” (CME is abbreviation for Continuing Medical Education. Dr Surinder Singh is the Director of National Institute of Biologicals (NIB) of our Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, which is the National Control Laboratory for testing of all biologicals including vaccines and bio-pharmaceuticals. Dr Ravneet Kaur is Head, Department of Transfusion Medicine, Government Medical College and Hospital, Chandigarh and Dr Akanksha Bisht, Scientist and Officer In-charge HvPI (Haemovigilance Programme of India) NIB.
It was during this major initiative of Bhutan that I discovered in a big way the concern, affection and hospitality of my friends there and its Health Ministry. I also realised that the old adage that it pays to do a good turn had a basis. I suffered an unexpected medical setback on returning to my hotel room after lunch one day. During a brief time I had several bouts of diarrhoea and vomiting. My stomach pained, as it had never done before. I began sweating. Dr Singh got immensely worried and called for additional blankets and heating arrangement in the hope that I would feel comfortable. There was no improvement and I was rushed to the hospital in the establishment of which I had a hand. It moved me that local officials took over all arrangements and Bhutan’s Health Ministry treated me as its guest. As my condition improved, a priority ticket was arranged for me to fly back to New Delhi — actually straight to AIIMS to fully recover. I had missed the scheduled return flight and it was nearly impossible to get another ticket because of heavy rush.
On my AIIMS bed I recalled the entire turmoil and could only feel grateful for the tremendous help received in Thimphu. The images of Dr Mahrukh Getshen, Transfusion Specialist, Blood Bank, JDWNRH and member of World Health Organisation (WHO) Advisory Panel on Blood Safety; Dr Gaado Tshering, former Secretary Health, Royal Government of Bhutan; Dr Kunzang Getshen, Professor of Ophthalmology, Khesar Gyelpo University of Medical Sciences, Thimphu; Dr Gosar Pemba, Medical Superintendent; Dr Guru Prasad Dhakal, Gastroenterologist; Dr Sonam Dukpa, ex-Consultant Surgeon and Urologist, JDWNRH and CEO and Endoscopic Sonologist Menjong Diagnostics Centre Changing Thimphu and Mr M B Gurung, Male Nurse and other cabin nurses, repeatedly crossed my mind. All of them had spared no effort to look after me during hospitalisation in Bhutan. It turned out that I was victim of severe food poisoning, which can be fatal. More than 250 different diseases can cause food poisoning.
My friend Dr Gaado Tshering was the first to rush in. He immediately called Dr Dhakal who after preliminary assessment advised me to get admitted in the hospital where I was to undergo aggressive medical treatment. Dr Dhakal stayed till the early hours of morning and Mr Sonam Wangda, Senior Programme Officer, Blood Safety and Diagnostics Services Programme, Ministry of Health, sat by my bedside monitoring my vital parameters. Dr Gaado’s wife brought soup and homemade Khitchri. Dr Sonam Dukpa tried to bring cheer on my face: “Shakti means power and everything shall be fine.” As a doctor I have always realised the significance of positive words and environment for a person under treatment. As a patient I realised their significance all the more. Dr Dhaka and Mr Wangda accompanied me to the airport a couple of days later to ensure that there was no problem during the flight.
I thought that I should publicly express my gratitude to each of them. No way can be better than acknowledging it in writing. American essayist and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that in order to achieve contentment, one should “cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously.” An academician has rightly observed: “Life is a series of problems that have to be solved — and a lot of times those problems cause stress. Gratitude can be that stress buster.” Gratitude relieves one of tension and as a medical practitioner I am well aware that a calm mind leads to health and happiness. It is small wonder that the phrase Gross National Happiness, a measurement of the collective happiness in a nation, was coined in Bhutan by its fourth king Jigme Singye Wangchuck. Bhutan and its people provide the perfect ambience for such healthy sentiment.
The author, Dr Shakti Gupta, is Medical Superintendent, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Dr R P Centre for Ophthalmic Sciences, New Delhi.
Note: This article first appeared in Border Affairs.
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