Phurpa Lhamo | Punakha

Thirty-four-year-old Yonten Jamtsho is lying on an air-bubble mattress, which helps prevent bedsores. His legs are being tied with a traditional sling (for carrying baby) to avoid stiffening up.

For almost two years, Yonten Jamtsho has been stuck either to his bed or his wheelchair. “It is scary thinking about dying. No matter what, in the end, we try to stay alive.”

Today, staying inside a two-roomed rental apartment in Punakha, Yonten Jamtsho is accompanied by a friend he knew at work. Yonten needs a full-time caregiver.  

“I pay him. Sometimes Nu 500, other times Nu 300,” Yonten Jamtsho said.

In 2019, on December 25, Yonten was travelling to Gasa’s fuel depot from Damji. While returning, he met with an accident. The old van he was travelling in veered off the road, falling down almost 130 metres.

In a critical condition he was moved to the national referral hospital. There he received surgical treatment and was moved to Bajo Hospital after one month.

“The vehicle’s brake had issues. Later, I was in Bajo Hospital for about a year,” Yonten Jamtsho said.

On his bed, Yonten constantly moves his arms, which doesn’t stretch above his head. Although movement is restricted to his lower body, he often stretches his toes, pointing up. 

“I can feel sensations. It isn’t that my body is completely paralysed. That is why I want to stay here and seek help,” Yonten Jamtsho said.

Yonten Jamtsho was in his village in Pemagathsel two weeks ago. He said that his relatives one day forced him in a vehicle unannounced and was taken to the village without his consent. That time, Yonten Jamtsho was in Sirigang, Punakha in an apartment paid by a help group, Yamtshen Chenge Detshen. With Yamtshen Chenge Detshen, Happiness Center and Ability-Bhutan society have provided help.

“My relatives don’t come to see me. It is understandable as I couldn’t do them any good when I was in a good condition, but they shouldn’t have forced me to go to the village,” Yonten Jamtsho said. 

After Yonten Jamtsho left for his village, he lost his medical documents with other items. “A close friend took good care of me but after I was taken to my village, he had left,” Yonten Jamtsho. 

In Pemagathsel, Yonten Jamtsho was with his mother and his stepfather. 

“They took good care of me. But there is no hope in the village,” said Yonten Jamtsho.

Yonten’s hope to walk someday came after a private consultancy ensured him treatment, which could enable him to walk. 

“Madras Institute of Orthopaedics and Traumatology (MIOT) consultancy in Thimphu said that I would need to first see if the treatment would work on me. Then if it can, I can get the treatment,” Yonten Jamtsho said.

However, his dreams to leave wheelchair someday comes at Nu 2.6 million (M).

“I have received about Nu 80,000 donations from other people,” Yonten Jamtsho said. 

Yonten described himself as a strong-headed person.

It has been more than eight months he has not met his touch with his 2-year-old daughter. That makes him sad. 

“I heard that my ex-wife travels to Punakha often from Gasa but they hardly visit. She has blocked my number and wouldn’t let me see my child,” Yonten Jamtsho. 

Yonten and his wife separated about eight months ago. 

“I have no hard feelings. She was a good person. But her parents didn’t want someone like me who couldn’t take care of their daughter,” Yonten Jamtsho said. “If I am able to walk someday, I want to be a monk.”  

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk