It’s 11pm and the pain on Sangay Dorji’s left ankle has intensified even after medical assistance.
The 28-year-old had sprained his ankle during a basketball game recently.
He was then rushed to Rongthong village in Kanglung where a traditional healer resides.
The healer, Tashi Wangdi, examined the injured leg as he closes his eyes and starts rubbing the swollen ankle. “Don’t worry. It’s not broken. You’ll be fine,” the healer assured.
As he orders his nephew to prepare the fire, Tashi Wangdi continues rubbing the ankle. “It will be a little painful so you have to bear with it for some time,” he tells Sangay Dorji.
Some 30 minutes later, the nephew comes in with a heated iron rod. Tashi Wangdi puts the iron rod on his tongue producing intense smoke in the process. “Are you ready,” he asks as he begins hitting the swollen ankle with the iron rod.
For more than three decades, Tashi Wangdi has been fixing fractures and sprained joints in Trashigang. The 63-year-old has fixed more than thousand fractures and sprains in the locality.
However, his patients are not just restricted to the locals. It includes Project DANTAK workers, tourists and expat lecturers of Sherubtse College.
“Everything I know today is from my own personal experience and some help from my friends,” he said. “Before applying my methods on others, I’ve used the same techniques on myself to see if it works.”
He said that one of his late friends whose father was a traditional healer in Merak taught him a nga (incantation) for broken bones.
“I practised the nga for many years before it worked on my patients,” he said. “The nga helps in healing the fractures and the patients do not feel any pain when I blow the nga.”
Jigme Dorji, another student of Sherubtse College said, “Just like a magic the air blown from the healer’s mouth washed away all the pain on my fractured wrist.”
Tashi Wangdi said that while patients with fractured bones require the hot iron treatment, minor fractures require the correct technique to put the joints back into its normal position. “The hot iron helps in joining the broken bones together and also dry up the fluids surrounding the joint.”
While the healer treats all sorts of fractures, he said he does not attend to patients who come with open wounds and cases of infants.
“I’m not a trained medical practitioner and I cannot take the risk so I advise them to go to the hospital.”
He said that he always makes a point to inform the patients to first visit the hospital and get an X-Ray copy of their fractures. “But people come to me directly before going to hospital. I’m here to provide my assistance but the things I cannot do, I ask them to see the doctors for they are the right person.”
Doctors at the Trashigang hospital said that most of the skin infection cases coming to the hospital are after undergoing traditional treatments. “Use of unsterilised iron rods on skin cause blisters and swellings that could lead to serious infection if left untreated,” a doctor said.
However, Tashi Wangdi said that the wounds generated from the iron rods disappear within a week if they are not touched. “I ask my patients to strictly follow my instructions for if they don’t, they will get an infection,” he said. “So far I have received no complaints from any of my patients.”
Besides treating people, Tashi Wangdi also fixes fractures in animals such as cattle, horses and yaks among others. “Animals suffer just like us so the same treatment also works for them,” he said.
Meanwhile, the healer is looking for someone who would take up this practice and make it available for the people if he dies. “There were a few people asking me to teach them but they never showed up,” said Tashi Wangdi. “I’m willing to teach anyone who would like to continue this practice.”
Younten Tshedup | Trashigang