Fates and tragedies from Nepal 

Khushi - or how easily a life can be changed for good  

 

Nepalprojekte - Medizinische Betreuung - Einzelgeschichten Kushi

Khushi is now seven years of age. She lived in Mugu and suffered serious burns as a toddler. Her mother Amma told me what happened. As usual, a bunch of children were playing around her while she was cooking on the open fire. She had just placed a large pot of oil on the fire to fry some food. It appears that Khushi was accidentally pushed by another child, fell against the pot and was doused in several litres of hot oil.

She suffered serious burns from the lower lip to the neck, across her arms and upper body. As there is no medical care whatsoever available in Mugu, the family did its best to care for Khushi. She survived, but was heavily scared from her face down. The scars even prevented her from moving her arms properly. Khushi always wore as scarf around her neck to cover the worst affected areas. As her lip became fused to her chin tissue, she could not close her mouth fully and the scars around her face were therefore always visible.

When we met Khushi for the first time and became aware of her suffering, we decided to bring her with us to Kathmandu to be seen by a specialist in a hospital.

At the end of October 2010, everything was finally organised for this big trip.

Nepalprojekte - Medizinische Betreuung - Einzelgeschichten Kushi

Khushi's family lives in abject poverty, and has already suffered a lot of misfortune. First, there was Khushi's accident. And just a year later, her father died. It is probable that his life could have been saved, if he had been able to get proper medical care. Amma with her four children was now on her own. While the father lay ill, the family sold all its land, spending the money on dubious potions and quacks in the hope that they would cure him.

Amma works as a day labourer, taking on any work that comes her way – on building sites, as a porter and on the fields of other villagers. Her oldest son is now nineteen years of age and also works as a day labourer. He is married and lives with his wife in Amma's home, where the entire family shares a single small room. Amma is only forty years of age, but looks much older, worn down by worries and hard labour.

Nepalprojekte - Medizinische Betreuung - Einzelgeschichten Kushi

When organising the treatment for Khushi, we sat down with Amma in the presence of the entire village and told her that we would bear all costs arising from the treatment of her child in Kathmandu. This arrangement was copper-fastened in a contract with Amma. As she heard the good news, Amma's face brightened up, showing her relief. As Amma cannot read or write, a village elder read the contract out to her, which she then signed with her fingerprint. This was a moment of palpable joy and new hope.

 

Nepalprojekte - Medizinische Betreuung - Einzelgeschichten KushiNepalprojekte - Medizinische Betreuung - Einzelgeschichten Kushi

Nepalprojekte - Medizinische Betreuung - Einzelgeschichten Kushi

In Nepal, patients in hospital are expected to be accompanied by a family member who provides the food and generally looks after all basic care needs such as getting up, going to the toilet, etc. Amma therefore decided to accompany Khushi to Kathmandu and to put her eldest son in charge of the rest of her family. She asked whether she could take Chutki, her youngest daughter with her to the city, and we agreed.

Nepalprojekte - Medizinische Betreuung - Einzelgeschichten KushiNepalprojekte - Medizinische Betreuung - Einzelgeschichten Kushi

Nepalprojekte - Medizinische Betreuung - Einzelgeschichten KushiNepalprojekte - Medizinische Betreuung - Einzelgeschichten Kushi

After everybody had said good-bye, we walked to the plane waiting on an air strip, and Amma became very anxious. I managed to reassure her that all would be well and we finally boarded the plane.

The trip to Kathmandu was a major undertaking. For our first leg, we travelled in a small, clapped-out propeller plane. Amma and the children looked down on the mountains and were mesmerised by the magnificent view. Khushi however was rather scared (and so was I, to tell the truth), and did not let go my hand.

We then travelled for about five or six hours in a mini-bus to Nepalganj. During this trip, Amma and her children became violently sick, as they had never travelled in a car. When we boarded the next plane to Kathmandu, it was already dark. We landed late that night in the city airport. As this was one of the few nights without power outage, everything was brightly lit, and Khushi could not believe her eyes at all the lights and whatnot.

As I did not want to leave Amma and the children alone in a hotel room, I took them to my house. We had great fun, as the children explored all the strange things in my home, from the water taps to the flushing toilet. When I asked Khushi to have a shower before going to the hospital, she stayed in the bathroom for ages. When we finally had a look what was going on, she had washed herself and all her clothes with washing powder, using a bucket and a jug and sitting on the bathroom floor.

On the 2nd of November 2010, we drove to the hospital, which is located about three-quarters of an hour's drive outside Kathmandu on a green-field site.

This hospital was established by Interplast, a German organisation that provides plastic surgery free of charge to people in developing countries. It provides excellent patient care, and is often staffed by German surgeons who spend their holidays here to operate on people who desperately need it.

After examining Khushi, the surgeon in charge informed us that he would have to carry out three major operations, which would take about six to nine months. However, the first operation was scheduled straight away for the following day.

Nepalprojekte - Medizinische Betreuung - Einzelgeschichten KushiNepalprojekte - Medizinische Betreuung - Einzelgeschichten Kushi

Amma and myself stayed at the hospital while Khushi went into surgery. We were both very worried, but Amma appeared outwardly very calm, as is often the case with Asian people. We simply sat on a bench, one beside each other, hoping for the best.

Eventually, we were called to see Khushi in the recovery room. We stood at her bed and tried to comfort her when she groaned. Every so often, she tried to sit up, still under the effect of the anaesthetics, and we had to gently hold her down. Amma was very upset when she saw her daughter cry and scream while still not fully awake. She pleaded with Khushi to be quiet and suddenly asked me whether her child would now always be like this. I tried to explain to her the purpose and effects of anaesthesia, reassuring her that Khushi would soon be her normal self again. Amma was relieved to hear this.

A few hours later, we moved Khushi's bed to the ward. Amma made a telephone call to Mugu to tell her people about the first operation.

Nepalprojekte - Medizinische Betreuung - Einzelgeschichten Kushi

I spoke to the surgeon, who told me that they had so far tackled the most difficult area around Khushi's neck, and that the surgery had been successful. To remove the scaring around her neck, the doctors had to transplant skin taken from Khushi's leg.

The girl recovered quickly. I gave her a teddy bear for her bravery, which she held on to during her entire time in hospital. Her neck was covered by a collar and she soon was able to sit at the table to have her meals. She even joined the other children in the hospital to play in the garden.

She already looked much different. As the scar tissue around her neck had been removed, she was now able to fully close her mouth. She began to smile again and admired her new face in the mirror. Her voice became stronger and her speech clearer, which gave her a lot of confidence.

Nepalprojekte - Medizinische Betreuung - Einzelgeschichten Kushi

During the following weeks, Amma and her daughters settled in well at the hospital and made many acquaintances. However, they always remained outsiders, given that they came from the backward province of Mugu. I regularly visited Khushi and I always brought her fruits, biscuits, juices and other food that is not available at the hospital. The main meals were however provided by the hospital kitchen and were paid by us.

The next two major operations took place on the 15th December and the 5th January, transplanting skin to her shoulders, one armpit and both arms. They were both successful without any complications. Apart from the surgery, Khushi had to endure regular changes of her dressings. During the times immediately after the surgery, she had to be fully anaesthetised for this, as the pain would otherwise have been unbearable.

Khushi is however a very brave girl and never complained about her pain. She was simply delighted with the help she got. The relief experienced by Amma was also clearly visible. She suddenly looked ten years younger and always had a smile on her face.

Nepalprojekte - Medizinische Betreuung - Einzelgeschichten Kushi

Khushi was eventually discharged from hospital on the 24th January 2011. She was to return to the hospital two months later for a check-up. In the meantime, her scars had to be treated with a special cream and carefully covered. She was also to continue her physiotherapy exercises.

We brought Amma and the children to a hotel in Kathmandu, as I wanted to make sure that they would all be seen by a dentist. For Amma, I had arranged an appointment with a gynaecologist. Together we went sight-seeing in Kathmandu. Khushi even went with us to the fun fair, and loved riding on the carousel.

Nepalprojekte - Medizinische Betreuung - Einzelgeschichten Kushi

Amma asked me whether it would be possible for Khushi to stay in Kathmandu. She wanted to make sure that her daughter would get all the surgery she might need in the future. Also, she hoped that her girl would get a good education here. I was somewhat shocked to hear this, as I was under the impression that Amma and the children could not wait to be back in Mugu. It broke my heart to hear from a mother that she was willing to be separated from her child for a very long time for the sake of a good education. But Amma obviously saw this as the only opportunity to do the best for her daughter.

However, a week later, they all returned together to Mugu. We hugged each other and arranged for Khushi to be picked up in Mugu again in about a month and a half.

Nepalprojekte - Medizinische Betreuung - Einzelgeschichten Kushi

My team colleagues on the ground in Mugu informed me of Khushi's happy return to her village. Her neighbours could not get over her lovely face and bright smile that they had never seen before. Everybody was very excited. Khushi quickly met up with her friends, and had a lot to tell about all the new things she saw in Kathmandu. To them, it must have sounded like tales from a different planet.

I was delighted to eventually welcome her back to Kathmandu in March, as she had been on my mind all the time. We immediately went to the hospital, where we heard with dismay that all further operations had to be postponed to the autumn.

Nepalprojekte - Medizinische Betreuung - Einzelgeschichten KushiNepalprojekte - Medizinische Betreuung - Einzelgeschichten Kushi

Rather than returning home, Khushi stayed in the city where we arranged for her to live in a beautiful children's home with a good school who caters for the individual needs of the children. Khushi enrolled in the first class and loved school. She is highly intelligent and had no difficulties to make herself a home in her new environment. In the meantime, she has become the prefect of her dorm.

She never misses a class and achieved excellent grades. Last term, she was the third best pupil in her class. She sometimes visits me for the weekend, and I can see the change in her with my own eyes. One evening, we played Memory, and I stood amazed as Khushi knew the words for sunflower, goat, cow and fish in English. She even could write her name, my name and the name of my son in English.

She is a very happy girl and with no doubt find her way in life. Khushi actually means "happy" in her native language, and, after many years of suffering, her name rings true.

Sometimes, it does not take a lot to change somebody's life for the better.

Nepalprojekte - Medizinische Betreuung - Einzelgeschichten Kushi