A young public health doctor’s year-long experience in northern India providing medical care for a Tibetan community living in exile leads to life lessons in compassion, generosity, and patience. As a young physician in training, Timothy yearns to make a difference in the world. While working at a U.S. community clinic, he encounters the health problems of refugees who had fled their countries’ human rights abuses. He soon realizes that his passion is to live abroad and serve a community as a physician. Following his formal medical training, Timothy lives for a year in Dharamsala, the “Peaceful Resting Place,” home of the Dalai Lama in northern India. Working alongside other volunteer colleagues, Timothy’s journey leads to the joy and anxiety of delivering babies by candlelight, the sorrow of tending to dying children who have suffered terrible falls, the frustrations of treating drug-resistant tuberculosis, and the challenges and rewards of delivering preventive health messages to newly arriving refugees from Tibet.
Dharamsala is a peaceful but bustling little town. The former British hill station is now the home of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Government-in-Exile. Over 10,000 Tibetans live in Dharamsala and the surrounding settlements, with thousands of new refugees fleeing persecution arriving every year. For one year, Timothy lives and works at Delek Hospital, founded in 1971 to serve the Tibetan refugee population. In an environment where even electricity can’t be taken for granted, he must learn to hone his diagnostic skills instead of relying on high-tech tests, and find a way not only to help but also to leave behind something of benefit that will last beyond his time there. He soon finds that the 35-bed hospital is continually full of sick Tibetans and local Indians, as well as tourists who fall prey to the many tropical diseases that the Indian subcontinent dishes out. The patients and stories he encounters are inspiring, and the resilience and tenacity of Tibetans is humbling to witness firsthand. The Tibetan strength of spirit is most evident in the torture survivors that he meets and whose stories he documents. By documenting and publicizing the mental health needs of a group of Tibetan nuns who had been tortured in Tibet, he ensures that they will receive adequate care in the future. And he learns some sobering and important lessons as a physician: that knowledge about health and sickness is not always enough to prevent illness. For a dutiful physician treating the sick, the key is not to rush to conclusions or order a battery of tests, but to take the time to listen to patients and take into account the context of their symptoms. Timothy also discovers that a physician might be able to relieve the superficial afflictions of this life, but the deeper suffering that people carry with them takes far longer to heal. Ultimately the struggle of exiled Tibetans for improved health and recognition of their fundamental human rights becomes his own.
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