Earlier this year I had a mild discomfort in my upper abdomen that radiated to my back. I went to see Dr. Sonam Dukpa (at Menjong Diagnostic in Thimphu). He ran an ultrasound on me and found that I had a mild inflammation of my gallbladder. He packed me off with, “It happens. Nothing serious. No chilli or fats, lots of water and exercise. Come back only if you have fever. Not prescribing you anything.” Dr. Sonam often talks in phrases. I have known him for years. I went away little perplexed though. But I followed his advice. Drank lots of water (I still do), avoided chilli (I don’t eat meat) and, of course, walked for three full days – trekking to Athang Rukha.
A week later I happened to be in Bumthang where I took the opportunity to meet my family lama, Rangshikhar Rimpoche. In between talking about my siblings about who is where and how they were doing, I sought his advice; some divination to check if my life energy was running low. After going through several scriptures and his prayer beads he pronounced, “There is nothing bad happening to you. You will be alright from the 29th day of this month. Last year was astrologically a bad year for you. So, some residuals extending to few months this year,” he reassured me. He was as humourous as alwaus but he continued, “I think it is good that you fall sick sometimes because when you are healthy you forget your Lama, your family, your friends and, above all, to pray.” I burst out laughing. “Yes, Lama, you are absolutely right,” I replied, accepting it for it was true. I am bit careless.
Then a month later, transiting through Bangkok, I decided to see a doctor there. So I went to a hospital. I thought I might as well get a second opinion. The doctor there run the ultrasound and the blood test again. And found that my gallbladder was OK. Dr. Sonam Dukpa was right and so was my lama. The blood report, however, showed a slightly elevated bilirubin – indicating some problem with liver but not that high. Instead, he prescribed me some tablets to reduce my back pain – to be taken for 7 days.
Few days later in Chiang Mai, over a breakfast, I was chatting with a German filmmaker and a friend of mine, on what we were working on – in terms of films and documentaries. He told me that he was doing something on the failure of allopathy. He went, “I don’t mean that western medicine is flawed but pharmaceutical companies are driven by profit thereby making people dependent on drugs they produce. They even have doctors, on their payroll, all over the world, prescribing medicines that we actually don’t need. We are getting poisoned legally. The world is sicker than ever. Did you ever ask why?”
“Wait!” I thought, “I have just been prescribed with some tablets in Bangkok.” While he was still going on with all the global pharmaceutical scams I ran a search engine on the medicine I had started taking. And Lord Google gave a shocking verdict. “Not approved for USA and Canada as extended use can cause cardiac arrest, heart disease and lever failure.” “What?” I thought, “The doctor who diagnosed that I had high bilirubin prescribed me that?” Bad news: I had already taken one pill. Good news: I had not taken the other 6. I dumped the $50 worth of medicines, the $150 in consultation fees into the garbage. I also realised that a strip of antibiotics that costs Nu. 40 in Bhutan costs around Nu. 400 in Thailand.
Having found my mini ‘enlightenment’ I started to be more regular with my 4 km daily jogging routine. The pain began to subside. As for my elevated bilirubin I emailed the medical report to Dr. Tshewang Dolkar (a traditional medicine practitioner based in New Delhi) who sent me some herbal medicines. I am alright now.
I am sharing this story because I know many people rush to Bangkok or Delhi on a slightest medical issue. Many pregnant women fly just to deliver babies. Well, just be careful. There is an industry out there. I don’t mean to generalise. In fact we had an excellent Thai doctor who attended to my wife when she had that head injury some years back.
You can avail of great diagnostic services that they offer. I still do my annual health check-up in Delhi or in Bangkok. What I am saying is to be careful with excessive, or unnecessary, use of pharmaceutical products – especially antibiotics and vitamins. Ask what you have been prescribed. Cross check with Dr. Google. Can you type? Of course, you can, right? Do it!
And trust our own doctors in Bhutan who are not profit driven. They might ignore you, frown at you or scold you. Just close your ears but take their good advices. I am also happy that the Health Ministry has cautioned doctors to be less generous with prescriptions. For certain ailments you can also try the traditional medicines hospital in every district. Get the best of both worlds – western and Bhutanese.
And finally, do not forget to say your little prayer every day – and move.