We first went to Pangi in 2015 when we heard of a remote mountain settlement isolated and bereft of medical care. We have been back every year since. This was our fifth year in succession. I have written about the earlier trips and those travelogues can be accessed by following the reference links below*.
This year was similar in many ways and yet it was so very different in many other ways. Our group of 30 piled into four vehicles and departed at five am from Manali. We made very good time, since the roads this year were very good from Koksar to Udaipur. We reached Pangi by five pm, which was excellent and a tribute to the hard work of the Border roads organization. Accommodations are always a huge issue. This time a sitting sessions judge and his team had taken all of the accommodations at the circuit house, so we were scattered, spread across the other available accommodations in Pangi, including a tent on the lawn of the forest guest house!
The response was overwhelming. We saw 1024 patients over five days. From earlier years, we were viewed with a mixture of suspicion and helplessness. This year, we only experienced trust. Trust that we would do the best for them. Willingness to be subjected to surgery, and glad acquiescence to our suggestions. There were long lines of people, and though they were boisterous in the beginning, we saw them line up and wait patiently, help each other, permit the young and very old to have precedence. We saw them help those who did not have relatives to care for them post operatively. We saw smiles and twinkles in eyes where previously there was a glazed glare hiding true emotions. It was almost as if they were a different people.
Our team comprised of the inspiring Dr. Bishan, Community Consultant, two surgeons from LWH Manali, Anesthetist Dr. Benita, Gynaecologist, Dr. Ratika, Radiologist, Dr. Deepa, from CMC Vellore, and eye team from our ever-helpful CMC Ludhiana, with Dr. Anubhav as the eye surgeon. We also had a large group of support staff from LWH, lab staff, nurses who would take care of our postop patients, pharmacist, drivers, maintenance, cook and helpers. We brought along with us our entire equipment, including operating lights, anesthesia machine, generator, all our medicines and a huge autoclave, since our earlier experience with the autoclave in Pangi had not been very reassuring.
Surgeries commenced on the second day and continued for four days, operating till midnight every day. Our teams functioned seamlessly together and worked like clockwork. There was absolutely no mobile phone signal in the hospital, an eventuality we were prepared for. The walkie talkies we had brought with us served us admirably. We performed fifty surgeries, 25 major, 25 minor, and 42 eye surgeries in these four days. Everyone wanted ultrasounds, including those with headache and earache. Dr. Deepa did 395 ultrasounds. All the patients did very well, and we were able to discharge all of them home on the third day of surgery, smiling, relieved and happy. We thank God for His overshadowing of every moment and protection for every event. We were able to pray for our patients and share God’s love with them.
We came away bearing the smiles and co-operation of all the people in our hearts. Every day we experienced their co-operation and help. Carrying patients to and fro from the operating theatre, arranging for water when the water supply stopped one day, providing Pangi apples for our team to snack on, and in just sharing a smile and the joy of being well again. All of us returned tired, but very gratified and grateful.