Neeraj Sharma from Nepal

My expierence with f&e in Germany

I am really thankful to IPPNW Germany and Ulla Gorges, the former program coordinator of “Practice and Engage program” for providing me with the opportunity to participate in the program.

The year 2015 is kind of mix type for me, both fear and excitement to the extreme level. After surviving the massive earthquake which killed thousands of Nepalese just 3 months back, the most awaited day of my life arrived. Though I’m much of a traveller within the country but this time it wasn’t similar. Travelling to another nation was my biggest wish but to European land was like my dream.

August 14, I had to board the plane to Istanbul at 7 in the morning. With months of excitement and expectations, I reached the airport very early than needed. My journey started with a selfie in front of Turkish Airlines jet in the airport. I consider myself very lucky since it was my first flight experience and it was an international flight! After around six hours of flight I reached the transit place, Istanbul. I had heard and seen in the movies about the beauty of Istanbul but all I could see was the overview of the city through plane’s window. Then after almost five hours of flight I landed on my destination- Deutschland. Thanks to Max and Wenia for picking me up at Düsseldorf airport holding a cardboard written “Neeraj-IPPNW” so it was quite very easy to recognize them. Wenia had to rush for the train to her place so me and Max took a train to the place where I was to stay for a month. Though there’s no train in my country but I was acquainted with metro train during my tour to India but it was not quite similar to my previous experience. Thanks a lot to Sonja for letting me stay at her flat for a month during her absence. It was a very comforting flat with tidy room. I met Achim, my flat partner for a month, who was very helpful and cool gentleman. I was invited to a party at Max’s friend’s place the same day. Of course college guys parties are always awesome so I slept the whole next day as hangover to the journey and the late night party. I cannot forget the help and hospitality from my next flat partners during my social internship- Frieda, Lukas, Anna and Wenia.

Clinical internship

Due to holiday for next two days I got ample time to see around the city, get used to with the way to nearby grocery stores and visit “Heinrich Heine University hospital” prior to start the internship. Max helped me with the necessary documentation required before starting the clinical practice in the university hospital. I cannot miss to thank Marlene for lending me her bicycle and helping me avoid the trouble of finding the route of public transportation which was really a tough job for a know nothing person like me.

I was posted as a practical year student in orthopaedics department. The morning rounds and the conference were all in German language. Even professors and senior doctors while explaining the case to the students didn’t use single English term. There were four foreign students posted in orthopaedics and I could see all four of us staring at the patient with blank faces. My efforts to use every available sense to understand was really tiring. At times, I felt quite awkward staring for hours, at the people making conversation, without getting even the slightest hint of what they were talking about. Communication I would say is the basic requirement for a foreign student to at least realize what’s going on. But I want to appreciate the efforts of German students trying their best to translate the necessary clinical information of patients even though sometimes they couldn’t find exact word translation. May be we should have put extra effort but complaining the inability to understand the language to seniors every now and then doesn’t sound so polite.

Being interested in surgical subjects I chose orthopaedics but rather than in operation room I was more active in the works carried out at the ward. For few days, I followed fellow German students to the patient’s room and watched them doing their work. The ward works were mainly withdrawing the blood, changing the wound dressings, removing the stapler etc. Using butterfly needle to take the blood was totally new to me so I had to put extra effort on how to use it. Other works were almost similar to ours but the difference was in the way how you do it. In such a huge university hospital where number of surgeries are carried out daily I couldn’t get chance to get involved actively in any of the surgeries. Watching the ongoing surgeries from a certain distance was my daily routine. The operating doctor usually wouldn’t even care to explain the surgery being done even though we try to show our presence and interest in the operating steps.

If I have to compare the experiences I had while working at my hospital in Nepal with that I gained in Germany, I would say, medical science is perhaps the only field with the least difference between developed and developing nations in terms of practice. Everything, except the sophisticated instruments and materials used there, were the same. But the environment around and within the hospitals in the two countries are contrasting in terms of

tranquility. Hospitals in my country are always the crowded with full of patients and visitors. The patient parties themselves have to be involved in bringing medicines and food and even have to run for tracing the reports, while each of these things were managed by nursing staffs and reports were all updated online. In addition, there are multiple ways for the patients to keep themselves entertained, for instance, with the aid of multimedia attached in every bed, unlike in the hospitals of my country. The doctors during clinical hours had to just see few patients per day with adequate time to rest in between but in our country we have to spend almost the whole day seeing the patients continuously.

I wouldn’t want to forget to thank our lively teachers-the patients with whom I had a pretty good relation during my placement there. Most of the patients were excited to have someone from abroad and tried their level best to minimize the language barrier and some even helped me with some gestures or in whatever ways possible. Even though I could go by myself to the patient but I always preferred to have someone accompanying me while doing any procedure, may be to add more confidence.

Berlin-Global Health Conference and Summer School

Now if I have to comment on the most exciting moment of the tour I would say it was stay at Berlin. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy other places but Berlin was a little different. I cannot miss to thank Dr. Johanna, my host at Berlin, for warm welcome, cozy stay and sweet farewell. From the moment she picked me up at Berlin bus station to the moment she dropped me to the same station, she was so much excited to have a person as a guest who was from the same country she had visited few years back. She tried her best to make me feel like home, ask what I would like to have in breakfast, what I had for lunch and if I already had dinner on my way back. She had keen interest on the places I would like to see during my stay at Berlin and took me together as per her health and schedule permitted. I could see how much she was worried if I would take the right train and reach my destination safely on time. All in all I could see a loving and caring sister in her.

I was lucky enough to get chance to meet Ulla, Anne and other members of IPPNW and participate in conference and summer school. All thanks to Ulla to organize P&E program in such a way so that I wouldn’t miss any major event. After months of exchanging emails finally I got chance to meet her personally. As I had already heard so much about her from the people at Düsseldorf, she was exactly the same, down to the earth person, trying best to help others, caring about wellbeing of every member. I can still remember her words- “Neeras (she pronounced j as s) are you ok? Are you enjoying? How was this session? Did you take the coffee? How was the food, was it good?” and everytime I used to move my head to assure her I was feeling great. One of the amazing moment in Berlin was Boat tour around the city with Ulla and Barbara, delicious “doner” on our way back and coffee at Dr. Katharina’s café. I was truely very much surprised rather shocked to see Dr. Katharina (I liked the way she greeted “Namaste” everytime we met) taking a break from medical profession and serving coffee in a small café, but on the other hand I liked her way of avoiding the stress and maybe I would do that at my place too, someday perhaps.

Talking about the Global Health conference and summer school on the issue of “globalization, refugees and health”, I would say the whole week was really interesting, with no knowledge of what was going on in Europe for past few months regarding refugee issues, I had so much information to grab and few things to comment on. As Ulla said the topic for the conference and summer school was decided before the refugee issue gained momentum in Europe so later it was found to be appropriate topic to debate upon among the participants and with the speakers in the program. Conference was interesting but being a single day program the sessions were quick and multiple topics had to be discussed together. All foreigners were obliged to stay at sessions in English language even though they were interested in other topics too. But I was impressed and would like to praise the hard work of program management team for running the program so smoothly and such a sweet concert at the end.

Summer school was much more fun than expected. With no previous experience or even basic knowledge about the present issue about refugees, I was expecting me to be a black sheep in the group. But that one week long lecture, discussion, interaction and workshops not only helped me to understand the gravity of the problem but also made me competent enough to raise few curiosities relevant to discuss among the participants. I really want to apologize for not able to remember the names of all participants but atleast I can name few- Alicia, Maria, Hanna, Yasmine, Gursimrat, Marco, Vincent…

The funny part was I was always curious what “type” of food we are going to have for lunch as I was always concerned about my stomach when I’m not cooking. Though we could taste new dish everyday but those were hardly of my favourite taste, nevertheless I didn’t miss to taste every item. But I should say I was and became more

fan of German cakes and cake after lunch was daily routine, everyday a new flavor! Not only me, there were many who were excited for cake after lunch! Post program beer at pubs nearby was almost regular and I want to thank Vincent for organizing evening get together and cheering up the exhausted members. Apart from discussions and presentation, the part I liked the most was visit to refugee camps in Berlin, brief conversation with the dedicated social workers, talking to the victims and playing football with the kids to cheer them up atleast for a moment. My presentation about “Bhutanese refugees in Nepal” was, I guess, totally different topic from what we were discussing the whole week and I could see, very few were interested in it but I think I was able to shift everyone’s attention away from European refugee crisis to current status of Bhutanese refugees in my country.

Social Internship

The part of P&E program I was most disappointed was the final episode-social internship. As promised to UIla, I made a short stay with my sister in Munich and returned to Düsseldorf on scheduled date for social internship. But on my return, no progress except for selecting the topic I was interested to work on was made. I can’t disagree that the organizing members of IPPNW Düsseldorf were all trying their best to start soon but that could have been preplanned. I had to wait a whole week before starting the internship and I couldn’t go anywhere as I was expecting the call from project manager anytime. I could have stayed with my sister little longer or I could have a short trip to nearby places, I really regret staying indoor the whole week.

Finally I started to work for an organization who cooked food for homeless people. Though it sounded bit boring when I first heard but later it happened to be the best option I could ever thought of. The working members were really polite and welcoming. Different people worked there as volunteer everyday and every one of them was great to work with. The routine was- reaching the place at 8:00 in the morning, cutting vegetables, sausages and make everything ready to cook the lunch for homeless people. Then at 11:00, it was time for late breakfast-coffee, bread and sometime cake! It was fun, everyone sitting together, having breakfast and talking about their life. As I was from different part of the globe so everyone was interested to hear things from me like- what we eat for breakfast and lunch, is food in Germany similar to ours, about family members, festivals etc. The only answer I gave to many of them about German food was “you use so much of cheese in food, almost in every dish!” and they all laughed at once. Then after breakfast and talk, at around 12:30, the people used to come for lunch in groups. Lunch was served in shifts for two hours. Every working member was free to have lunch anytime during the working hours. Then everyone gets involved in washing the pots and pans and cleaning the kitchen. The work was usually over at around 3:30 in the afternoon so I could get ample time to ride around the city and get back to my flat early.

Around Europe

Apart from the stay at Düsseldorf, I was lucky to get chance to visit few places in and out of Germany. Since Paris was on the top of the list I had dreamed to see, I could make a short trip to Paris during the weekend. The only thing I knew in Paris was the Eiffel tower and how could I miss the heavenly feeling of climbing to the top! I could capture the beauty of whole city from the top! As it was a short trip so I could only see few famous churches in the city.

The next destination was Prague, home to a number of famous cultural attractions, many of which survived the violence and destruction of 20th-century Europe. Prague Castle, the Charles Bridge, Old Town Square with the Prague astronomical clock, the Jewish Quarter etc were all worth the visit.

Then it was time to meet my sister and brother-in-law at Munich, capital of Bavarian state. As luck was on my side, I could witness the biggest festival at Munich- “The Oktober Fest- Beer festival”. People from all over the world come there to enjoy the fest with a liter glass full beer! That was quite a scene. Alianz arena tour was like a dream to me, one of the three football ground stadium I wish to visit before I die!

Final words..

Travelling has always been my hobby but travelling to Europe isn’t the same at all. Though it was so great to be back home with family but I miss each and every moment I lived in Germany. My humble gratitude to IPPPNW Germany and to all those who directly or indirectly helped in making my stay a very wonderful and memorable one. I would also like to apologize for any kind of disturbance or anything I did to offend anyone there, really it was unintentional. Those wonderful moments will always remain in my heart and memories.

Hoping to see you all again..someday..