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Roosters crowing children growing, got big plans but dirty pants, with kids to teach life is sweet!

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Goodbye Volunteers

Frank left today. Kelly and Cristina are leaving tomorrow. And I will be gone on Friday. One minute I am so ready to come home and see everyone I love, and the next I want to change my ticket and stay another 2 weeks.

In any case, I wanted to share some thoughts and stories about our “Dr.” (med student extraordinaire) Frank.

He has been such a rockstar here at Kopila. EVERYONE loves Frank. He had a gaggle of little girls from here at the hostel that would follow him around, from clinic to house to the top floor and back down to the school, giggling and jumping. They just adored him.

All the grown up Nepalis loved Frank too. He was the first to buy a topi, and he wore it all the time! Everyone in the market got such a kick out of it. And at dinner time he could eat almost as much dhaal bhat as a Nepali – which is a lot. Once or twice even Baju (typically a poker face) expressed her approval at his ability to pack it away.

When Maggie introduced all the volunteers at the show last month, we all got polite applause. But Frank was hiding on the sidelines (the topi makes him invisible) and Maggie forgot about him for a sec. When she realized and introduced him – people stood up. They cheered. They roared. Hannah, me, Cristina, and Kelly just looked at each other. Where did that come from?

But more than his charm, humor, and digestive prowess, Frank was a lifesaver here at the house and school. Literally. He solved mystery illnesses (no wonder one of his fav shows is House!), he woke up in the middle of the night for vomiting children, he rode on the back of a scooter he barely fit on by himself in the rain at midnight to take sick kids to the hospital.

He was never afraid to say he didn’t know an answer, or that he wasn’t sure what to do next. So many times he and Kelly would say, “I know how to treat hypertension and diabetes – not tropical boils!” But they researched online, consulted colleagues, read Karen’s travel medicine book (PS Karen – we found it!), and trudged on. Sometimes I could tell it wasn’t easy. Getting an accurate history through a 12 year old translator isn’t the best scenario for diagnosing severe headaches coupled with leg pain and loss of consciousness. Or try suturing a 4 year olds’ head wound with a needle gauged for what looks like exotic veterinary medicine. Quick, what’s the toxicity of an entire tube of adult flouride toothpaste, because baby Madan – 2 years old and 17 lbs soaking wet – just ate one. The list goes on. Every day was something wild and woolly.

On top of what must have seemed like a 6 week long emergency room on call shift, Frank taught health classes at the school. Once hand washing and drinking water standards had been covered, he dove right into the good stuff – anatomy, pathology, and organic chemistry. One evening as Kelly and I ate our dinner roti, Shova told us she was studying for a health quiz. When we asked what it was about, she told us the types of foods. We understood from the blank look on her face after asking what kind of food roti was, that Frank had been up to his usual ways. Why teach the food pyramid when you can jump straight into carbon chains and peptide rings!

He even managed to teach the kids a smattering of Japanese, and showed the boys how to shave during he and Kelly’s special puberty talk.

Frank was a great volunteer teammate as well. He was always quick to pick up a treat from the market for Friday nights on the roof, or to listen to you vent about a project that just wasn’t going the way you wanted it to. His crazy ultra-capitalist schemes (what Surkhet really needs is a teaching hospital – and a CASINO!) became a running joke, as did his craving for cow meat. While waiting for a line of tractors to pass us on the main road earlier this week, I caught Frank staring off in the direction of a herd of cattle and heard him murmur, “Just look at all that meat! How can they not eat it!”

I just don’t know what we are going to do without him. I only have to give medicine to two children in his absence and I am already worried I’ll forget. He’s helped this community and this family so much. I walked by his room after he left and one of our Aunties was sitting on his bed sobbing. It reminded me how many great hearts there are here – people who open the door to their home and their family with the utmost trust and goodwill. Their kind and gracious manner masks the plain hard work that they do from sunrise to past sunset. Her sad crumpled face showed me that language barriers and different backgrounds are no match for the closeness that comes from living, working, and caring together.

To Frank, dozing at 35K feet in a cramped middle seat over the Atlantic right now (hopefully after having some meat based dinner), and to all the Kopila volunteers past and present – the best in us thanks the best in you.

Frank, Nisha, Cristina, and Kelly. Photo Courtesy of Frank Cioppettini

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