She was 19. A new life was awaiting Dechen Tshomo.

After failing to qualify for higher education in a government school, Dechen managed to get herself employed at the Bhutan Agro Industries Ltd. in Thimphu.

Although it wasn’t what she had planned for herself, she was adapting well in the new environment, making new friends.

However, beginning sixth month into the job, she developed pain in her head and neck. Doctors at the national referral hospital gave her some painkillers and asked her to return after a few days.

“The painkillers were of no use. The headache and stiffness on the neck became worse by the day,” said Dechen.

Her late sister brought her back home to Narphung in Samdrupjongkhar. Rimdo (religious ritual) didn’t seem to work. Dechen was taken to the hospital in Samdrupjongkhar.  She was then referred to the regional referral hospital in Mongar.

“All the while, I was unconscious. By the time I regained consciousness, seven months had passed,” said Dechen. “I was lying on the hospital bed. I could not feel my lower body.”

According to medical records, Dechen was diagnosed with meningitis, an inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord.

All her dreams came crashing down when Dechen knew that she was half paralysed. “I wouldn’t know if I had wet myself. I was just surviving at a corner in my village,” she said.

Her brother, Kinzang Yeshi, said that doctors told the family members “there is no cure for my sister.”

Most of the time, Dechen’s parents would be out working in the fields. For almost five years, Dechen was lying in the corner of the house. Her only companion during that time was her Nokia mobile phone with which she made frequent updates on Facebook. “It was the only way I interacted with the world beyond the walls of my house.”

And that did her good.

The founder of UK-based charity organisation, Opening Your Heart to Bhutan, Emma Slade, came to know about Dechen’s condition from one of her posts.

Popularly know as Ani Pema Deki, Emma Slade is a Buddhist nun. She visited Dechen at her village in October last year. Dechen told Emma that she wanted to join a nunnery in Pemagatshel. However, because of the lack of conducive environment at the nunnery, her dream to become a nun also failed.

Later that month, Emma visited DRAKTSO East in Kanglung, Trashigang, to study the possibilities to admit Dechen to the vocational centre.

The principal of DRAKTSO East, Karma Garab Dorji, said that after studying Dechen’s condition and convincing her parents of the opportunities, knowledge and skills that their daughter would gain from the centre, she was admitted to the centre in February this year.

Karma Garab Dorji said that Dechen has been performing well and since she already had basic education, it was easy for her to grasp the skills taught at the centre.

Currently, Dechen is taking art classes at the centre. She is working on the eternal knot of the eight lucky signs. “This eternal knot is a perfect example for us. Just like the knot, our life is an endless circle of suffering and joy. You have to experience both for no one can escape this circle.”

Dechen said that ever since she was admitted to the centre, she has been feeling better. With the help of the physiotherapy sessions she receives monthly at the centre, Dechen said that she have started to feel a slight sensation on her lower limbs.

“I hope to walk on my legs one day. I feel good about my chances. I will give my best,” said Dechen.

Younten Tshedup |  Trashigang