Living with leprosy

Seated on a wheelchair, using only his legs, Gonpo drags himself through the corridors at the Trashiyangtse hospital.

The 86-year-old from Bumdeling is a leprosy patient at the hospital. Although no one really knows for how long he has been at the hospital, he has been there for more than a decade now.

While the rest of the patients at the hospital receive regular visitors, no one has ever paid a visit to Gonpo so far.

“I wasn’t always like this. I used to be a very energetic man once,” said Gonpo.

As he narrates his story, his bloodshot eyes are filled with tears. He wipes his tears with the stump of his wrist. His left eye is partially blind, and without a tooth in the mouth, his tongue rolls out as he speaks.

He said that at the age of 24 he started to experience acute pain in his arms and joints. When the symptoms appeared, he went to Arunachal Pradesh to see the doctors. “I could walk properly then, and my hands were functional.”

Wounds and skin lesions began to appear, which was followed by loss of sensation in his wrist. After a few years, he began experiencing similar pain on his right leg. When he visited the hospital in Mongar, doctors suggested his toes on the right leg be amputated in order to stop further damage to his body.

He was referred to the Gedakom hospital in Thimphu. Gonpo said that he couldn’t adjust to a new place so he went back to Trashiyangtse.

“I find solace here. I belong here,” he said.

Gonpo remains inside his room most of the day. Apart from the regular tour along the hospital corridor, he doesn’t go out. He is mostly seen reading prayer books on his bed.

“Now this is the only thing I’m capable of doing,” he said, adding that like many, he fears death and he should prepare for it.

He said that so far the Trashiyangtse hospital management and staff have helped him. “I’m very thankful to them. My only worry is that during my death, there wont be anyone to conduct the rituals.”

Younten Tshedup | Trashiyangtse

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