Thursday, August 09, 2007

Back from the Himalayan Health Exchange

I was very nervous as I boarded the plane to Delhi, India to begin my medical trip in Northern India. Although the Himalayan Health Exchange had planned everything, I felt nervous and excited about the impending adventure. The night before I had my gear laid out one more time. I felt confident in what I was bringing and was ready to begin the trip.

After 17 hours of plane rides I was in India. I met with my group and everyone was very much like myself. There were several doctors, many medical students, one optometrist, and one dentist. There were three days of traveling before we got to the trailhead and we were all very ready to hike. With monsoon season upon us, we ended up hiking before we had intended because our trucks got stuck in the mud. As we hiked to the first campsite, the views were unbelievable. Despite the often downpours we encountered, nothing in my bag got wet. I was using the Arc’teryx M40. Even though I was at no time skiing, the bag was chosen because of being waterproof, small, and very affordable. This was one of the best pieces of equipment I brought on the trip. The small top pocket got damp, but nothing inside the main compartment got wet.

That night we camped and I began falling in love with my Big Agnes sleeping bag and pad. I was apprehensive about this bag because of its size and it is a few ounces heavier than my old sleeping bag, but it ended up being wonderful. It will be hard for me to ever go back to using another sleeping bag. Despite a leaky tent, the inside of the sleeping bag never got wet. That alone was worth the extra weight.

The next day we had our first clinic day. This reminded me of why I was there. Although I love being outdoors, my passion is medicine. As a nurse and a medical student, this experience taught me more about medicine and myself than I could have imagined. By far, this clinic day was our slowest day. Not only did we have to get used to each other, we had to learn how to practice medicine in such a remote area. Without lights, I had to use my Petzl headlamp to interview my patients.

The entire three weeks were just like the first few days. We would trek hard then set up clinic. The trekking was very difficult at times. While I trained before the trip, it was hard to compensate for the altitude. The trail was very steep with recent rockslides due to the heavy rains. It made for a tough, but rewarding hike.

The temperatures were in the 70’s during the day and dipped into the high 40’s to low 50’s at night. I had a soft-shell jacket from backcountry that really was the only jacket I needed. It was warm enough to wear when it was in the 40’s and wet, but it was also light enough to be comfortable in 70-degree weather and wet. Although it is not waterproof, it was as close as a jacket can get without being a rain jacket. A few times I would only wear this jacket during a downpour and I only got wet at the seams. This jacket is an ace in the hole for outdoor use.

By the end of the three weeks, we had seen some amazing medical cases and proved we could trek into the different regions of the Himalayas. This was very rewarding in many different ways. We ended up seeing over 2500 patients. Not only was this trip able to teach us about clinical cases we may never see again such as poliomyelitis, it showed us the beauty of this mountain range that so few get to see in their lifetime. I feel lucky in that I never got sick and the group I was with was one the best groups of people I have ever worked with. They will always be labeled friends to me.

-Jennifer Guthrie

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Blogger Mariam said...

Hello Jennifer,

I am a medical student and have been thinking about doing one of my fourth year electives through the Himalayan Health Exchange. I was wondering which expedition you went to and if you have any advice for me.


8/14/2007 10:14 AM

Blogger jguthrie said...

The expedition I went on was the Chansal trip. This year the trip went in July, but it was the first time for them to go into this area and they decided to do it in October from now on. The trip was amazing. I plan on going back. The hard part about this trip was in July it is monsoon season there and it made the hard hikes nearly impossible. If you do this trip I suggest training with deligence. It was a difficult hike. It is an experience like no other. We saw 2500 patients in the three weeks we were there. It is very much like emergency medicine. The only downfalls is you want to help more. If you have any other questions for me please email me ( The owner of the company is Ravi Singh. He is awesome. You can email him at the HHE email. Feel free to tell him you talked to me. He might be able to direct your trip decision better. Best of luck.

8/20/2007 11:52 AM


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