I have been filling the role of secretary/treasurer of Acupuncture Relief Project since 2008 when Andrew’s dream reached the point where it shifted from idea to action. When meetings with bankers and lawyers became necessary; when he needed my “type A” brain to figure out how to manage the mounds of information we were accumulating; and when the piles of legal documents needed to be filled out and filed – that’s where I came in. Since I am neither an acupuncturist nor a health care practitioner of any kind I have always felt a bit removed from the practice side of ARP. I handle the receipts for needles, otoscope’s, cotton balls, electro machines, foot stools, blankets, moxa and every other item used in the clinics and yet I have only heard second hand the stories about how the supplies have made a difference in the lives of the patients. Until now! This year I am extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to be here in Nepal for several months. To spend time in the clinics and to connect with the patients, practitioners and interpreters first hand.
Every day has been a learning experience and a gift but I am most affected and inspired every time one of our stroke patients comes to the clinic. Sure, I have watched the video on our web site of Birbahadur Thapa, showing his progress recovering from his stroke and I have heard the stories of other patients but it wasn’t until I actually witnessed the impact of acupuncture on a stroke patient for myself that I truly understood how important these clinics are.
Most of the stroke victims in Nepal are sent home from hospital with no physical therapy and no instructions on what they and their families can do to try to recover lost abilities, therefore they rarely experience any improvement after their stroke. Since a large number of our patients are illiterate, they also don’t really understand what happened to them and what “stroke” means so understandably this creates a lot of fear. When they come to our clinic they are often totally hopeless and demoralized because they have been in their condition for at least a year and often for many years. After just one or two treatments they experience noticeable changes and begin to feel hopeful. It is that shift to hopeful that moves me so deeply.
There is one man in particular that I have become very attached to. Jagat came to the Bhimphedi clinic for the first time with several family members because he needed their physical support to get to the clinic and, since he could not speak at all, he needed his wife to translate his facial expressions into words. I don’t believe I have ever seen a man as dejected as Jagat was on that first day. He is 35 years old with a wife and 3 kids and all of a sudden he cannot take care of his family nor support them financially. He no longer has a role in his community and people have stopped making eye contact with him – he has become invisible because he cannot participate in life and therefore he no longer matters.
His ARP doctor, Rachel Hemblade, went through multiple physical and vocal tests with him to determine what his abilities were, treated him with acupuncture and physical therapy, and then created a homework plan. Rachel recruited his family members to help him at least twice a day and taught them how to perform the physical therapy and voice coaching themselves. Jagat is very fortunate to have a caring family and everyone stepped up and said they would help.
The way Rachel fully and cheerfully engaged with Jagat and his family and her deeply compassionate manner had to have been reassuring for them on that first scary trip to the clinic.
On that initial visit, Jagat could not make any sound at all for two of the vowels and could barely sound the others. His entire right side was severely stroked. Hand in a claw like grip, shoulder barely mobile, unable to lift his arm up from his side, leg could move forward to walk at the hip only, foot had no motor control, face totally expressionless. Eyes immensely sad.
His home is a 4-hour walk from the clinic and thus would make daily treatment unreasonable so thankfully he was able to make arrangements to stay in Bhimphedi with friends.
When he came back to the clinic for his second treatment you could see an ever so slight sparkle in his eyes. For the first time since the stroke he had felt his body change and suddenly, he had hope!
When he arrived for his third visit he was excited to show us that he could now pronounce all of his vowels. I will always remember that visit because it was also the first time he was able to smile and his smile lit up the whole room.
By his fifth treatment he no longer needed a family member to interpret his facial expressions because he could answer Rachel’s questions himself, albeit slowly, and each treatment since has continued to bring improvement.
The crooked smile he directs at me when I exclaim with joy at his progress is a gift I will never get tired of receiving.
This is but one example from the hundreds and hundreds of patients ARP practitioners treat every year. And this is why I will never again be able to file a receipt for needles or pay for an order of cotton balls or any of my other secretarial duties without being deeply touched by my experience here. I am immensely proud and appreciative of everyone who makes this project function on a daily basis – Tsering, all the interpreters and practitioners, all of the advisors – and I cannot begin to express my admiration for the dedication, love and energy Andrew has given to make this project happen, year after year. When I signed on as a board member 8 years ago, I never could have imagined the significance it would have in my life. --- Sheri Barrows