There’s noting ordinary about life as a doctor.
But Dr Anastasia Pickering’s “routine” might better be described as extraordinary. For her, annual stints in Nepal are now the norm.
“I’ve actually worked there for seven of the past 11 years,” Dr Pickering said.
The habit began in her final year of medicine, with a placement in the Kathmandu hospital where she learnt to speak Nepali in about five months.
“Last year I worked in pediatrics. I’ve also had stints in gynecology, obstetrics, adult medicine and on-call,” she said.
“The medicine’s really different and it feels really important. Like here, just different.”
Tansen Mission Hospital, where she works, has 170 beds at most and between 25 and 30 doctors. It services a population of 100,000 people, mostly Hindu in faith.
Medications come across the Himalayas from India and Dr Pickering reports that the quality is inconsistent. While the hospital is 60 years old it’s not stuck in the dark ages nor modern; still there’s x-ray, ultrasound and echo at their disposal.
“The biggest thing is making a diagnosis without the same tools as here,” she said.
“The [patient] history is still very important in making the diagnosis.”
The average income is the equivalent of just $1000 US dollars but there’s still a national vaxination program for diseases including polio and tetanus.
“Adherence is quite good, surprisingly. I still see things like tetanus which is very rare in Australia,” she said.
Add to the list meningitis, skin abscesses and even typhoid. And “lots of trauma”.
While doctors in the Western world fight the sedentary effects of video games and too much TV, Nepalese children remain “free range”.
“It’s Australia 50 years ago, in a lot of ways,” Dr Pickering said. “They fall out of trees, get burnt in fires a lot, because the cook on open fires. They also present with runny noses, sore throats, the things they do here but they don’t complain the children tend to do in Australia, I’m not sure what it is, it could be cultural.”
Dr Pickering and her husband Steve, an anesthetist, travel back and forth together. They haven’t yet bought their tickets but they’re returning to Tansen in February, it’s been decided.
“We just take what we need in our luggage,” Dr Pickering said.
“We live in a two-bed place here and we don’t have a lot of things. It’s nice when you come back to appreciate the few things you do have.”
Among their favourite past times are reading and walking.
“The transition back and forth is ridiculously quick. There’s friends and family to reconnect with.”