Janaka Devi’s Story

“I’ll die. I’ll die soon.”

Janaka Devi (68) lived in the small village of Butar in eastern Nepal. She lived alone with her husband Kabil Man (75), now that their family of 3 boys and 4 girls had grown up. Kabil Man began to notice his wife’s lack of appetite. She complained of pain in her abdomen; and there was some obvious swelling visible there as well. As was the custom of those in her village they first went to consult the local “dhami” (shaman). He took Janaka Devi’s wrist to feel her pulse and he chanted. Then he “blew” on her and used his special knowledge of wild herbs to create a paste to rub on her stomach. Janaka Devi and Kabil Man did just as they were told and went to the temple to sacrifice a chicken. But all this seemed to do little good. And the swelling and discomfort in her abdomen kept increasing.

Her family and friends urged Janka Devi to go to the hospital in Rajbiraj. It was difficult for her even to go in and out of the house when she needed to, andthe hospital in Rajbiraj was 7 days away. The thought of such a long journey seemed daunting to Janaka. “No,” she said, “I will not go that far.” The next closest hospital was UMN’s (United Mission to Nepal) hospital in Okhaldhunga, but that was 5 long days walk away. And where would they get the money they needed for the journey, when they could barely afford to feed themselves? Despite her not eating very much Janaka Devi was gaining weight and she looked more like pregnant woman each day.

Soon they were left with little choice. Janaka Devi and Kamil Man decided that they would go to the “mission hospital” in Okhaldhunga. Some men from their village had offered to help carry Janaka Devi and they wanted Rs. 800 ($16) for their work. Janaka Devi and Kamil Man estimated that they would require at least another Rs. 1200 ($24) to pay for the food and Janka’s treatment. They scraped and borrowed and begged from family and friends until they had what they thought they needed, and they set out on the road that followed the Kosi River. The journey ahead was a long and difficult one for a couple of their age and they arrived at Okhaldhunga weary and exhausted.

To the doctors at Okhaldhunga Hospital, Janak Devi looked like a woman whose pregnancy was long overdue. Her uterus was prolapsed; and she complained of being incontinent for 2 years. An ultra-scan revealed a mass in her abdomen, extending from her pelvis to her chest, which the doctors knew would need surgical removal. But when they informed Janaka Devi of the cost that would be involved Rs. 1200 ($24) for the operation and another Rs. 5000 ($102) for the hospitalization, she cried because she knew that she did not have the money. “I’ll die. I’ll die soon,” she sobbed as she went to prepare to return to her village. Kabil was frightened and did not want her to have the operation.

Seeing that her need was a genuine one, the staff of the hospital decided that Janaka Devi could be assisted financially by the Medical Assistance Fund, and they convinced her to stay on and have the operation. A very large ovarian cyst weighing 11kg (nearly 1/4 of her body weight) was successfully removed from her abdomen. Janaka Devi left a happy woman after a 20 day stay in Okhaldhunga Hospital, not to die but to be able to spend many more days enjoying her grandchildren.

Janaka Devi and Kabil Man after the surgery at Okhaldhunga Hospital

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