1. Tornetta, Mary RN

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In 2005, I was at a crossroad in my life. I had left my career as a Human Resource Manager to enter nursing school and graduated in 2006 at the age of 43. One Sunday, our pastor announced that a short-term medical mission team planned to go to Nepal. Without a moment's consideration, my hand shot up. My husband and I talked and prayed about it and decided that this was a trip we would do together.


Our church partnered with an organization in Nepal with three permanent medical clinics and a Nepali Doctor (Dr. T) who oversaw all activities of the medical teams. He did not mind that I was a new nurse; his one requirement was that I learn and put my knowledge to use. I would soon discover that the scope of practice for nurses in Nepal was much broader than the scope of practice at home.


Because of our quick response to the call for volunteers, we hadn't realized that Nepal was in the midst of a civil war. Travel to our first clinic was fraught with challenges. There was a bandh-a distinctly Nepali form of political protest. The protesting party sends out word that there will be no motor vehicle travel or open businesses until their point is heard. Anyone caught violating a bandh is subject to "village justice," meaning anything from a verbal reprimand to having your vehicle rolled. When we initially got stuck in the bandh, we left the bus and walked toward our destination. After walking for about an hour, the director arrived with a van. We climbed aboard and rode for about 20 minutes until we were caught up in another bandh traffic jam. At first, friendly village people surrounded our van and tried to sell us coconut slices and cucumbers, but they left and an angry group of young men with sticks came and started shouting and chanting at us in Nepali. The only Nepali-speaking person in our van advised us to leave the van. I thought this was an exceptionally bad idea but he said they would probably overturn the van, so we did as he said. Half singing and half praying "I will call upon the Lord" as the van doors opened and the crowd parted, we walked away unscathed, arriving in Aru Pokhari well after dark.


After the eventful night, the morning brought the biggest surprise. The director told me that I would be seeing patients. After some discussion, I realized I would be acting as a nurse practitioner, diagnosing illnesses and prescribing medication. I was dumbfounded. My husband was tasked with crowd control. He spent most of his time negotiating with elderly women who did not speak English, but were quite clear about the urgency of their particular problem.


Two Nepali community health workers (CHW) had far more experience than me, but they didn't speak English and I didn't speak Nepali. My interpreter and I listened to the patients, trying to decipher their descriptions, and asking many questions of our coworkers. At one point, I referred a patient to Dr. T and said: "I keep getting patients with this rash and I don't know what it is. It's on their toes and fingertips and it's not itchy or painful. It's just white and they're bothered by it." Dr. T raised an eyebrow and looked at my patient's fingertips. "Typical leprosy" he said. My mouth fell open in disbelief. My only points of references at that time were the Bible and Monty Python Movies. I was sure I would soon have digits falling off and need to carry a bell and chant "unclean." I decided I might as well continue and do what I could to serve the Lord. Obviously, Hansen disease is not as contagious as I thought; I still have all of my digits to this very day.


I took notes on symptoms I saw and medications we had in the "pharmacy." Mostly, we saw wounds and duksha (pain). The women were small in stature and did demanding physical work carrying water up mountain sides, cultivating fields, and hauling fodder for the animals. I could address pain and wounds but I referred all patients with complicated problems to Dr. T or the CHWs.


After 3 days in Aru Pokhari, we moved to Sera Bizar. It was a quiet, peaceful village, accessible only by foot. We slept in the relative comfort of a church and bathed in the Dordi Khola river. THIS is what I thought mission nursing would be like. However, on our second day in Sera, my life changed forever. I had established what I could diagnose and treat, and what I should pass on to more experienced personnel. Then, a family of seven arrived. They were obviously malnourished-I could recognize the orange hair, bloated bellies, and edema of kwashiorkor. The oldest brother had jaundice and was suffering from long-term malnutrition and night fevers. The youngest boy, aged 2, was listless and had swollen glands in his neck, axilla, and groin. His brother, aged 4, had a ruptured tympanic membrane with oozing yellow exudate and wheezing in both lungs. Both had impetigo on their legs. The two little girls had tonsillitis with fever and headaches. Another brother had a fever of unknown origin and was so thin, I could see all of the ribs in his back when I listened to his wheezy lungs. It turned out that the mother and father had died of typhoid during the past 2 years. When the oldest brother said, "we have no family," I told him he had just gotten himself a new family. My husband and I asked them if we could claim them as our own kids. The oldest brother agreed. We started to sponsor our new family with $100 a month to buy rice, lentils and eggs, and ended up having the youngest three children transferred to a children's home in 2008. We've been their sponsors ever since. In 2014, another daughter from this family joined her siblings in Kathmandu.


It has been 12 years since that first trip to Nepal. The eldest brother died of alcohol-related complications in 2016 and another moved to Pokhara to work in the tourist industry. The children in Kathmandu are thriving. One of the girls is considering nursing school. Another of the girls skipped three grades in primary school and is now studying for her board exams for medical school. In May of 2019, she was my interpreter in medical clinics along the Annapurna circuit. She will be a cardiothoracic surgeon when she graduates. One of the boys skipped two grades in primary school, and is taking classes in Biblical studies as he awaits classes as a biology major. He finished high school at the top of his class in spring 2019. The youngest brother is now 14 and wants to be a Pastor.


Why did I quit a lucrative business career and go to nursing school? Why did I feel absolutely compelled to sign up for that short-term medical mission? Twelve years later, with four kids in Nepal who call us Mom and Dad, I know why God led me to Nepal.